The Far Right Has Found a Web Host Savior
A web host called Epik has begun hosting the sites that other web hosts won't, which raises questions about how successful deplatforming hateful websites can actually be.
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When Radio Wehrwolf, a popular podcast network among militant neo-Nazis, was shut down by its web host, the site was effectively homeless.
But shortly after it disappeared in March, one of its podcast hosts suggested Radio Wehrwolf had found a web host bringing the site back online.
“On a little hiatus there with the website. We're gonna get that back up and running soon,” said the host on a meandering, two-hour-long YouTube clip, in which he complained about being taken offline by Bluehost, its former webhost.
Mere weeks later the podcast was back, and a simple WHOIS search reveals it’s registered by a little-known domain registrar called Epik.
The connection between the neo-Nazi podcasters and the Seattle-based company isn’t surprising: The web hosting service has recently become the safehaven for the extreme right.
In January, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a report that explained that, though Epik seemed to start as a nondescript web host, it has recently updated its mission to be a “protector of free speech,” which has meant grabbing a long list of new far-right clients. The “free speech social network” Gab, YouTube-like video sharing site Bitchute, and Alex Jones’s InfoWars are all users of Epik.
“As a registrar, Epik plays an important role in the online infrastructure necessary to keep far right extremists online, including those that advocate violence,” Joshua Fisher-Birch, of the nonprofit Counter Extremism Project, told Motherboard in an email.
Fisher-Birch said he wasn’t surprised to learn Radio Wehrwolf turned to Epik or that the web registrar has ongoing connections to far-right content. And while mainstream web hosts or Silicon Valley giants like Facebook have taken well publicized actions against the far right, more obscure companies like Epik have filled the gaps for neo-Nazi sites to find a home online.
“This is potentially dangerous because it enables the further dissemination of extremist rhetoric and propaganda, including the promotion of violence, even after a site has been dropped by other companies,” Fisher-Birch said. “While Epik portrays this as a noble exercise in anti-censorship, they’re making a business decision to continue to amplify voices calling for violence.”
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Radio Wehrwolf has a vast cache of podcasts discussing neo-Nazi militancy and embracing deep hatred of minorities. Some examples of its content includes interviews with extremist militants who espouse violently racist views, including the supposed leader of Feuerkrieg Division—an armed hate group in Europe on the radars of terrorism experts—and an American veteran who claimed to have fought with a far-right Ukrainian militia in the ongoing war in Donbass.
Epik’s CEO is a man named Rob Monster. When asked why the company hosts violent content, he told Motherboard in an email that the company is committed to protecting free speech.
“Epik allows lawful free speech,” he said linking to Epik’s statement on Gab. “We welcome all views, without bias or preference.”
Apart from Radio Wehrwolf, Epik clients Gab and Bitchute have become well known as repositories of neo-Nazi social media activities.
In recent weeks, Motherboard has viewed content emanating from not only Feuerkrieg Division, but also from The Base and Atomwaffen Division—both widely considered to be extremist hate groups—and their associated accounts operating freely on Gab and Bitchute, urging violence and in some cases espousing the terroristic doctrine of “accelerationism,” which calls for an insurgency against society to ultimately destabilize it and cause a “race war.”
After the terrorist attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue in November, Gab—popular among the far-right—was banned by its former web host GoDaddy for violating its terms of service. Epik quickly came to its aide, claiming the de-platforming was a form of extreme censorship.
“Dear Gab Nation,” wrote Epik founder and CEO, Rob Monster, at the time on Gab. “As a number of you know, since Epik.com became the registrar for Gab, I have made an effort to engage both the extreme right and the extreme left, as well as everything in between. I have done this in part because I think Gab has been wrongly depicted by the media and also because I bet my own reputation on Epik's decision to serve as Gab's registrar.”
After the Christchurch terror attack in which a white nationalist terrorist killed 50 people, Monster was widely criticized for insisting on uploading links to the shooter’s video of the massacre onto Gab for users to click.
“For anyone interested, a copy of [the shooter’s] writing were saved to an Interplanetary File System (IPFS) file,” posted Monster on Gab, distributing the related link. “Epik is working on a new cloud utility that will make it easy for anyone to create an IPFS file with no technical skills required.”
Epik’s hosting of far-right clients comes at a time when the path of online radicalization towards far-right extremism has come under renewed scrutiny after an alleged white nationalist terrorist attacked a synagogue in San Diego and killed one and injured four other worshippers. The suspect is widely believed to have been inspired by both the Pittsburgh and Christchurch attacks, and the online doldrums of the far-right.