|HUD No. 00-55|
|Further Information:||For Release|
|In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685||2:00 p.m. Thursday|
|Or contact your local HUD office||March 16, 2000|
CUOMO ANNOUNCES TASK FORCE TO FIGHT CYBER-HATE AND DISCRIMINATION, AND INVESTIGATION OF UNITED KLANS OF AMERICAView a Sample of Fair Housing Cases
NEW YORK - Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo today announced the creation of a national task force to fight hate and discrimination on the Internet, and reopened an investigation of the United Klans of America and the alleged former Pennsylvania Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon on housing discrimination charges.
The reopened investigation involves alleged harassment against fair housing advocate Bonnie Jouhari, who lived in Reading, PA. In another recent case, a judge ruled that the leader of a neo-Nazi group who threatened Jouhari with death on his Internet web site violated the Fair Housing Act - marking the first time HUD has filed and won a discrimination case involving the Internet.
"Housing discrimination is just as illegal in cyberspace as it is in our cities, our suburbs, and our rural areas," Cuomo said. "The Internet is no sanctuary from the rule of law."
Speaking after a meeting in New York City this afternoon with representatives of national civil rights, religious, and Internet organizations and businesses, Cuomo announced:
- HUD will provide $200,000 to create a national task force of civil rights groups, religious groups, Internet companies, fair housing groups, fair housing advocates and others to develop strategies to reduce hate and discrimination on the Internet while preserving free speech rights. Private groups have recently reported significant increases in the number of hate pages on the World Wide Web. The task force will hold a series of regional meetings around the country to develop an action plan.
- HUD is reopening its investigation of allegations that alleged former Pennsylvania Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon Roy Frankhauser and the United Klans of America violated the Fair Housing Act by harassing and intimidating Jouhari and her 18-year-old daughter Danielle.
- A hearing will be held April 18 to determine if neo-Nazi group leader Ryan Wilson must pay damages to Jouhari and penalties to the federal government, following a judge's recent ruling that Wilson violated the Fair Housing Act after he failed to respond to charges that he posted death threats against Jouhari on the Internet. Jouhari said the threats forced her and her daughter to flee their home near Reading, PA and relocate to another state. She said they have since relocated again because of continued threats. The charges against Wilson can carry civil penalties of up to $22,000, plus monetary relief to Jouhari and her daughter. The compensation may cover damages, humiliation and mental distress suffered by the mother and daughter.
The Fair Housing Act bars housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status and national origin. It covers the sale, rental, financing and advertising of almost all housing in the nation.
Civil rights, religious and community groups meeting with Cuomo today to launch the fight against cyber-hate included: the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the New York Urban League, Asian Americans for Equality, the Anti-Defamation League, the National YWCA, the Open Housing Center, the Long Island Association of AIDS Care, the National Puerto Rican Coalition, the American Jewish Congress, the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, the Fair Housing Council of New Jersey, and the Latino Commission on AIDS.
Internet organizations and businesses at today's meeting included: the Center for Democracy and Technology, Oxygen.com, iVillage, Earthweb, Juno, Jupiter Communications, Pseudo.com, E-SCORE, Politics.com, govWorks.com, and the Internet Alliance.
UNITED KLANS INVESTIGATION
Bonnie Jouhari, who is white, was a Fair Housing Specialist at the Reading-Berks Human Relations Council in Reading, PA. She was also the founder and chairperson of the Hate Crimes Task Force for Berks County, PA, and served on the Governor's Interagency Task Force on civil tension.
Jouhari filed housing discrimination complaints with HUD against Ryan Wilson, Roy Frankhauser and the United Klans of America, saying their threats forced her and her daughter to flee the state, preventing her from working to help enforce the Act. Jouhari's job was to help housing discrimination victims file complaints under the Act.
Frankhauser, also of Reading, presently runs the Mountain Church of Jesus Christ in Reading and has called himself "a minister to the Klan." He has also hosted a program on a local cable television access channel called "White Forum."
In her complaint, Jouhari alleged that in January 1998 a flyer was placed on her car parked at her house that said "Race Traitor Beware" and pictured a Klansman with a noose. Jouhari alleged that at about the same time, Frankhauser began sitting on a bench outside her office and taking photographs of her, making her feel intimidated and harassed.
Jouhari also alleged she began receiving threatening phone calls at home and at work. The alleged intimidation continued even after she and her daughter fled the state, Jouhari said.
Cuomo announced today that HUD will conduct a thorough and fair investigation of the complaint against Frankhauser in response to new evidence in the case.
RYAN WILSON AND HIS NEO-NAZI GROUP
Cuomo announced in January that Ryan Wilson of Philadelphia and the neo-Nazi hate group he runs - ALPHA HQ - had been charged by HUD with violating the Fair Housing Act. The charge stemmed from threats posted on Wilson's Internet web site and made by him in a TV interview against Jouhari.
The case is the first brought by HUD for an Internet-related hate incident.
Wilson's web site carried Jouhari's picture, labeled her a "race traitor" and said: "Traitors like this should beware, for in our day, they will be hung from the neck from the nearest tree or lamp post." The site also carried an animated picture of Jouhari's office being blown up by explosives.
The web site, which has been removed from the Internet as the result of a Pennsylvania court order, had the URL of www.alpha.org/stateofhate.
Wilson also stated on his web site that Jouhari had a "mongrel" daughter - a reference to the fact that while Jouhari is white, her daughter's father is black.
In addition, HUD has a videotape of a television interview in which Wilson responds to the question "Would you ever hang her (Jouhari) from a tree?" with the reply: "In our time, yes."
On February 29, Chief Administrative Law Judge Alan W. Heifetz issued a default decision against Wilson and ALPHA HQ. The ruling said that because Wilson failed to respond to the housing discrimination charge within 30 days, as required under law, Wilson by default admitted to HUD's charges that he violated the Fair Housing Act.
COMMENTS ON HUD'S ACTION TO COMBAT CYBER-HATE
Congressional Black Caucus: "The Congressional Black Caucus fully supports the Department of Housing and Urban Development's actions to enforce the Fair Housing Act by bringing charges against persons who attempt to thwart fair housing laws through intimidation, threats, and other illegal activity.... In order to ensure that these and other efforts by HUD to combat housing discrimination continue, the Caucus urges Congress to approve President Clinton's request for increased funding for HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in the Fiscal Year 2001 federal Budget."
Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus: "The Congressional Hispanic Caucus supports all those brave men and women, like Bonnie Jouhari, who champion the cause of justice and equality. We applaud the Department of Housing and Urban Development's groundbreaking decision to create a national task force to fight hate and discrimination on the Internet. While we must guard the right to free speech on the Internet, hate-mongering will not be tolerated. Together, we will work to protect the right of every family to live in the community of its choice."
Winnie Stachelberg, Political Director of the Human Rights Campaign: "New technology, including the Internet and e-mail, has helped millions of lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals to connect with their communities and to find the support and services they need. However, hate also thrives online. We applaud Secretary Cuomo's efforts today to bring together civil rights groups, religious, and Internet organizations and businesses to fight hate and discrimination on the Internet."
People who believe they've been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD by calling 1-800-669-9777.