In the week before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, MartinLutherKing.org, a website run by the Neo-Nazi website Stormfront that calls King a “sexual deviant” with an “uncontrollable lust and propensity for violence,” was a top result for searches of “Martin Luther King” on Google.
The site’s placement on the first page of results for King’s name forces results with truthful content or historical documents off the first page in favor of racist propaganda about “white children” and conspiracy theories. The first reference to King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, for example, appears on the second page.
The Daily Beast was able to replicate the first page result on Google from several different computers, logged out of accounts, in Incognito mode, and while using a VPN. The site often ranked as high as the fourth search result.
A Google spokesperson pointed The Daily Beast to a blog post about “offensive or clearly misleading content” that surfaces to the top, saying “which is not what people are looking for” and “to help prevent the spread of such content for this subset of queries, we’ve improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates to surface more authoritative content."
The spokesperson said it has an in-house task force called Project Owl working to prevent sites peddling this sort of disinformation from gaming the system.
“Our goal is to provide people with access to relevant information from the most reliable sources available, not content that is blatantly misleading, low quality, or offensive,” said Google’s spokesperson. “We regularly make improvements to ensure that high quality sites rise to the top, and we hope to continue to improve over time.”
Stormfront is a white supremacist website that was created by Don Black, a former Ku Klux Klan leader who was sentenced to three years in prison in 1980 for trying to overthrow the government on the island of Dominica.
Anders Breivik, a Norwegian white supremacist who killed 77 people in a 2011 terror attack, was a frequent Stormfront user.
Stormfront’s Black bought the domain MartinLutherKing.org in 2001, according to a records search conducted by The Daily Beast using the domain name research tool DomainTools. The Neo-Nazi group has owned it ever since, and made no secret of its ownership.
The site says it is “Hosted by Stormfront” on its front page and advises users to “Join (the) MLK Discussion Forum,” which links to a Stormfront forum called “The Truth About Martin Luther King.”
Although the site is rudimentary, it is clearly designed to appeal to children looking for answers for assignments and book reports. Inflammatory information isn’t prominently presented on its homepage.
“Bring the Dream to life in your town!” the front page reads. “Download flyers to pass out at your school.”
Those flyers refer to King as a “communist,” “woman beater” and “sexual deviant,” and say that it is “time for White Americans to repeal the King holiday.”
“Q: Which holiday honors a philanderer, a drunk, a liar, a plagiarist, and a cheater?” another flyer reads. “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.”
The site’s homepage also links to a “Civil Rights Library,” which promotes pages like “Rosa Parks: The Real Story.” That entry alleges the Rosa Parks Museum is “deliberately designed to instill feelings of guilt and self-hate in White Children.”
A section titled “Jews & Civil Rights” is written by white supremacist David Duke, who ran for and lost a bid for a Senate seat in Louisiana. “King's Jewish handlers and their allies in the media were steadfast in their laudatory portrayal of King,” Duke wrote.
The King Center in Atlanta, a nonprofit created by King Jr.’s wife Coretta Scott King in the year after his assassination, can sometimes appear after Stormfront’s King site, which is littered with falsehoods.
Carmen Luisa Coya-van Duijn, a spokesperson for the King Center, told The Daily Beast the site is a known problem.
“We have known about this organization and site for years and there is nothing legally that we are aware of we can do,” said Coya-van Duijn.
Google has been aware of the issue since at least last month. Google’s public liaison for search Danny Sullivan responded to a Twitter thread about MartinLutherKing.org on December 18th.
“Here's one issue. Unfortunately, libraries and other authoritative places link to the site, often as part of tutorials warning against sites like that,” said Sullivan. “In turn, they inadvertently pass on authority to the site. We're exploring the issue more, but it makes this site challenging.”