“Massacre at the Mosques” reads one of many all-caps headlines reporting the mass killings in New Zealand last week. The world reels in the wake of the act, streamed live online by the shooter, whom we will not name here.
Before the killer was stopped, on a fall Friday afternoon at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Center, 49 men, women and children lay dead, with scores more wounded, as the mortal cost continues to rise.
In New Zealand, as is true so many times, we hear in the aftermath of these horrific hate crimes that the perpetrator was a “lone wolf.” But as investigators do their work, as phones and laptops are seized and analyzed, it becomes clear that 21st-century hate often leaves a digital trail — a timeline of radicalization that is fed and fueled by others in the online hate community.
Take the killings at Tree of Life, the Pittsburgh synagogue, last October. Just minutes before the attack, the killer posted on a social media platform, called Gab, “Screw your optics. I’m going in.” It would be his last in a series of posts that traced the timeline of his descent into hate.
In New Zealand, in Pittsburgh, and too many times before, what we see is that so-called “lone wolves” may act alone, but they hate in groups.
That is the lesson we learn — or, all too often, fail to learn — when we dig deeper into the dark thought-processes that turn hate into violence.
Today, with the memory of Christchurch’s innocents fresh in our minds, we announce a project uniting MEMRI and the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice. Our new report, “The Hater Next Door: Online Incitement Against Minorities in America,” shines a light on evil and hate in our internet age right here in the United States. A snapshot in time, spanning four months ending in February 2019, it offers an in-depth look into online incitement by neo-Nazis, white supremacists, separatists, racists, fascists and other groups and individuals of similar worldviews in the United States.
Sadly, this report portrays the hate movement as alive and well in U.S. cyberspace. The research suggests the main targets are Jews and African-Americans. However, it casts a wider net, aimed at Muslims, women, feminists and the LGBTQ community. The form that this hate assumes ranges from old libels to novel slanders with no basis in fact.
Our work is more than an academic exercise or archival documentation. The intent is to track and report online hate postings in as-close-to-real-time as possible. In this way, The Hater Next Door materials will be developed into a tool for prosecutors and investigators — with a goal of moving us closer to a time when digital first-responders can stop violence before it begins.
Viewing these vile posts is uncomfortable, and that’s understandable. People of goodwill would prefer that such things did not exist. But this is our reality, and we must confront reality on this issue. Our discomfort must spark a desire not to look away but to combat this hatred and, whenever possible, to prevent its progression to violence. While only a few examples have been shared here, the full report — and future reports — can be found online at www.TheHaterNextDoor.com.
We often hear that hateful postings appear only on fringe sites that few people see. Why does it matter, and what can be done?
It matters because history has taught that racism and anti-Semitism may begin in sporadic, disorganized and seemingly marginal form, but when ignored, it finds the space and power needed to grow into a threatening phenomenon. This is the lesson of the path to the Holocaust — and this phenomenon is still present in nascent form every time hate is transmitted from one individual to another online. If the rest of us simply stand by, the potential threat of this evil becomes exponential through the vast reach of the internet.
As for what can be done, we must face online incitement head-on. We must act to expose these venomous forms of hatred aimed in firehose fashion at every group imaginable. This is the reality of our 21st century.
For all the marvels made possible by the digital revolution, it also is beyond argument that the internet has empowered evil. Age-old hatreds have been married to the most modern means of communication, making them only a click away with a phone, tablet or laptop.
In releasing The Hater Next Door, we commit to combating hate online in all of its manifestations, in defense of all people, whoever they are, however they live, and however they worship. We urge other individuals and organizations to join us in this fight against the online incitement to violence.
Yigal Carmon is president and co-founder of MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute.
Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett serves as president and CEO of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice.