Dissing the King

Don't let the benign surface fool you -- white supremacists are using martinlutherking.org to defame the memory of the civil rights leader.

Topics:

Martin Luther King Jr. made the ultimate sacrifice to make America a better place. He wanted America to become a “beloved community” where people of all races would be able to get along and live together. But the “dreamer” would have a nightmare if he knew a Web site bearing his name is being run and maintained by Stormfront, a white supremacy group.

While the opening page of martinlutherking.org may look friendly, its content does not highlight the heroic events in King’s life — such as his involvement with the Montgomery bus boycott, his famous “I have a dream” speech at the 1963 march on Washington or the Nobel Peace Prize he won. Instead, it aims to debunk King’s character, denying his status as an ordained minister, attacking his academic career, spreading tales of his womanizing and his alleged ties to communist groups. It even attacks his name.

“Well friends, he is not a legitimate reverend, he is not a bona fide Ph.D., and his name isn’t really ‘Martin Luther King Jr.’” reads a section titled “The Truth About Martin Luther King Jr.: Why he fought and who helped in the fight.” It goes on to say, “What’s left? Just a sexual degenerate, an America-hating Communist, and a criminal betrayer of even the interests of his own.”

A link with the even more misleading title, “An Excerpt from ‘The King Holiday and Its Meaning’: Bring the Dream to life for someone you know: An educational tool” goes to a quote from North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms’ congressional testimony, which alleges that “King associated with identified members of the Communist Party of the United States.”

According to Stormfront founder Don Black, the site has been set up to combat the “propaganda” regarding King and his life. “The establishment media tries to turn Martin Luther King into a saint when the opposite is the case,” he says. Black denies direct involvement in martinlutherking.org. But the e-mail address of the site’s webmaster, Vincent Breeding, is on the Stormfront.org domain.



The site uses government documents, such as Helms’ testimony, and information from the FBI campaign against civil rights leaders, as its sources. Civil rights groups and historians fear the appearance of official sources adds to the potential for gullible people to be taken in by half-truths and revisionist versions of history. The site’s existence raises a perpetual Internet controversy: the potential to spread misinformation to a wide audience.

Roger Vickers is the public affairs officer for the Martin Luther King Center and the King family in Atlanta. He is not particularly alarmed by the site’s misrepresentation of King. “None of the information is new,” said Vickers. “Dr. King has just about been criticized for everything.” He said this “misinformation” can be found in white supremacist books.

Black’s response to the controversy over the site is also as old as the larger debate over the First Amendment freedom to distribute misinformation. “The Internet has opened up doors to people who during the Middle Ages would have been called heretics,” said Black. “The Internet provides an alternative news media. It brings our message to millions of people who in the past didn’t have access to it.”

White supremacy groups on the Internet are nothing new. Groups such as the World Church of the Creator have used Web sites for years as a recruiting tool for new members and as a platform for their views.

But the group behind martinlutherking.org is especially Web savvy. According to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tracks hate groups, Stormfront is at the epicenter of the white supremacy movement on the Web. Founded in 1995 by Black, it is, according to Potok, “the oldest and largest hate site on the Net.”

Black is a former Ku Klux Klansman and long-standing member in the white supremacy movement. (He is now married to former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke’s ex-wife.) Black went to federal prison after a failed plot to overthrow a left-leaning government on the black island nation of Dominica. “It was in the prison that he learned computers,” said Potok. “Now he is the chief purveyor of hate on the Net.”

Stormfront’s site counter logs over 2 million hits to date. The site has a White Nationalist News Agency, white heritage e-commerce, it has a bilingual version in Spanish and German and it has links to various white supremacy sites. With the addition of the Martin Luther King site, Black seems to be taking a stab at diversity.

Potok says Stormfront’s use of a Martin Luther King domain marks a new trend with hate groups. “Many of these sites appear to be relatively benign,” Potok says, “but it is the opposite of what it is.”

This new practice of mislabeling sites could mean an attempt by hate groups to sneak past Web filters. Or it could be a way to stealthily go after young people whose parents and teachers try to monitor what they read on the Web.

Another example of the insidious mislabeling on the site is a section called “The Death of the Dream: The Day Martin Luther King Was Shot.” This section uses alleged FBI documents purporting to show that the evening after King visited the U.S. Supreme Court to listen in as lawyers argued New York Times vs. Sullivan, he was in hotel room partying with three white women. The site describes “the clinking of glasses and the sounds of illicit sex.” It alleges that King cried out “I’m f–ing for God” and “I’m not a Negro tonight!” The site goes on to say that King brutally beat one of the women.

The practice of cyber-squatting — picking an Internet domain that is the name of another person, group or product — is also nothing new. Some cybersquatters intend to make a profit by selling the domain to the highest bidder. Other groups, such as Stormfront, pick up names to defame.

This practice has caused civil rights groups in particular to go on the offensive. The NAACP bought the names to nigger.com and various other variations of the word. The Anti-Defamation League has bought the domain name for kike.com and other variations of this and other words offensive to Jews. Unfortunately, the King family let their historic name get away.

“We purchased several names related to Dr. King and the King name, but they [Stormfront] beat us to this one,” said Roger Vickers, the public affairs officer for the Martin Luther King Center and the King family in Atlanta.

Vickers said the King family became aware of the site a few months ago and tried to take action, but he admits there is nothing they can do. Since King is a public figure, the copyright laws that sometimes wrestle domain names from cybersquatters don’t apply in this case. And it’s unlikely that Black would sit down with the King family to negotiate.

Historians point to the need for readers to balance information they receive on the Net — or anywhere else — with a healthy level of skepticism. Kerry Taylor, an assistant editor with the Martin Luther King papers project at Stanford University, didn’t know about the site. But he wasn’t surprised by it. “There is a ton of nonsense on the Web and most people can see the difference between stuff that has veracity and information that attacks,” said Taylor.

Taylor called the site’s content “propaganda” and debunked many of the site’s allegations as complete fabrications. “King was absolutely an ordained a minister,” Taylor said. “He was ordained on Feb. 25, 1948.” As for King’s name, Taylor responded, “Does it matter?” But he called the attack on King’s name “interesting.” He said, “King was born Michael Luther King.” But at the urging of his father, his name was changed to Martin Luther King Jr.

Taylor also addressed the most damaging and long-lasting allegation that has dogged King for years, which was that he was a communist. “He spoke consistently against communism,” said Taylor. “He was open to some socialist ideas but as a Christian, he literally thought that communism and Christianity weren’t compatible.”

Black insists the site sheds light on King’s legacy. “Of course all the information on the site is true,” said Black.

Yet even if all of the federal documents on the site are authentic, their veracity is suspect, according to Taylor. That’s because they are the products of an era in which the U.S. government considered the civil rights movement to be a serious threat to national security.

The FBI once considered King “the most dangerous Negro in America.” The agency went on a smear campaign against King and other black leaders and militants in the infamous COINTELPRO operation, which spied on leaders of the civil rights and other political movements in the 1960s and early ’70s. Agents tracked King’s movements and planted negative stories about him in the press. They even encouraged King to commit suicide in an anonymous note to him.

“What you have to understand is that the FBI material was manufactured,” said Taylor. “J. Edgar Hoover was targeting King. So while there is FBI evidence that he was a womanizer, you have to understand where the information is coming from. It has to be weighed very carefully. It was part of a campaign to attack King. It needs to be considered in that light.”

While Vickers said the King family’s lawyers might look into bringing defamation of character charges against the site, he knows this is a long shot. Even sympathizers to King realize the First Amendment and the freedom associated with the Internet will more than likely prevent such litigation.

“Nothing can be done,” said Potok. “Martin Luther King is a public figure who is dead. The chances of this litigation are small at best. You don’t have to like MLK or to be honest about him on a Web site.”

In a sense, martinlutherking.org does shed light on King’s legacy by exposing the tactics of adversaries like J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI when he was alive, and Don Black’s Stormfront since his death.

Lee Hubbard is a San Francisco writer who covers hip-hop culture as well as urban and national affairs.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>