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Spam Kings by Brian S McWilliams

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Chapter 1. 

Birth of a Spam King

People are stupid, Davis Wolfgang Hawke thought as he stared at the nearly empty box of swastika pendants on his desk. It was April 22, 1999, two days after the one-hundredth anniversary of Adolph Hitler's birth. Dozens of orders for the red-and-black necklaces had been pouring into his Knights of Freedom (KOF) Nationalist Party web site every week since he built it nine months ago. The demand nearly outstripped what his supplier could provide, but Hawke wasn't celebrating his e-commerce success. As he stuffed the remaining pendants into padded envelopes and addressed them, Hawke gazed out the window of his mobile home at the hazy South Carolina sky and thought: This is the ultimate hypocrisy. If even half of these people actually joined the party, I would have a major political movement. Instead, all they want is a pretty, shiny pendant.

And if a snoopy reporter for the local paper hadn't recently blown his cover, Hawke might not have been spending all of the web site's income on rent, telephone, and electricity bills for the double-wide just off Highway 221 in Chesnee. But Hawke was forced to move into the trailer in March, after secretly operating KOF.net for six months from the dorm room his parents paid for at Wofford College in nearby Spartanburg. Hawke had always been an anomaly at the pricey Methodist school, with his penchant for dressing all in black, wearing his dark hair in a ponytail, and sporting a push-broom mustache. But the 20-year-old junior had managed to hold down a 3.8 grade point average as a double major in German and history without anyone knowing he was also the founder and chief executive director of the Knights of Freedom. His room in Shipp Hall had been festooned with Nazi flags, Hitler videos, and a collection of knives, but Hawke did no proselytizing on campus. In fact, he had little social contact with other students.

Although his ultimate goal was one day to be elected the nation's first white-power president, Hawke knew he had to lay some groundwork before his philosophy would become mainstream. That task would make him a target for leftists and the media. To shield himself, even with party comrades and web site visitors, Hawke used the pseudonym "Bo Decker" and listed a post office box in Walpole, Massachusetts as the Knights of Freedom mailing address.

Over a thousand people signed up for his monthly email newsletter, the White Pride News Service. Some 200 people joined as dues-paying members, paying five dollars a month for a membership card, a KOF armband, a videotape of speeches by Decker, and a subscription to the newsletter. Not bad for a movement that had been unheard of a year earlier. In fact, the Anti-Defamation League had recently said that KOF was the fastest-growing neo-Nazi group in the United States. Using the alias Bo Decker, Hawke had introduced the world to the Knights of Freedom in an August 1998 posting to several online discussion groups: "We must band together in unity to defend our Race. Either we stand together and battle for the right to racial existence or we will be wiped out by international Jewry and their nigger police."

As Hawke saw it, the Knights of Freedom had two major things going for it: its web site and his brains. The KOF.net site, dressed all in black like its owner, was the best white-power site on the Internet. Besides the merchandise section, there was a chat room, press release section, message board, and automated sign-up forms—all the bells and whistles. At one point, Hawke even posted a note on the site's home page offering to provide web design and hosting to other white-power groups. Hawke and his lieutenants also knew how to use the Internet for promotion. They worked newsgroups and discussion lists, talking up the Knights of Freedom and its web site. Hawke had put an automatic hit counter on the front page of KOF.net, and he got a kick out of checking the traffic statistics every day. It intrigued him that you could publish a message in a newsgroup or send out the newsletter emails and then a few hours later watch the bar graphs on the stats page suddenly shoot up.

As for Hawke's mind, it was quantitative, analytical. It made him a top student in high school and a formidable chess player, and it made his college studies a snap. He could think several moves ahead of his opponents.

However, in a moment of hubris, Hawke posted a large photograph of himself on the front page of KOF.net. It showed the lanky Hawke dressed in a Nazi uniform, with his arm outstretched in a "Heil Hitler" salute. When a Wofford student was out web surfing one evening in early February and happened to run across the site, Hawke was undone.

Soon a front-page exposé appeared in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal that fingered Hawke as the head of KOF. It said that he used the site for recruiting and to stoke racist fervor among party members, who addressed him as "Commander." According to the article, the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors hate groups, had been tracking him since he was in high school in Westwood, Massachusetts.

But what hit Hawke like a punch to the gut was a matter-of-fact statement in the article attributed to Mark Potok, the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Potok told the paper that Hawke was a Jew who, to hide his heritage, had changed his name from Andrew Britt Greenbaum upon graduating from high school in 1996.

The article buried what would become Hawke's standard rebuttal to the charges: that his father, Hyman Andrew Greenbaum, was only one-quarter Jewish. And it omitted altogether that Hawke believed his true biological father was a German immigrant named Dekker with whom his mother had had an affair. Either way, Hawke knew he wouldn't have been considered Jewish even under Hitler's classification. As Hawke wrote in his application for a change of identity: "I have always responded to a different name and I wish to formalize my name prior to attending college in the fall as to avoid confusion."[1]

The article couldn't have come at a worse time. For the past few months, the Knights of Freedom had begun to attract attacks from other white-power groups. Some, jealous of Hawke's Internet skills, had taken to calling him the "Net Nazi" and were claiming that the KOF was a virtual movement with no real world presence. Others, suspicious of the KOF's quick rise into the limelight, posted mocking replies to his messages in online newsgroups. To Hawke's detractors, the falsehoods about his Jewish ancestry would provide delicious irony and damaging ammunition.

Indeed, the insults about him being a "Kosher Nazi" had already begun. Tom Metzger, head of the White Aryan Resistance—the same Tom Metzger whose name Hawke had placed in the hidden "MetaTag" code at KOF.net to bring in traffic from search engines—was quoted in the Herald-Journal article as saying, "If he is a Jew, he will have no stature left. People he is involved with will have nothing to do with him."

When the article appeared, part of Hawke was mortified that everything he had built was about to collapse. But he tried to stay cool-headed. He contemplated his damage-control options. He wouldn't say anything about the article to people in the Knights of Freedom unless they asked. And if they did, he'd remind them that the whole matter was a creation of the Jewish-controlled media or an effort by the Zionist Occupied Government, as he liked to refer to the controlling powers in the U.S., designed to undermine proud Aryan people. Bottom line, any publicity is good publicity, Hawke would tell his followers.

Fortunately for Hawke, people at Wofford were focused more on Hawke's message than on the revelations about him as a messenger. To his relief, he inspired fear, not laughter. Wofford professors abandoned their syllabi that day and instead devoted their classes to discussing the Knights of Freedom web site and the group's leader. Then, in the evening, around 300 Wofford students—nearly a third of the student body—gathered in the college's auditorium to hold a candlelight vigil to show their opposition to racism and bigotry.

While Wofford's dedication to principles of free speech prevented administrators from expelling Hawke, they were eager to relax the college rules and allow him to move off campus. In early March, he signed a lease for the cramped trailer in the woods, fifteen miles from the college. Hawke knew he was finished with Wofford; he'd complete the semester, but that would probably be the end of his college career. Bigger things awaited him. The publicity train started by the local paper was chugging along. The Boston Globe published a story about him in late February that put the Knights of Freedom on a national stage. Even Rolling Stone wanted to send a reporter to interview him.

There was a silver lining to Hawke's move off campus. A woman he had met in an online chat room offered to move to South Carolina and serve as party secretary. Her name was Patricia Lingenfelter. She was a beautiful Aryan, smart and tough—a green belt in karate—and ten years older than Hawke. Once he was out of the dorms, Hawke invited her to stay with him in Chesnee. To keep up appearances, he insisted that she still refer to him as "Commander" around other party comrades, but everyone knew Hawke and Patricia were lovers.

In late March, Hawke decided it was time to host an assembly of comrades in Chesnee. He wanted the First Party Congress to happen on the one hundredth anniversary of Hitler's birthday, but April 20 didn't coincide with Wofford's spring break. So he scheduled the meeting the week before the Fuhrer's 100 th. While fewer than a dozen party members showed up, the atmosphere was charged by the presence of a camera crew from ABC News's Hard Copy program, which broadcast a snippet of Hawke's rousing speech, along with footage of party members marching around outside his trailer in their Nazi regalia.

Meanwhile, out in Colorado two kids at Columbine High School celebrated Hitler's birthday by going on a shooting rampage, killing twelve people, including themselves. Suddenly, TV news producers were grabbing for their Rolodexes, and Hawke's name, after his strong performance on Hard Copy, was coming out on top. A crew from the Fox Files television news program showed up at the trailer the next day to interview Hawke about the Knights of Freedom and his insights into the killings.

The media likes to buy and sell fear, Hawke thought as he and Patricia watched the Fox report on the TV in his trailer that evening on April 22. The program was trying to spin the Columbine massacre as a racially motivated hate crime, but Hawke wouldn't play along. At one point in the program, the Fox interviewer asked Hawke, who was wearing his Nazi uniform, if he ever hugged his father.

Hawke said no, and added that he didn't hug his mother either.

"Why not?"

"I never felt the need for physical contact of that sort," said Hawke.

"Did you feel the need for human affection?"

"Human affection is not something that I value at the moment, or then, or ever."

"Do you believe in love?"

"Sure, I believe in love, but I don't believe that I can ever have time for that. That's a human emotion," replied Hawke.

"Do you think that people would see that as sad or unfortunate, that here's a young man that says that he never felt any love for anyone growing up, or never hugged his mom or dad?"

"I don't really care what they have to say," Hawke answered.

When the program was over, Hawke switched off the TV. Patricia said she was going to head into town for a quick food run and to gas up the car. Hawke turned on the computer on his desk and was waiting for it to boot up when the phone rang. It was his mother. He hadn't spoken to her for several months.

"Are you happy now?" she yelled at him.

"What do you mean?" he replied.

Peggy Greenbaum said she had seen the Fox Files segment. "How do you know your web site didn't cause those boys to go crazy in Columbine? It makes me sick to think that you might have spurred them on," she said.

Hawke considered her question. To him, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were probably just disgruntled teens taking revenge against a school system that was force-feeding them the same old liberal nonsense day after day, year after year. But before he had a chance to explain this to his mother, she interrupted.

"I hope you're happy now," she hissed again, and hung up on him.

Hawke sat down at his desk. His parents had been paying his tuition and living expenses, but it was obvious he could no longer rely on them for anything. Yet he knew that if he was going to realize his dream of building the Knights of Freedom into a major political movement and creating an Aryan homeland out west, he'd need a lot of money. Hawke's personal savings—acquired through generous holiday gifts from his parents and other relatives—would carry him for a while. He was pretty certain that his grandparents on both sides of the family would someday will him a small fortune, maybe close to a million dollars. But in the meantime, there were bills to pay.

Hawke started up the web browser on his computer and typed in the address of the eBay auction site. He occasionally visited the site to check out auctions of Nazi paraphernalia—he'd picked up one of his SS uniforms that way. But this time he wasn't going to the site to shop. Instead, he surfed to the section of the site for creating a new account, and began rapidly filling out the form.

Hawke paused when he got to the section asking him to specify a username. After some thought he typed in "antiqueamerica"—a sturdy name that wouldn't provoke any suspicion. Then he launched himself machinelike into the repetitive task of setting up auctions for the knives, buckles, pendants, uniforms, and other Nazi gear he'd been selling at KOF.net.

When Patricia returned to the trailer an hour or so later, the change in Hawke wasn't visible. But he had begun his transformation from neo-Nazi organizer to Internet spammer.

[1] As reported by Thomas Farragher in "Top Westwood Student, Now Supremacist, Denies His Past" (Boston Globe, 28 February 1999, page A1).

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