An edited version of the article below was published in the 2life Magazine issue of Kislev 5769 / December 2008. The article below however is the original, unedited version.
In the 2nd issue of 2Life Magazine published in May 2007 we first addressed the issue of Nazi furs in Second Life. Since that time the Second Lifers Against Hate (SLAH), Zionist Association of Second Life (ZASL), and the Second Life Jewish Defense League (SLJDL) documented the activities of several neo-Nazis in Second Life – including the Nazi furs known as the Furzis.
When we first encountered the Nazi furs we confronted them and were met with a full gamut of denials: ‘we are history buffs’, ‘we have a uniform fetish’, some of them even claimed to be Jewish. (On that note: Jews are not exempt from being anti-Semitic any more than an American is exempt from being a spy for the Russians.)
Over the course of several months we witnessed egregious violations of the Second Life Terms of Service (TOS), including the construction of derogatory and racist objects and avatars, the uploading and display of anti-Semitic images, and the sale of these items to the general public. They displayed the Nazi symbols “swastika” and “totenkopf” (or Death’s Head) not in the context of historical role-play, but in everyday life. They constantly played neo-Nazi, racist and otherwise offensive music, video, and speeches. We saw harassment, greifing, and taunting of persons represented as Jewish by their username or avatar.
One of the most disgusting things we saw was a “Concentration Camp avatar”, complete with a Juden star pinned on the chest. Another avatar was made in the image of Anne Frank, again with a Juden star pinned on the dress. They created gas chambers complete with cans of Zyklon-B (the chemical gas used in the gas chambers at Nazi death camps). Avatars displaying the swastika, White Power logos, KKK uniforms, and Nazi uniforms goose-stepped in circles while chanting “Seig heil!” We saw avatars performing racist gestures and running animations designed to intimidate and degrade others based on race or religion.
Another particularly disturbing discovery is that they created a “Jewbot” that handed out Nazi paraphernalia when clicked on; it held an Israeli flag in it’s left hand, an Israeli passport in it’s right, and a Star of David on it’s forehead. It had a big nose and curly locks similar to those Orthodox Jews wear. They had a posterboard and continuously updated it with vile images. “The Jew has multiple penises so he can sodomize Christians and Muslims simultaneously” read one poster.
The neo-Nazis played a cat-and-mouse game of cover-up using whatever method served them best. Theirs claims that they are “history buffs or have a “uniform fetish” (the definition of which, we do not fully understand) were swept away as we collected more and more evidence of their anti-Semitism. They even invoked their 1st Amendment rights.
The truth is they are racists and hate Jews. We say that based on the evidence – it’s not conjecture. They are obsessed with Jews and talk about us every very hours.
Anti-Semitism, though, was not the full extent of what we found. Adolphe Heinkel called Barrak Obama a “monkey”, and said if he were elected it would be “the first time in the history of the world an animal became president.”
Of course, people who don’t want to believe something won’t until the proof is completely undeniable. The fact that many people didn’t see this is astonishing to us, but then the fact that people are going to dress up as Nazis and see nothing wrong with it is just as incredulous.
In the end the Furzis and their friends were punished. The sale of most of the Nazi uniforms and other paraphernalia was stopped. The racist objects created by these neo-Nazi groups, such as the “Jewbot”, were erased. The main store where these items were being sold was shut down. The leader of the neo-Nazi group known as the Furzis was permanently banned. Some members of the neo-Nazi groups were suspended, others banned permanently. Linden Lab took these actions as a result of information we presented to them proving the level of anti-Semitism and hatred of these people. Due to the efforts of our groups a neo-Nazi in Canada was arrested and military weapons were confiscated by the police.
Although racists, neo-Nazis, and antisocial individuals may always be part of the community, using Second Life as a tool to promote and justify racist ideology can be stopped. The precedence set by Second Life now will be a guidepost for virtual worlds long into the future. It is up to us to stand up against racism and anti-Semitism now.
Unfortunately many in the Jewish community choose look the other way, and even actively oppose us. We believe this is due to a lack of heart, and condemn these actions. We consider helping racists by acts of omission wrong and obstruction of the effort to rid SL of them deplorable. We see many Jews mourning the Six Million, yet unwilling to inconvenience themselves in preventing the spread of Anti-Semitism today.
As a prime example of this, we are particularly disappointed with Beth Odets, one of the central figures in the Jewish community, who has worked exceptionally hard to cover up the extent of the problem. She would not acknowledge reports of harassment and Nazism that even we were aware of, much less volunteer information. She actually spread disinformation to prevent our groups from ascertaining the extent of the problems in the Israel and Ir Shalom sims. In issue the May 2007 issue of 2Life magazine she was quoted as saying “Unfortunately these things happen; what we need to remember is that in this life [Nazis] cannot harm us.” It is that very attitude that impedes the fight against anti-Semitism, hatred, and intolerance of all kinds. Members of our group have been threatened by Odets, and we condemn these threats as well as her actions in the fight against anti-Semitism in Second Life.
On the other hand, working together we have the power to strike a devastating blow to not just hate groups in Second Life, but to those in other virtual world systems to come (and therefore their larger online presence on the Web) by delegitimizing these groups. By addressing their cover-up schemes, and saying hate symbols and hate speech are not acceptable for any purpose, we pierce the veil of their organizations. No longer can they use the excuse that they are “history buffs”. No longer will there be the argument that displaying Nazi symbols and wearing KKK uniforms is an exercise in freedom of speech. We will have taken a stand for the entire community in denying safe haven for hate groups; especially given that this is the largest and most visible virtual community in the World. Hate groups are a scourge on our society, and we have the opportunity to decisively reject their message. What greater good can one do for social progress than that?
For instance, currently all objects created within Second Life are contained on the servers at the Linden Lab and IBM NOCs (Network Operations Centers), but in the not-so-distant future it will be possible to download objects created in Second Life onto a user’s own machine. While it is essential to the positive culture and progressive achievements of Second Life to eliminate anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms, it is perhaps more important to assure that Second Life is not used as a platform from which to spread 3D objects that promote hatred and racism throughout the Internet. However, there is a limited window of opportunity to eliminate these objects before they are released ‘into the wild’. If that occurs it will be trivial to distribute unlimited copies to anyone on the Internet.
Swastikas are arguably the most offensive symbols of the modern era. We do not believe they have any place in Second Life at all. Most WWII era Axis uniforms sold in SL do not have a swastikas on them, rather they use the Iron Cross symbol, which was (and is) a legitimate symbol of the German military. It is difficult to accept that not being able to wear swastikas on their uniforms is going to diminish the experience of WWII roleplay for people who have enough imagination to pretend they are Nazi soldiers in the first place. Hate symbols should be totally eliminated from SL.
If we allow any moral ambiguity on this issue the result will always be the same. When they were discussing the gas chamber Dick Volare built Michael Dumont said, “I think the only way you could do that and not get banned was to make it into, or at least disguise it as, a sort of memorial/museum.” Adolphe Heinkel then added, “like the memorial of the shoah, we have that place in france, it’s disgusting.”
In order to do this Nazism must be specifically addressed in the TOS, and/or Community Standards clause. The rationalizations the neo-Nazi groups use to justify their behavior will no longer support them, and everyone will know without any doubt what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. This also goes for KKK uniforms, White Power symbols, and other well-known hate icons. This is key to preventing these hate groups from returning.
These groups will simply reconstitute themselves if not dealt with in a swift, decisive manner. We do not believe simply banning avatars, having users create new ones, and banning them again in a repetitive cycle is effective or sufficient to eliminate the metaproblem of Nazism in Second Life. In fact, after their leader Spotz Spork was permanently banned he just re-registered as Spotz Sporg. But it is not an insurmountable task to rid Second Life of neo-Nazi groups. We outlined a plan of action to do just that and put it on our website (www.jdlsl.com).
The emergence of gas chambers, Jewbots, concentration camp avatars, and veneration of the Holocaust is a natural consequence of disregard for the warning signs on the part of the Jewish community. It will happen again and again. Not only that, but Second Life is a microcosm of social interaction. How can we possibly consider ourselves good people – spiritual people – if we have no compunction with turning our backs on opposing intolerance and hatred? That is a total contradiction of what the Jewish people stand for.
But there is another point to this that many people forget: we don’t affect only ourselves, our children have to deal with whatever we leave behind. We owe it to them to fight for their right to live without fear and prejudice. Our apathy will be their anxiety. That’s not fair, and that’s not right; not when we can do something about it.
Second Life is a leap forward for human interaction. We need to do everything we can to ensure the insidious symbology and hateful invective prevalent in the world we live in is left behind by the world we create. If there ever were an opportunity to delegitimize vitriolic hatred and prejudice this would be the time. Can Second Life be better than real life? In this way at least, yes it can.