On July 14, 2013, a white supremacist named Andrew Anglin, bewildered by black Americans' outrage over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, began typing out thoughts on what he saw as a distorted world.
"The whole George Zimmerman media psycho-drama has been completely insane from the beginning," Anglin wrote on the Daily Stormer, the neo-Nazi website he had started, after a jury acquitted Zimmerman in the shooting death of Martin the year before. Anglin called Martin, an unarmed, black 17-year-old, a "crazed, savage attacker" and warned of a conspiracy by "blacks and the Jewish media" to cast the justice system as biased against blacks.
Born amid a backlash against the post-Trayvon Martin movement drawing attention to racial bias, the site has exploded to prominence among white supremacists as #BlackLivesMatter protests stretched coast to coast. According to the website traffic tracking site SimilarWeb, by the end of 2013 Daily Stormer had more visitors than the rival Vanguard News Network, which has been around since 2003.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, said in a March report that during the previous six months Daily Stormer's Web traffic on some days even surpassed that of Stormfront.org, the oldest and largest hate site.
Anglin, in an interview Tuesday with The Times, attributed his website's popularity to his approach, which avoids long, online essays in favor of short, catchy posts.
"I wanted something punchy and funny and enjoyable to read," Anglin said. "My ideology is very simple. I believe white people deserve their own country.... There's not really anything that can happen that can affect my ideology because it's so simple and straightforward."
The website also may have been one of the go-to places for Dylann Roof, the suspected shooter in last week's church massacre in Charleston, S.C. An analysis by the Southern Poverty Law Center showed comments on the site appear similar to passages from a manifesto on Roof's website. Asked about that analysis, Anglin said the Daily Stormer user account cited by the center — "AryanBlood1488" — had commented maybe 21 or 22 times, not enough to be considered much of a regular.
If there is one thing Anglin, 30, and the law center can agree on, it is that websites such as his offer highly clickable destinations for hate group advocates. On some days since the Charleston shooting, hundreds of thousands of people have been drawn to these sites, which are crammed with material packaged beneath headlines geared to their angry audiences.
"Obama shamelessly uses atrocity to call for gun ban," a headline on the website read on June 18, the day Roof was arrested.
The Daily Stormer, named in homage to the Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer, aggregates articles from other supremacist sites, organizes lurid stories into sections titled "Race War" and "Jewish Problem," and gives posts chatty headlines that scream millennial authorship, like "LOL: Ferguson Cop Shooter Says He was Shooting at Someone Else" and "Black Church Shot Up in Charleston by Bowl-Cut Sporting Weirdo."
The Southern Poverty Law Center does not count such websites but says the number of hate groups across the country has increased by 30% since 2000. In 2012, the center counted 186 Ku Klux Klan groups, with 52 separate websites, in addition to hundreds of other groups described as white nationalist, neo-Nazi and skinhead groups, most with websites.
Stormfront.org was created in January 1995. In the first quarter of this year, it had more than 1.9 million U.S. visitors, a drop from its peak of 3.5 million in the first quarter of last year, according to SimilarWeb. Daily Stormer has grown steadily, from 127,343 U.S. visitors in the third quarter of 2013, when it was launched, to 949,170 in the first quarter of 2015.
Roof, who has been charged with murder in the deaths of nine black worshipers at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, is believed to have posted a manifesto indicating he was inspired by material on the website of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group formed in 1985 and whose website was created in 1996.
Jared Taylor, a spokesman, said the group could not be blamed for Roof's rampage. "The impact on Roof obviously was terrible and unfortunate, and we completely, unequivocally condemn any kind of violence and illegality," Taylor said in a telephone interview. "But does that mean the council's website has some sort of responsibility for its actions? The answer is unequivocally no. We put forward information. What he did with this information is his responsibility."
Therein lies the danger of such sites, said Heidi Beirich, who heads the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project. Most make a point of condemning overt acts of violence, even as they post reams of material aimed at fueling white rage and paranoia, she said.
"They're smart enough not to make open calls for violence," she said. "It's all 1st Amendment-protected speech."
But, Beirich added, "people are reading this stuff, they're sucking it in, and they're getting enraged, and we're having lone-wolf violence."
On Tuesday, Anglin too disavowed responsibility for the Charleston shooting and condemned violence in general.
"This is a news site. We report the news," Anglin wrote on the Daily Stormer. "We have an angle, just as everyone has an angle, but we are no more responsible for the actions of our readers than the Daily Beast is responsible for the actions of their readers."
FBI officials said they routinely monitor the websites to determine whether any are calling for a particular act of violence, which could lead to a criminal charge.
The arrest and conviction of self-proclaimed white supremacist William A. White, they said, is a case in point. He was sentenced in federal court in Chicago to 42 months in prison in February 2013 for "soliciting violence" against the jury foreman in a case involving another white supremacist, Matthew Hale, who was convicted of soliciting the murder of a federal judge.
White had used his site, Overthrow.com, to solicit "anyone" to kill the foreman, and he posted the foreman's home address and telephone number. The motto of Overthrow.com, which was affiliated with the National Socialist Workers Party, was to "fight for white working people."
Since then, FBI officials said, most hate websites have been careful not to directly suggest violence.
On Friday, the day Roof was arraigned, Anglin had this to say:
"I don't support what Roof did, in any way, but there is now no going back from it," he wrote on his site. "We are in the middle of a race war. The random murders of Whites are going to begin any minute now, across the country. The media will try to cover it up, but there will be too many murders to hide."
Susman reported from New York and Pearce from Los Angeles.
Times staff writers Richard A. Serrano in Washington and Scott Wilson in Los Angeles contributed to this report.