Academic journal article Afterimage

Net Profits: Chip Berlet Tracks Computer Networks of the Religious Right

Academic journal article Afterimage

Net Profits: Chip Berlet Tracks Computer Networks of the Religious Right

Article excerpt

Chip Berlet is an analyst with Political Research Associates (PRA), a non-profit institute in Boston, MA that monitors the organizations, individuals, and activities of the American political right wing and initiates anti-right organizing projects. Berlet has spent 20 years as an investigator, journalist, and photographer focusing an civil rights and civil liberties. He has researched a wide range of right-wing political movements, including the neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, Posse Comitatus, Aryan Nations, racist Skinheads, Liberty Lobby, John Birch Society, the New Right, the Lyndon LaRouche fascist cult, and many others. In 1987 Berlet and his colleagues won the Chicago Citizens Alert Award for advancing racial justice through educational efforts exposing farm belt bigotry, organized hate group activity in Chicago neighborhoods, and the growth of the neo-Nazi skinhead movement. Berlet is a former vice president of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and currently serves as Secretary of the NLG's Civil Liberties Committee.

Before joining PRA in 1982, Berlet spent three years as a paralegal investigator at the Better Government Association in Chicago, engaged in research and trial preparation for the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against illegal government surveillance by the Chicago Police Intelligence Unit - litigation dubbed the "Chicago Red Squad" case. As a freelance writer, Berlet has written, edited, and co-authored a long list of material an right-wing activity, racism, prejudice, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, government repression, covert operations, and constitutional rights, including articles and opinion pieces in The New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, Mother Jones, The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, the Utne Reader, and many others. Berlet is a photojournalist whose pictures have been carried on the Associated Press wire, and have been published in periodicals such as the Denver Post, Washington Star, and Chronicle of Higher Education. Berlet is also a co-founder and member of the editorial board of the legal newsletter Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Law Report.

Berlet co-founded and still runs a computer bulletin board designed to challenge the information circulated by racist and anti-Jewish bulletin boards and to provide information on civil rights and civil liberties, including a kit far requesting information under the federal Freedom of Information Act. His most recent book, co-authored with Matthew N. Lyons, is Too Close for Comfort: The Fascist Potential of the U.S. Right (South End Press, 1995). In the following interview we asked Berlet to comment specifically on the use of computer networks and telecommunications systems by the Religious Right. The interview was conducted by phone from Berlet's office in Boston.

Grant Kester: When did you first begin to track right-wing computer-networks?

Chip Berlet: Around 1984. I was on-line very early with bulletin board systems (BBSs), in part because I was writing a column on computer technology and the law for the publication Chicago Lawyer. As I was examining the trend in the legal profession away from dedicated word processing systems I realized that the cutting edge law firms were developing ways to transfer data between their offices very efficiently, so I went on-line and started to explore. In June 1985 I presented a paper at a national conference on Issues in Technology and Privacy organized by professor George Trubow of the Center for Information Technology and Privacy Law at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. The debate over computer networks and BBSs was so new that Jerry Berman of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) got up at this conference and announced that, in his view, all of the BBSs were just public carriers and thus had no First Amendment rights. People's jaws just hit the floor. Part of my presentation was an attempt to explain that some of the BBSs were just like magazines or newspapers or a new form of public debate and therefore entitled to Constitutional protections. …

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