HUD Moves against Hateful Web Site

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - In what's believed to be the first federal case against online speech described as hateful, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has charged a man with civil rights violations for making threats against a housing activist on his Web site.

Ryan Wilson, who heads a group called ALPHA HQ, is charged with violating the Fair Housing Act, Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced Monday. "Tragically, this case shows that the racism and the terrible discrimination that Dr. King fought so hard to abolish remain alive and well, and have even moved into cyberspace," Cuomo said in his Martin Luther King Day announcement in Washington.

The target of Wilson's Web site was a white woman named Bonnie Jouhari. Wilson called her a "race traitor" for helping people file housing discrimination complaints in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

The Web site carried Jouhari's picture 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."

A man at Wilson's home told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Wilson had moved last month, leaving no forwarding address. HUD officials said if an administration law judge rules against Wilson, he faces civil penalties of at least $22,000 plus monetary compensation to the woman he targeted.

According to wire services, HUD's action is believed to be the first by a federal agency against a Web site described as hateful.

Long before HUD charged Wilson with civil rights violations, the state of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against Wilson's Web site. The state's civil lawsuit - filed in 1998 - accused Wilson and his group ALPHA HG of ethnic intimidation and making terroristic threats.

The state's lawsuit led to a court order, barring Wilson from posting threats against Jouhari or any other human-rights workers in Pennsylvania.