The infamous neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer has been removed from several separate platforms in the past week, but its operators will still likely be able to lurk in the shadows of the dark web.
Several tech companies either shut down or blocked the anti-Semitic blog after it wrote a malicious article mocking the death of Heather Heyer. James Fields, a white supremacist, is charged with second-degree murder for allegedly killing Heyer with a sports car August 12 during a violent rally in Charlottesville, Va.
After receiving public pressure, GoDaddy, the popular domain registrar company, threatened to remove the hateful site late Sunday night if it did not find a new domain. The onus was then put on Google to also purge it from its platform, an action it took in less than 24 hours.
“We are cancelling Daily Stormer’s registration with Google Domains for violating our terms of service,” a representative for Google told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Google also removed Gab, a more obscure social networking site used as an alternative to Twitter, from its app store, saying it “violates the hate speech policy.” Andrew Auernheimer, a somewhat prominent neo-Nazi who contributes to The Daily Stormer, uses the platform to coordinate with other followers of The Daily Stormer.
In a Gab post, he even provided a link to a Tor browser, free software that enables anonymous networks by concealing a user’s location and general usage. Using Tor, people with similar interests can continue to communicate in the shadows of the virtual abyss colloquially known as the dark web.
Despite Google’s removal, Gab is still available to download on its own website and mobile devices, just not through the app store.
Cloudflare — another company that manages domain names and offers hacking protection — also ended The Daily Stormer’s patronage, rendering it susceptible to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Such cyber assaults are when a perpetrator directs several internet-connected devices and the respective unique Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (the numerical label assigned to every device) to targeted online systems, which inundates them. (Imagine a tsunami, rather than the typical waves, hitting a beachfront).
Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince said despite finding the website “vile,” the decision to remove The Daily Stormer makes him “deeply uncomfortable,” according to Business Insider.
“The tipping point for us making this decision was that the team behind Daily Stormer made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology,” Prince said in an official blog post. “Like a lot of people, we’ve felt angry at these hateful people for a long time but we have followed the law and remained content neutral as a network. We could not remain neutral after these claims of secret support by Cloudflare.”
It’s apparently the first time the company has dropped a customer based on political pressure.
YouTube, Twitter, and several crowdfunding platforms all followed suit at some point, either removing profiles and content related to The Daily Stormer or blocking pages trying to raise money for the legal defense of Fields. Facebook also removed several posts that link to the specific Daily Stormer article, and the chat app Discord barred any servers that promote Nazi ideology, according to The Verge. Using its software algorithms, Facebook, however, tried to maintain posts sharing the article only if condemnation of it was overt.
The managers and supporters of the bigoted blog, however, are still finding ways to communicate and operate in the dark web. (RELATED: Dark Web Mastermind Would Have Eluded Cops If Not For His Interest In Rubber Gloves)
Since a domain registrar connects domain names (essentially web addresses) to IP addresses, when a domain name like The Daily Stormer is removed, its IP address continues to function. So The Daily Stormer’s web address then falls outside of the respective domain name system (DNS), (the “yellow pages” of web addresses) meaning it merely becomes unlisted, thus away, for the most part, from the general public’s view.
“Fans of the site will just share the IP address among themselves to continue accessing the site until the website can find a shady registrar willing to take on the name,” Richard Bennett, an experienced tech consultant and one of the original creators of the WiFi system, told TheDCNF.
“In this case, that could be a registrar in the Middle East or South America,” he conjectured prior to reports that The Daily Stormer was found using “.ru,” Russia’s top-level domain. A Russian web-hosting provider suspended The Daily Stormer Thursday, according to Radio Free Europe, after the country’s government launched an inquiry.
“Most of the dark web uses very odd-looking domain names that are shared among users because they’re as hard to remember as IP addresses,” Bennett explained. “Crooks are very community-minded where their common interests intersect.”
He says that along with their like-minded collaboration, it’s very hard to completely remove a site from the internet because the requirements and prerequisites for operating a website isn’t possessing a domain name, but merely having a computer, an IP address, and a physical internet connection.
“Domain names are nice, but they’re more a convenience than a technical necessity,” said Bennett.
William Rinehart, director of technology and innovation policy at the American Action Forum, agrees with Bennett, saying going to the dark web for communication and promulgation of content is not really difficult, but will require coordination.
“Moving to the dark web isn’t illegal, but it does add a lot of complications because your site needs to be accessed via [The Onion Router] TOR Browser and few people use the browser,” Rinehart told TheDCNF.
He also adds a further distinction between the dark web and the deep web.
“The deep web is simply the term for those places that Google and other public systems cannot index. So, the deep web includes content shared on Slack channels,” Rinehart explained. “The dark web, however, is generally a term for those places that need to be accessed via TOR Browser suite, which adds anonymity, and is thus a subset of the deep web.”
The developers of the Tor web browser said they’re “disgusted, angered and appalled” by The Daily Stormer and what those “racists stand for and do.”
“We feel this way any time the Tor network and software are used for vile purposes,” Tor Project contributor Steph said in an official blog post. “But we can’t build free and open source tools that protect journalists, human rights activists, and ordinary people around the world if we also control who uses those tools. Tor is designed to defend human rights and privacy by preventing anyone from censoring things, even us.” (RELATED: Feds Bust 18-Year-Old Hitman Who Offered Lethal Services On Dark Web)
So while The Daily Stormer has been removed from the respective platforms of a multitude of tech companies, it and other white supremacist, neo-Nazi contingencies may always be able to survive in the shadows of the dark web.
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