What do Land O'Lakes margarine, Swiss Miss hot cocoa mix, Reese's peanut butter cups and Little Debbie snacks have in common (besides contributing to our national portliness crisis)? According to a locally based Web site, they're all produced under "major jewish-oligarch-owned food monopolies." The site, called Jew Watch (www.jewwatch.com), also links to pages containing information relating to "Jewish Terrorists," "Jewish Entertainment" and "Jewish Hate Groups." It's run by local radio personality Frank "Couch Potato" Weltner, whose call-in show can be heard Fridays from 2 to 4 p.m. on WGNU (920 AM).
That the above-mentioned snack information is listed as "unconfirmed" and many of the site's hundreds of links are broken has not lessened Jew Watch's visibility. For the past three years, it has been the number-one site listed on Google when the word "Jew" is typed into the search engine.
Until very recently, that is, when it briefly disappeared from the Web altogether.
Angered at the nine-year-old site's content and prominence, a New York real estate investor named Steven M. Weinstock launched www.removejewwatch.com in late March and started an online petition drive to protest Weltner's site. The 26-year-old Weinstock, who first came upon the site while using Google, says he didn't initially realize Jew Watch was anti-Semitic. But after consulting with his mother, he came to the conclusion that "it's a collection of conspiracy theories. It's doing nothing but bad for Jewish people. There's an article there that says the Mossad is responsible for JFK's assassination. There's different articles about how Jewish people use Christian blood. This stuff is not mainstream. Maybe 500 years ago it was, but not now."
Weinstock says his petition amassed more than 100,000 online signatures in a matter of weeks. Even Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York got into the act, penning a letter to Google in April, asking those behind the popular search tool to change their algorithm to affect the results.
Likely spurred by Weinstock's petition, Internet users attempted to sabotage Jew Watch on two other fronts. One effort involved a technique called a "Google bomb," in which a large number of Webmasters link to a specific page in an attempt to displace the ranking of another page -- in this case a page at the online encyclopedia Wikipedia with an entry for "Jew." Weinstock says petition signers also took action by contacting administrators at Weltner's Internet host and informing them of the site's controversial content. Weinstock has posted on removejewwatch.com an e-mail he says Houston, Texas-based EV1Servers sent to Weltner indicating that they were removing Jew Watch as of April 16, citing the company's acceptable-use policy and violations of its terms of service. (The e-mail, which Weinstock says he acquired from a white nationalist Web site that had posted it, does not specify the alleged violations.)
David Krane, director of corporate communications for Google, confirms that the "Google bomb" technique was employed using Wikipedia, launching that site into the top spot. Krane says Jew Watch disappeared from the search engine's rankings because the site was disabled during the time Google refreshed its rankings. "In the period of time that the site was down, Google went out and crawled the Web -- which we do monthly to refresh our collection of Web pages -- and we were unable to reach and connect to the Jew Watch Web site," Krane explains.
Krane emphasizes that Google has done nothing whatsoever to affect the stature of Jew Watch.
"We do not let our personal opinions influence the rankings of Web pages in the Google search engine," the company spokesman says. "Only if we become aware of content that is illegal -- such as child pornography -- then we certainly comply with the law and remove that information as necessary."
The Mountain View, California-based company, which recently announced plans for what will likely be a multibillion-dollar public stock offering, did go so far as post an explanation for its stance. The statement, which also explains Weltner's site's previous high ranking, can be found at www.google.com/explanation. "If you recently used Google to search for the word 'Jew,' you may have seen results that were very disturbing," it reads in part. "We assure you that the views expressed by the sites in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google.... If you use Google to search for 'Judaism,' 'Jewish' or 'Jewish people,' the results are informative and relevant. So why is a search for 'Jew' different? One reason is that the word 'Jew' is often used in an anti-Semitic context. Jewish organizations are more likely to use the word 'Jewish' when talking about members of their faith. The word has become somewhat charged linguistically.... In fact, prior to this incident, the word 'Jew' only appeared about once in every 10 million search queries."
Frank Weltner's views have caused consternation before, including on the pages of the Riverfront Times. On January 21 the paper published a letter to the editor Weltner penned in response to a letter from Karen J. Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. In commenting on a story about former St. Louis Board of Education member and current WGNU radio show host Earl P. Holt III, Aroesty had brought up Weltner and Jew Watch.
"The Jewish Anti-Defamation League... is a dastardly anti-Christian hate group which enjoys pointing its own very dirty finger at innocent people and crying 'hate' in crowded media rooms," Weltner retorted, then proceeded to "set the record straight" about Jewish culpability in everything from Soviet genocide to the management of AOL Time Warner. A barrage of anti-Couch Potato letters ensued, excoriating Weltner for anti-Semitism and the Riverfront Times for permitting him to express it.
Karen Aroesty is hardly sympathetic to Weltner's current plight.
"He must love this. He's getting a lot of publicity out of this," Aroesty says. "I would prefer it if [his site] was not around at all," she adds. "I'm happy if Weltner is off the Internet and I'm happy if Couch Potato is off the air. I think when it comes to hate speech, the ADL tends to take a very strong line, which tends to be less supportive of the First Amendment than some might like."
For Matt LeMieux, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, the issue is not so cut-and-dried. "The ADL has every right to enter the marketplace of ideas, and obviously the providers have the right to control the content of what's on their server," says LeMieux. But he draws the line when it comes to folks like Senator Schumer of New York. "I think it becomes a closer First Amendment call when you have politicians weigh in on this and try to put pressure on private companies like Google," he explains. "I don't think it's a good idea for them to be encouraging censorship."
Picking at a lunch of Chinese food on a recent sunny afternoon, Weltner doesn't seem especially vexed about his site's difficulties. The 62-year-old former high school teacher and librarian, who now owns a small résumé-writing company, would rather talk about his other projects, including the interpretation of the Bible he's writing, "a divine revelation for the white man" in 66 chapters and 360 pages. Weltner, whose gray fringes are slowly invading his red-brown hair and goatee, also takes credit for "outing" former U.S. secretary of state Madeline Albright as a Jew.
Eventually, however, he gets back on-message.
"The Jews have 95 percent of the media and I've got one little Web site. Now the same people who are always crying 'free speech' want to shut me down. Do you think that's fair?"
Weltner contends that excessive traffic is to blame for his ouster from EV1Servers. At the time Jew Watch was taken down, he claims, the site was receiving up to 5,000 hits an hour, owing to interest generated by dozens of stories published in the past few months about the controversy, appearing everywhere from the New York Times to the Jerusalem Post. (EV1Servers did not return e-mail and phone requests for comment for this story.)
As of April 23, Jew Watch was back up and running with a new host: Time Warner Telecom, according to information from United Kingdom-based Web research firm Netcraft. And as if to confirm Aroesty's fears, Weltner says the controversy yielded a benefactor, who contributed $1,300 to defray costs. Weltner, who declines to disclose the identity of the donor, says he's concerned that he could be pulled off the Web again "any minute." To ensure Jew Watch remains available to Web surfers, Weltner intends to find hosts in other countries. In places like Eastern Europe and the Middle East, he says, administrators will not bow to "Jews who complain" and nix his site.
"It's pretty sad when you have to go to Russia, Romania, Saudi Arabia and Yemen to stay on the Internet," he says.