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Assemblyman Sees No Humor in Web Prank

Internet address uses Van Nuys legislator's name but directs traffic to extremist content.

January 22, 2003|Massie Ritsch | Times Staff Writer

Assemblyman Lloyd Levine of Van Nuys wants his constituents to know that white supremacy is not a plank in his platform, no matter what the World Wide Web suggests.

Levine and other politicians in California and across the nation have felt compelled in recent weeks to take political stands they normally would consider unnecessary -- denouncing racism, bestiality and the conversion of women's breast milk into cheese -- because someone has registered Web sites in their names and directed the traffic to politically unpopular organizations.

Levine, a freshman Democrat, learned last week about the existence of a site called lloydlevine.com. Initially, the Internet address pointed to the National Assn. for the Advancement of White People, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as a hate group founded by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. By Tuesday, lloydlevine.com had become a gateway to the Raelians, a religious organization that recently claimed to have cloned a human.

"I would hate for one of my constituents to enter my name into a search engine ... and think I in any way condone any of the views espoused here," Levine said. "My name is Lloyd Levine, and I ought to have full control of it."

The Legislature's lawyers are trying to determine whether lawmakers have that right.

Claiming responsibility for these cyber-shenanigans is Jeremy Stamper, who calls himself president of the Seattle-based Council on Political Accountability.

Stamper says he has registered Web domains in the names of more than 100 governors, members of Congress and state legislators from California, Florida, New York and nine other states.

Stamper's group is selling the domains on EBay and invites political activists -- not the politicians -- to "use them to criticize, to sound off, to hold politicians accountable ... use your imagination." The EBay page for the sale promises that 25% of the proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society.

Stamper said his group launched the "act of protest" this month to "make a statement about racial politics in the United States."

"Republicans and Democrats are both complicit in fostering an atmosphere of bigotry," he wrote in an e-mail to The Times.

Besides, Stamper said, people in the public eye should know to protect their identity online.

"The fact that these politicians didn't have the foresight to register their own domain names makes me wonder whether they'll have the competence necessary to jump-start the economy and safeguard our future," he said.

At $99, the asking price, Levine's name is a steal compared with colleagues whose Web addresses are listed at $149. Domains for several U.S. representatives and senators are priced at $499. As of Tuesday afternoon, there had been no bids.

An EBay spokesman said any lawmaker feeling maligned can ask to have his name pulled off the auction block.

Speaking for the National Assn. for the Advancement of White People, Vice President Rich Faraone said the group does not condone the confusion Stamper has created.

"We would never do something like that," he said. "We would never mislead people like that."

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