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Anti-Semitic E-Mail Sent to 400 at College; Officials Seek Sender

October 23, 1998|CHRIS CEBALLOS and NANCY CLEELAND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Irvine Valley College authorities are trying to track down the sender of an anti-Semitic e-mail message that went out blindly to about 400 faculty and staff members Thursday morning, and have turned the message over to a federal prosecutor who specializes in Internet hate crimes.

The message, which filled several computer screens, was titled "What George Washington and Benjamin Franklin said about the Jews." It contained a series of statements attributed to Washington, Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Peter Stuyvesant that were hostile to Jews, then identified 60 U.S. government officials and workers as being Jewish.

"Everybody was offended," said Wendy Phillips, an instructor at the community college. "Some people were worried by the e-mail."

College President Raghu Mathers responded with his own electronic message to the faculty and staff Thursday, writing, "I find this message disturbing, inflammatory, hateful and totally disgusting. There's no question that this is the product of some 'sick minds' in our society."

Assistant U.S. Atty. Michael Gennaco, who led the first successful prosecution of an Internet hate crime earlier this year in a case involving a former UC Irvine student, said he will review the message to determine if it constitutes a hate crime.

"As with every case like this, I'll review the transmission and try to learn as much about the circumstances as possible," he said. "If it constitutes a threat, we'll prosecute."

In the UCI case, expelled student Richard Machado sent e-mail threats to several Asian students, threatening to "hunt all of you down and kill you." He signed the message "Asian Hater," but was quickly tracked down by school officials through his AOL account. Machado was found guilty of a hate crime and sentenced to a year in jail.

The e-mail message sent Thursday contained no explicit threats. But Gennaco said it could still constitute a hate crime if there was "an intent to threaten the safety or well-being of others." Gennaco said the threat "could be indirect or constituted in conjunction with other information."

The sender apparently used a free e-mail account from NetAddress, a Colorado-based account provider. He or she then acquired a college code to send the same message to every employee at the college, a practice known as spamming.

Allan MacDougall, director of information technology for the South Orange County Community College District, likened it to electronic junk mail. "It's the sending of unwanted advertising to a large group of people," MacDougall said. "The whole industry is very troubled by it. It has the effect of diluting the value of the entire system."

MacDougall said advanced computer skills are not necessary to send such a mass message. "Anyone on campus could get [the addresses]. It's not a tightly held secret."

College authorities said sending hate mail messages violates college Internet policy, but they were vague about what disciplinary measures might be taken if the sender proves to be associated with the campus.

NetAddress has an anti-spamming policy and a full-time staff to find the sources of unwanted mass mailings, said Paul Baker, a supervisor. He said his staff probably could identify the sender in this case, but that the company would not release the information without a subpoena.

Hate-filled messages and Web sites have become increasingly common on the Internet, said Joyce Greenspan, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League in Orange County. "If you made a trip onto the Internet, you could find a great deal of anti-Semitic Web pages, anti-black, anti-Asian, anti-Latino, anti-anything. The Internet is full of disgustingly bigoted and hateful information if one looks for it."

It has become so prevalent that the league employs a full-time computer expert to investigate such sites and messages, and recently published a book on the subject titled "High Tech Hate."

Greenspan said the message probably was constitutionally protected speech. "It is hateful and ugly, but there is nothing criminal about distributing hate," she said. "It hurts, you don't forget it, and it's certainly motivated by hate. It can lead to a hate crime, but the incident itself is not a hate crime because there's no direct threat to anyone."

College officials were at a loss to explain why the campus was targeted. "You never can explain behavior like that," Chancellor Cedric Sampson said. "The college is the victim here, both in terms of the hate mail itself and the publicity that associates the college with these kinds of attacks."

Irvine Valley is one of two colleges in the South Orange Community College District, which is the center of a yearlong controversy surrounding the recall of Trustee Steven J. Frogue.

Frogue became the target of a recall drive last year after proposing a seminar that many perceived as anti-Semitic. Frogue has denied all allegations of anti-Semitism and has refused to resign, saying recall petitioners used fraudulent methods to collect signatures.

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