On Friday, NBC ran the fifth installment of the pedophile-trapping news segment. The stings are choreographed by a community college drop-out and his group of "trained citizen contributors" who have, in the name of protecting society from its most reviled deviants, also aimed their vigilante arsenal at rival web sites, personal enemies, and even Google and Wikipedia.
It's got to be a little heady these days for Xavier Von Erck, the Director of Operations for Perverted-Justice.com. In an online essay, he talks about growing up with a mother who "worked everything from Taco Bell to gas station jobs to warehouse jobs to parts delivery jobs." His group now rakes in over a hundred grand for each episode it's involved with.
A recent New York Daily News article cited another article on RadarOnline identifying him as a 27-year-old Oregon community college dropout. But when the article linked to his blog, Von Erck redirected it to his original emails to the magazine's reporter. "I completed some college before what I would call a 'productive internet addiction' ruined my studies," he'd commented, "which I were not all that interested in anyways."
There are people who oppose Perverted-Justice.com's methods. There's even an opposing site that calls itself Corrupted-Justice.com. ("Number of INNOCENT people harassed and terrorized by volunteer vigilantes...with no police involvement since January 2003: 2704.") This in turn spawned a counter-counter site called Corrupted-Justice.net whose sole function is to criticize Corrupted-Justice.com.
It all culminated in a bizarre incident involving an Arkansas pilot — a married man (and non-pedophile) who still vehemently opposed the group. He'd threatened everything from online computer attacks to investigations from the IRS. The response? Erck says his group lured the married man into an online romance by pretending to be a sympathetic female and then continued the online relationship for several months, leading to the collection of thousands of lines of chat containing personal information used to out the straying man to his wife.
Fighting pedophiles has brought with it still more enemies. For instance, they have a problem with Google. Their site argues that pedophiles "have infiltrated legitimate businesses to try to spread their pro-pedo message to the masses" — if by "infiltrated legitimate businesses," you mean "posted on a blog." Google is their #1 target for its ownership of Blogspot, which is guilty of not removing sites advocating sex with children. Perverted-Justice concedes that "We love Google," yet the company is #1 in their "Corporate Sex Offender registry" for failing to remove pedophilia-advocating blogs, including two blogs by a user named Rookiee.
Both Google and Libsyn.com (Rookiee's podcast host) are listed as "aggressive corporate sex offenders" on Perverted-Justice for giving Rookiee a platform. The first name on their list of passive corporate sex offenders is Wikipedia, which it describes as the "'wild west' of encyclopedias" with "a vast pedophile cabal seeking to undermine it." Their main objection was that Wikipedia's articles could be accessed and edited by Rookiee. (Although not any more. Last week his Wikipedia account was blocked from updating the site's articles, though not without some spirited discussion.) "We've left Wikipedia in the 'passive' category," Perverted-Justice states, "because they still have not taken a clear and unambiguous stance disavowing pedophile advocates from editing 'encyclopedic' pedophile articles."
This Saturday they added a new name at the top of their corporate offenders list: Verizon/MCI Worldcom. (Perverted-Justice argues that an obscure Canadian hosting company named Epifora hosts dozens of sites advocating sex with minors — and is getting its internet connectivity from Verizon's pipes.)
So who do they like? Well, there's YouTube — for removing Rookiee's account; Xanga — for pulling Rookie's web site; and CafePress — for pulling Rookiee's online store. (They're now listed as "the Rehabilitated.") In fact, elsewhere on the Perverted-Justice site they write that entire list was created because "Rookiee made the mistake of attacking our organization online." That was enough to get him their attention, along with the companies enabling him to speak. Perverted-Justice argues that the writings of Rookiee offer a "snapshot" into the online pedophile world.
In their own bizarre form of exploitation, every page of the site now also includes an ad for their official store, which offers to give visitors a chance to raise awareness of the growing problem of online pedophilia "by shopping." The store sells merchandise bearing the site's logo, including underwear, women's thongs, and a baby doll t-shirt. There's also coffee mugs and beer steins. For the t-shirts they've even come up with catchy pedophilia-busting slogans.
"See you later masturbator, after a while, pedophile."
"Squeeze no child's behind"
"Coast to coast, we make predators toast"
Publicizing their pushback against online predators may or may not offer another way of discouraging online predators — but it's ultimately bringing its own set of challenges. The article in Radar cited a controversial blog post Von Erck made over two years ago, arguing a hostage who signaled his weakness to an al Qaeda captor failed to understand that "Arab culture is quite sick in many respects.... Spinelessness and negotiation only encourage Arabs to attack and harass western society further." Von Erck's emailed responses to Radar's reporter also hint at other criticisms he's faced. ("[W]e have not posted the log of anyone prior to conviction in almost over nine months now.") He's angry about the way the article portrayed him and rationalizes any personal flaws by citing his site's victories in the war on pedophiles:
One was a doctor and a vice-president of a biotech firm. One was a software developer for Apple. Two were guys in IT (who likely could have figured out how to log into Yahoo chat on a Mac) And yet another had a very successful job running a fairly successful business
He may be a community college drop-out — but for the fifth time he's also busted pedophiles on television. It's worth noting, though, that before he ever dreamed of hooking up with Dateline, he posed as children in chat rooms and chatted sexually with adults. He hasn't admitted that it's one he entertains himself, but this is an established role-playing fetish in itself.
In any case, we once again have a self-congratulating sex baiter who rains righteous anger down on everyone — except himself.
Web Fight: Wikipedia, YouTube vs. Perverted Justice
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