The conviction and lynching of Leo Frank a century ago galvanized the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan. Today, the centenary of Frank’s murder trial is galvanizing neo-Nazis.
A slew of anti-Semitic websites, some professionally designed and purporting to be balanced online archives with URLs like leofrank.info and leofrank.org, are seeking to attract curious researchers and to revise history.
“This is an attempt to reach the minds of young people and poison them,” said Mark Potok, editor-in-chief of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report.
Leo Frank was convicted of the murder of 13-yearold Mary Phagan in Atlanta in 1913. Two years later, after his death sentence was reduced to life in prison, a group of men kidnapped Frank from prison and lynched him.
Frank has been a Jewish cause célèbre ever since, with many journalists and scholars questioning his guilt. “To discredit Leo Frank’s story is in some ways to really take on the Jews,” Potok said.
Neo-Nazis are discussing Frank’s case vociferously online. A Frank Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/leofrankcase) page links to neo-Nazi sites. The American Mercury, H.L. Mencken’s historic magazine, resurrected online by neo-Nazis several years ago, has published several revisionist articles to coincide with this year’s anniversary.
It is impossible to say who is behind most of the neo-Nazi websites because they are registered anonymously. Their Web hosts, citing privacy rules, refuse to divulge the identities of their owners.
But one site did not hide its origins. Leofrank.info is registered to Kevin Strom of Charlottesville, Va. Strom is a well-known neo-Nazi who had significant clout and influence on the American white supremacist scene until a few years ago, when he was convicted of possessing child pornography.
Today, Strom publishes the racist National Vanguard online magazine. The Southern Poverty Law Center says Strom is “arguably the only true intellectual remaining in the American neo-Nazi movement following the 2002 death of National Alliance founder William Pierce.”
In response to the Forward’s inquiry about Strom, the Anti-Defamation League said it believes he is behind at least four anti-Semitic Leo Frank sites.
Marilyn Mayo, a director of the ADL’s center on extremism, said that leofrank.info, leofrank.org and maryphagan.info were all registered within days of each other in 2010 using the same company: Mesh Digital, in Surrey, England. The three sites, plus another one registered in the same year, leofrank.tv, are hosted by the same Texas company, ThePlanet.com.
ThePlanet.com did not respond to requests for comment. Karen Heaven, a spokeswoman for Host Europe Group, which bought Mesh Digital in 2012, said that because her company does not host the anti-Semitic websites it could not comment on their content.
Leofrank.tv is a blatantly anti-Semitic website. A video titled “Achtung Juden — the Knights of Mary Phagan,” a reference to the vigilantes who cried out for Frank’s hanging a century ago, sits at the top of the landing page.
Leofrank.org and leofrank.info are more subtly anti-Semitic. Both are well designed and provide links to carefully selected primary source materials, such as the closing arguments of Hugh Dorsey, who prosecuted Frank.
In some places, the sites admit that sources, such as contemporaneous reports by publisher Tom Watson, are anti-Semitic. In others places, they publish falsehoods. Leofrank.org seeks to discredit Steve Oney, author of a highly regarded 650-page investigation of the Frank case, by falsely claiming that he is Jewish.
At heart, the sites are intended to persuade people that Frank was guilty and that Jewish groups are trying to whitewash history.
Mayo said that because such sites look legitimate, unsuspecting people could mistake them for legitimate sources. “Even though they use some historical sources, they distort the information,” Mayo said.
When the Forward called the telephone number associated with leofrank.info, a man who identified himself as Kevin Linden answered. He said that he designed the site but would have to ask the site’s author if he would speak to the Forward. “He’s rather a private fellow,” the man said.
Later, a man who identified himself as Scott Aaron, 50, the site’s author, contacted the Forward by email. Aaron said he became interested in Frank’s case because the “popular literature… didn’t ring true.” In particular he found “the insertion of anti-Semitism as a motive for ‘railroading’ Frank to be insupportable.”
“I hope that scholars and readers, whatever they may think about Frank’s guilt or lack thereof, will be able to see that more anti-Semitism was generated by accusing Southerners of that prejudice in the wake of this case than ever existed before or during it,” Aaron added.
Potok said that there are similarities between the rash of websites anticipating Leo Frank’s anniversary and a spate of sites set up by neo-Nazis during the 1990s to smear Martin Luther King Jr. Potok said those sites were aimed at high school students writing essays on King.
“It took a few minutes to figure out this wasn’t history, this was propaganda,” Potok said.