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November 6, 2018 5:51 pm

French Neo-Nazi Website Hosted by US Company Cloudflare ‘Hiding Behind First Amendment’ to Promote Virulently Racist, Antisemitic Messages

avatar by Ben Cohen

One of the many blatantly antisemitic images displayed on French neo-Nazi website ‘Démocratie participative’ – hosted in the US by San Francisco-based tech firm Cloudfare. Photo: Screenshot.

A viciously antisemitic and racist French website whose traffic has increased markedly throughout 2018 is hiding behind the US Constitution’s First Amendment to promote its hateful agenda, a prominent media think-tank stated this week.

The website, Démocratie Participative (DP), “circumvents France’s prohibition on racist and antisemitic speech by noting prominently on its homepage that it is a ‘US site in French protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America,” noted the report — published by the Washington, DC-based Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI) think tank, which monitors antisemitic media globally as part of its mission. The First Amendment explicitly forbids legislation and other measures that restrict free speech or freedom of the press in the United States.

Little information is available about David Johnson Jr., the US citizen reported by MEMRI and several French journalists to be DP’s owner. However, a search on Tuesday of the database of ICANN – the international organization that administers internet domains – revealed no mention of a “David Johnson Jr.,” with the unnamed registrant of the site listed as a resident of Massachusetts.

DP is presently hosted by Cloudflare, a San Francisco-based tech company whose CEO, Matthew Prince, is a stalwart advocate of unrestricted speech online. Prince defiantly hosted the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website until a violent far-right rally in Charlottesville in Aug. 2017 forced him reluctantly into a climbdown. Just this week, Prince reached again for notoriety when his company servers added the social media platform Gab — the same messaging site used by Robert Bowers, the neo-Nazi gunman who murdered 11 Jews at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 27, to spread antisemitic and racist hatred.

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The MEMRI report observed, “DP is formatted almost identically to the US-based white supremacist and neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer. Like the latter, DP calls for donations ‘in shekels,’ purports to be against violence, and features the disclaimer that it is ‘committed to peace and non-violence.'”

In March 2017, Daily Stormer — edited by the posturing American neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin — published an admiring profile of DP that urged, “if any French bros are reading this — and I know some of you read the Daily Stormer — make sure to check out as well as their entertaining podcast. Spread the word.”

Despite the website’s inclusive-sounding name — French for “Participatory Democracy” — DP’s content is plastered with repulsive and disturbing ethnic stereotypes, including Nazi-era cartoons of grasping, hook-nosed Jews, photographs that juxtapose black people with primates, and mugshots of LGBT+ community leaders adorned with the discriminatory Nazi “pink triangle.”

Images of prominent Jews are frequently marked with Nazi-style yellow stars and the word “Jude.” The site’s inflammatory racist language — whose milder examples include references to a “Hebrew financial conspiracy” and the demonization of immigrants as “negroid cockroaches” — is in clear violation of France’s rigorous hate speech laws, which class Holocaust denial and racist invective as criminal as well as civil offenses.

DP has also carried out harassment campaigns against those it perceives as enemies. In August, Denis Dreyfus — a Jewish lawyer representing the family of a young white man killed outside a nightclub in the town of Grenoble by three North African youths — was inundated with death threats from DP supporters, who called him a “treacherous Jewish lawyer” and accused him of colluding with “Arab savagery.” The mother of the murdered youth, Adrien Perez, issued an emotional condemnation of the campaign against Dreyfus, saying that she did not want “my son’s beautiful face to become a banner of hate.”

Cracking down on internet-based hatred has become a priority for the French government over the last decade, which has witnessed the worst antisemitic outrages since World War II, such as the terrorist attacks on a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 and a kosher supermarket in Paris in 2015, and the brutal murders in the last eighteen months of two Jewish widows in Paris, Sarah Halimi and Mireille Knoll — the latter a Holocaust survivor. Following the January 2015 gun attack on the Hyper Cacher market, in which four Jews were murdered by an Islamist gunman, then-Prime Minister Manuel Valls emphasized the importance of  “educating young people against the antisemitism they encounter in their families and on the internet.”

For the past several months, DP has been in the legal sights of the official French agency Dilcra – an inter-ministerial body created in November 2014 to challenge online antisemitism, racism and bigotry towards the LGBT+ community. Last month, the Paris public prosecutor ordered nine French telecoms companies to begin the process of blocking access to DP, while an earlier Dilcra initiative to remove the site’s links from internet search results has significantly dented its visibility among internet users in France.

Nonetheless, an overview of DP’s traffic from web analysis site showed that its audience has been building steadily during this year. The 530,000 visits recorded by the site in April 2018 increased to 880,000 visits in September. Most visitors spend an average of 5 minutes on the site — twice the time typically spent by internet users on a website, and evidence of a strong commitment on the part of DP’s readers to its content and message. The vast bulk of DP readers (76 percent) are based in France, with other visitors registered from Switzerland, Portugal and — until Nov. 3, when the site was blocked by local authorities — in Belgium. In a probable measure of the linguistic range among American white supremacists, less than 1 percent of DP’s traffic comes from readers in the US.

An investigation into DP by the French newspaper Le Monde in October identified the key individual behind the site as Boris Le Lay, a far-right activist from the northwestern region of Brittany, and a sympathizer with its small Breton nationalist movement. A well-known figure in what some French analysts have dubbed the extreme right-wing “fachosphere,” with over 100,000 followers on Twitter and Facebook, Le Lay, 38, moved to Tokyo about five years ago.

Despite a string of arrest warrants in France for his neo-Nazi activities, Japan has so far refused to extradite him. According to Le Monde, the global law enforcement agency Interpol is preparing to issue a “red notice” — a form of international arrest warrant — for Le Lay in the coming months.

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