Associated Press Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- After the explosion in Oklahoma City, the Internet let people around the world share their collective grief. It also provided detailed instructions on how to reproduce the bomb.
Within moments of the lethal blast, the Internet did what it does best, providing information and a forum for discussion about the tragedy to millions of users.
``There are as many people checking America Online each night to get the latest news as are reading the morning papers,'' said Mark Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in New York.
But it also allowed the darker side of human nature equal access.
``Are you interested in receiving information detailing the components and materials needed to construct a bomb identical to the one used in Oklahoma?'' one anonymous writer offered on an Internet engineering newsgroup.
In the positive column, Internet Oklahoma quickly put up a page on the World Wide Web providing immediate information about the bombing and check an updated list of the dead and injured.
And Wednesday, Operation Healing went online, offering the most extensive mobilization of trauma experts ever assembled.
Usenet newsgroups, the Internet equivalent of community bulletin boards, became sites of earnest discussions about the identity of the bombers and where to send relief money.
But a Texas computer bulletin board offered a 25-page manual with details of how to ``bring units into operational readiness as soon as possible.''
And another newsgroup user offered his experience as an explosives expert, noting nitroglycerin is extremely unpredictable.
``I hope people realize that it is very easy to blow yourself up even if you are convinced you know what you are doing. I was fortunate in having someone with experience to show me things step by step,'' he told readers.
For those looking for direction, the manual for the 1st Brigade of the Northern Michigan Regional militia provides a code of conduct.
``It shall be required of all militia members ... to have his own rifle, ammunition, and knapsack. Militia members are required to remain proficient in the maintenance and safe operation of the rifle and to have 100 round of ammunition available at all times.''
On the World Wide Web, Stormfront Magazine offers crisp graphics and ``a resource for those courageous men and women fighting to preserve their white Western culture, ideals and freedom of speech and association.''
``The biggest problem for bigots is they don't have the marketing tools, they don't have money,'' said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Weisenthal Center in Los Angeles.
The mainstream had been unavailable to fringe hate groups. But slickly produced sites such as the White Nationalist CyberHate page and the Counter Revolutionary Resource Page offer anyone with a computer connection instant access to racist and jingoistic material not easily found before.
``In Michigan, these people used to get their message out by putting flyers on cars windows. This technology takes it off the windshield and puts it in the living room,'' added Rick Eaton, a senior researcher at the center.
Cooper worries about research on the Internet, where computer search tools don't make the distinction between legitimate information about World War II and a revisionist group's Web page claiming the Holocaust never happened.
``It explains why these kinds of groups are rushing to put up Web sites,'' he said. ``They want to make it as appealing to the eye, they want to seem legitimate.''
But just making information available isn't the same as using it, Rotenberg cautioned.
``If you take a look at eight of the top ten novels on the New York Times fiction best seller list, they probably contain excellent descriptions of how to commit murder. Does the fact that someone tells you there's a way to slip the composite pieces of a gun through a metal detector mean that the book shouldn't be published?''
This material is copyrighted and may not be republished without permission of the originating newspaper or wire service. NewsHound is a service of the San Jose Mercury News. For more information call 1-800-818-NEWS.