Washington, DC - The bulletin board of the Matthew Shepard Online Resources Web site <http://www.wiredstrategies.com/wwwboard> was shut down Dec. 14 as the result of a coordinated attack by thousand of anti-gay fans of pro-wrestler Mick Foley. Foley's supporters, angered that the slain student was winning a Time magazine online poll for "Man of the Year" <http://cgi.pathfinder.com/time/moy/index.html>, overwhelmed the board with a continuous onslaught of anti-Shepard and anti-gay messages, requiring the site to be temporarily shut down.
"On the same day Matt's mom announced the Matthew Shepard Foundation, thousands of wrestling fans descended on my site to belittle Matt's death and attack gay people," said John Aravosis, president of Wired Strategies, who has been managing the site since Shepard's attack and death. "They wrote 'AIDS kills fags, and so do I', and called Matt 'faggot', 'little queer,' and 'Dead Homo of the Year.' It was absolutely sickening," said Aravosis.
The Online Resources site <http://www.wiredstrategies.com/shepard.html>, a comprehensive source of information on the anti-gay hate crime, gained prominence shortly after Shepard was brutally murdered in Wyoming in October of this year. The site received half a million hits its first week of operation, and Time magazine, CNN, US News & World Report, and the University of Wyoming all established links between themselves and the Shepard site. The bulletin board has been used to plan at least 70 vigils to honor Shepard across the country and abroad, and to share grief about the student's murder. In addition, when the vandals struck Monday, a number of grassroots activists were in the process of using the board to create a new virtual organization devoted to fighting hate.
"The messages were so hateful and numerous that my regular visitors begged me to take the board down," said Aravosis. "Instead I opted to erase all the messages - good and bad - until this blows over," he said.
Aravosis explained that the assault began when someone posted the bulletin board's address in a wrestling newsgroup called RSPW ("rec.SPORT.pro-wrestling"). Early Monday, December 14 the messages began, and quickly overwhelmed the site's regular users. While the entire Shepard site recently received between 2,500 and 4,000 "hits" a day, on Monday it received 13,000 hits as a result of the attack. In addition, Aravosis noted that the bulletin board normally gets at least 70 to 100 messages a day from visitors moved by Shepard's death - yet in the day following the attack, only a handful of Shepard supporters posted messages to the site.
"It's really sad," said Aravosis. "It took a bunch of homophobes one day to nearly destroy an online community we spent two months building. I only hope the damage is temporary and people come back," he said.