Hate magnet 

Harm or good?

In 1939, after the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, my father and his brothers fled to the Middle East. The three young men left their sister and mother behind, thinking they'd lay a path for the women to follow. But Ida and Franci Edelstein, with many of their relatives, died in Auschwitz. The decision not to bring them along haunted my father for the rest of his days.

Now, here I am, nearly 70 years after my father's escape, editing a newspaper whose website is attracting a boatload of anti-Semitic comments. Many are the most hateful brand of comments – the same things the Nazis said before they slaughtered millions of innocents and started a world war. With added insult that the slaughter never happened. Or was justified. Or, somehow, both.

The onslaught started last month when John Sugg wrote a cover story about a white-supremacist website. That drew thousands of readers and hundreds of comments from racists. Most were just plain nasty and ignorant. Some opined on an editor's note I placed under John's story on the Web, which explained that we weren't censoring the comments, even if we found them ugly.

One responded with rage that I wouldn't face him in "one-on-one debate." How dare I call his racist comments "hateful"! But another said I "should be congratulated" for allowing the hateful comments to stay up. A surprising decision from a Jew! I must be a credit to my race.

Over the last few weeks, a small cadre of racists has stuck around to comment on all sorts of CL stories. A column on free speech that John wrote harshly referenced a Jewish critic of Jimmy Carter's recent book on Palestine. The racists took it as an opportunity to pipe in comments even more disgusting than before.

Apparently, we're now on the racists' radar. I even got a letter last week seeking coverage from a Holocaust-denying Georgia State University professor (see Andisheh Nouraee's post on our Fresh Loaf blog).

All of which leaves me with two questions. The first is: Where do these people come from? Most, apparently, reveal their true feelings only anonymously on the Web. Who are they? Was one the waiter who filled my cup this morning? Or the car salesman who seemed a bit less sincere than even most car salesmen do? Are they just a handful of people commenting over and over? Or are there many more people than we ever realized infected by this particular brand of evil?

The other question is this: Do we do harm by amplifying the haters' comments or good by letting our audience see how ugly the haters are?

ken.edelstein@creativeloafing.com

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