* David Duke, the conference organizer, stepped behind a podium to welcome his guests. Duke, then fifty-eight, had spent his life working to push the white supremacist movement from the radical fringes ever closer to the far conservative Right, rebranding himself from an Imperial Wizard of the Klan into a self-described “racial realist” politician who nearly became governor of Louisiana in the early 1990s. He was two decades removed from the pinnacle of his international fame, and he’d tried to hold time in place by repackaging his old speeches into YouTube rants. He wore the tired look of a performer who’d stayed on tour too long, but he was still the public face of white nationalism. “The future of our movement is to become fully mainstream,” Duke told the crowd, so he’d reserved one of the conference’s keynote speeches for an up-and-coming white nationalist leader who represented that future. “I’d like to introduce the leading light of our movement,” Duke said. “I don’t know anybody who has better gifts. He may have a much more extensive national and international career than I’ve had. Derek, can you come on up?”
Duke motioned to the corner of the room, where a nineteen-year-old community college student was hunched behind a laptop, running a live radio broadcast of the event for the online radio station he started himself. “We are so privileged to be with you,” Duke said, before turning back to the audience. “Ladies and gentlemen, here is Derek Black.” The crowd began to applaud, and Derek stood from his computer with a slight wave and walked to the front of the room. Most of the white nationalists already knew him, because how could they not? He was at least a generation younger than almost everyone else, with shoulder-length red hair and a large black cowboy hat that he wore in an effort to make himself more memorable. He’d grown up within the insular world of white nationalism, attending dozens of conferences just like this one. Already he’d built his own website for “white children of the globe,” visited more than half a million times. He’d launched a twenty-four-hour online radio network for white nationalists and won a local election as a Republican in Florida. He was not only a prodigy within the movement but also a product of it. His father, Don Black, led the Klan for nearly a decade and then created Stormfront, the internet’s first and largest white pride website. His mother, Chloe, had once been married to David Duke, and Duke acted as Derek’s mentor and godfather, sometimes referring to Derek as “the heir.” No family had done more to help white nationalism bully its way back into mainstream politics, and Derek was the next step in that evolution. He was precocious, thoughtful, and polite, sometimes delivering handwritten thank-you notes to conference volunteers. He never used racist slurs. He didn’t advocate for outright violence or breaking the law. His core beliefs were the same as those of most white nationalists: that America would be better off as a whites-only country, and that all minorities should eventually be forced to leave. But instead of basing his public arguments on emotion or explicit prejudice, he spoke mostly about what he believed to be the facts of racial science, immigration, and a declining white middle class. Five evenings each week, he hosted an online radio show, often devoting the first half hour to innocuous stories about his favorite country musicians like Waylon Jennings, Alan Jackson, and Johnny Cash before turning the conversation to “the survival and continued dominance of the great white race,” he said. His goal, he explained once on the radio, was to “normalize these white nationalist ideas that already fit so neatly within the divides of modern society.”
* The applause continued as Don Black, fifty-five, stood from the rows of folding chairs and moved slowly toward the lectern to join his son onstage for the next session of the conference, an audience Q&A with white nationalist leaders. Don had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke a few months earlier, and now he walked with a hunch and leaned against a cane to steady his debilitated left side. He had long prided himself on being the embodiment of physical and emotional toughness—what he called the “European ideal written into our genes.” He stood over six feet tall, with thick gray hair, a hard jawline, and blue eyes. He had once been the strongest weight lifter in the rec yard of a federal prison, but now the short walk to the lectern required intermittent breaks, until Derek stepped out and offered his hand. Don had been leaning on his only child more than ever lately, relying on him for rides to white nationalist meetings and help managing the growing business of Stormfront, which crashed under the weight of a record 120,000 users on the night of Obama’s election to the presidency. Most of all, Don looked to Derek’s recent political achievements to lift himself from stretches of depression and fatigue that he’d endured since his stroke. He had tried to heal himself with physical therapy, experimental electrotherapies, and a dozen nutritional supplements, but none of it was as efficacious as monitoring Derek’s rising fame in the local newspaper and listening to him talk each night about “racial realities” on internet radio.
* He sent six-year-old Derek out for Halloween dressed as a white Power Ranger, helped to decorate his childhood bedroom with a Confederate flag, and brought him to speeches where Don expressed doubt about the full severity of the Holocaust. Derek was socialized on Stormfront, and he began spending his nights in the private chat rooms as soon as he could type. After Derek finished third grade, Don and Chloe pulled him out of school, believing the public system in West Palm Beach was overwhelmed by an influx of Haitians and Hispanics. “It’s a shame how many white minds are wasted in that system,” Derek wrote then, at age ten, on his own children’s web page. “I am no longer attacked by gangs of non-whites. I am learning pride in myself, my family and my people.”
* As he grew into a teenager, Derek started to join Don in interviews with outlets like USA Today, Nickelodeon, and NBC, and more and more Don thought it was his son who made the more salient points. “He was already smarter than me,” Don remembered thinking of Derek back then. “He could come up with ideas and see concepts that I hadn’t been able to figure out in forty years. All of my weaknesses, he had overcome.”
* Don had spent his own life, he said, “trying to shock people awake on racial issues.” In high school, he was shot in the chest while attempting to steal a mailing list on behalf of a white power organization. In college, he joined the KKK and rose to head of its Alabama chapter. In his late twenties, he and several other white supremacists were caught by the FBI with dynamite, tear gas, and a van full of ammunition on their way to overthrow the tiny island nation of Dominica, which Don hoped to turn into a white utopia. Even after he settled into life as a young father and an IT consultant in the late 1990s, Don continued working to spark a revolution, launching Stormfront from his computer as a self-described “battle cry for the white race.” Under his watch, Stormfront grew into a gigantic, international community of message boards and chat rooms that offered everything from academic research on racial differences, to daily Nazi news links, to dating profiles rife with racial slurs. A few of Stormfront’s frequent users went on to bomb synagogues or murder minorities; the Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate-watch group, published a report connecting Stormfront to more than a hundred murders. Don discouraged violence in his own messages on the site, but he also managed the website with the language of a wartime commander, writing about “enemies” and “comrades,” in the “fight for our future.” Derek, meanwhile, was studious, quieter, and more understated in his approach. As a teenager, he pored over world history in the family’s 1914 Encyclopaedia Britannica—the version Don thought best reflected the family’s beliefs about race because it still referred to the Klan only as a “fraternal organization.”
* A few months before Obama’s election, Don decided to follow Derek’s lead by imposing new rules on Stormfront in an attempt to clean up its image. He banned slurs, Nazi insignia, and threats of violence or lawbreaking. Many longtime members quit in protest, but the website began to grow by a few thousand registered users each month.
* Don and other Stormfront users agreed to pay the radio station several hundred dollars each week to broadcast the show. Don’s budget was tight; he raised about seventy-five hundred dollars a month from eight hundred “sustaining” Stormfront members, which barely covered the site’s expenses while the family lived on Chloe’s salary. But Don thought paying for the radio show was “a bargain,” considering that Derek could use the airtime to promote both himself and a litany of other white nationalists. Derek recommended the writings of Ernst Zündel, a German publisher known for promoting Holocaust denial. He talked about the “emotional power” of attending a KKK cross-lighting ceremony in Harrison, Arkansas. He interviewed a series of white nationalist icons like Jared Taylor, Gordon Baum, and Duke. And he did it all while continuing to reframe the language of the movement, insisting that white people were the victims—not the perpetrators—of structural racism.
* Derek’s show quickly became the most downloaded on the station, and his time slot expanded from two days each week to three and then eventually to five. It was too much airtime for one person to fill. Derek needed a partner, and there was only one logical choice. “Welcome to the Don and Derek Black Show,” Derek announced one morning, midway through 2010.
* Should Jews be considered whites or outsiders? Did they have a place in a European ethno-state that white nationalists hoped to build, or would they be forcibly deported from the United States along with all other minorities? The white nationalist movement had a long history of anti-Semitism—of synagogue bombings and “Sieg Heil!” salutes—but lately a rift had begun to develop as influential white nationalists like American Renaissance publisher Jared Taylor wrote admiring pieces about Israel and courted Jews as conference speakers. Derek made his own conclusions public while still in his teens. “Jews are the cause of all the world’s strife and misery,” he wrote on Stormfront in 2008. “Their motivation comes from the destabilization of the White race.”
* During the next month, Derek began to feel as if he were occupying two lives: breakfast at New College with Rose and one of her transgender friends and then Thanksgiving dinner with Don, Chloe, and a few former skinheads in West Palm Beach; overnight talks edging toward dawn with his Jewish girlfriend and then early mornings spent by himself in the courtyard outside, calling in to his white nationalist radio show as Rose continued to sleep, laughing along as his co-host mimicked a Jew by whining about Israel in a nasal, high-pitched voice.
* Over the years Duke had referred to himself as Derek’s “mentor,” his “godfather,” or “like his second dad,” because the exact truth of their relationship was more complicated to explain. In the late 1960s, Duke and Don Black had met as teenagers in the white supremacy movement and become close friends. Don went to the University of Alabama, and Duke went to Louisiana State, where he fell in love with a blond classmate from Florida named Chloe Hardin, who shared his racial convictions. They’d married and had two daughters before getting divorced, and then several years later Chloe reconnected with Duke’s best friend. She and Don began to date, eventually securing Duke’s support, and they were married in the late 1980s with Duke serving as best man.
* Don monitored Stormfront and spent twelve hours each day alone in the house, left with only the blaring TV to drown out the ghosts of his life: the dusty punching bag and treadmill that had taunted him in the living room ever since his stroke; the drawers filled with nutritional supplements that never quite restored his energy in the way the infomercials promised; the strewn cardboard boxes filled with old white power newspapers, Klan manifestos, and conference agendas—artifacts of a revolutionary movement still anticipating its revolution. Forty years now Don had been waiting, and the wear had carved deep pathways across his forehead and dulled the wild blue of his eyes. He was still broad shouldered and handsome, but the stroke had left him leaning hard against a cane, slumped down from six feet three to six feet one. His had been a difficult life, a messy life, and even though Don still felt certain about the rightness of his ideology, so many of his memories were clouded by doubt…
* Don was prepared to hitchhike to the conference, but instead his parents gave him a ride to the Birmingham bus station, where Don had arranged to carpool to Virginia with two other teenagers who had also been writing postcards to the NSWPP. He didn’t know their names or what they looked like. He had never met another committed white nationalist. Don, sixteen, held on to his suitcase and waited at the bus station with his parents, who refused to leave until they met his travel companions. Finally here came one, nineteen, well mannered, and offering his outstretched hand, with a telegenic face that would help make him the most famous politician in Louisiana. And here came the other, also nineteen, getting off a bus from Mobile with shaggy clothes and a crude swastika tattooed onto his shoulder, which would later be used to identify him as a serial killer responsible for murdering more than fifteen people in an attempt to start a race war. Don Black. David Duke. Joseph Paul Franklin. Together they would come to define the white supremacy movement for the next several decades, but now they were three teenagers in Duke’s family car.
* Franklin would begin privately planning his self-described effort to “spark a race war,” eventually bombing three synagogues and using a sniper rifle to shoot “as many evildoers” as he could: an interracial couple outside a shopping mall in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1977; another interracial couple in Atlanta in 1978; Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, as payback for publishing photos in his magazine of interracial couples; a black Pizza Hut employee in Tennessee; a Taco Bell manager in Georgia; civil rights activist Vernon Jordan in Fort Wayne, Indiana; two young black boys in Ohio; two more in Pennsylvania; and on and on it would go for more than three years, until finally Franklin was caught, convicted, and executed after killing at least fifteen people and wounding at least twelve others.
* Derek told Allison that he still thought races had inherent biological traits. He mentioned his belief that whites had a slightly higher average IQ score than minorities and that blacks had higher levels of testosterone, which he thought led to a greater propensity for violence. He explained his fear of a white genocide and his belief that the death of a white, European culture would weaken the world. He had spent much of his life honing a rational case for white nationalism, and Allison thought he presented his arguments as mostly dispassionate and factual. He based his prejudice not on an intractable gut feeling but on what he thought to be a logical theory, and for Allison that realization brought a wave of relief and then a sense of possibility. Maybe she could show him the ways in which his theory was wrong.
* Stormfront’s audience had grown over the years to include at least half a dozen murderers—incidents Don referred to as “a series of very unfortunate coincidences.” There was Richard Baumhammers, who searched for love on the Stormfront Singles dating page in 2000 before launching on a shooting spree that killed five. There was Richard Poplawski, who bragged on Stormfront about his “AK” under the user name “Braced for Fate” and then used that AK-47 to kill three Pittsburgh police officers in 2009. There was Luka Magnotta, a twenty-nine-year-old Canadian, who in May 2012 filmed his killing of a Chinese immigrant and then dismembered the body with an ice pick, mailing out limbs to politicians and elementary schools. And now, just months later, there was Wade Michael Page. On a message board with more than seven million posts, he had posted only seven times, mostly to promote his white pride band, End Apathy. His left shoulder was tattooed with a Celtic cross, a white power symbol that Stormfront used as its logo. His body was also marked with a fourteen-word white supremacist motto that was no different from Don and Derek’s own political motivation: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
* At home, Don was often tired, burned-out, pessimistic about the movement, and burdened by the daily logistics of Stormfront. For his own mental health, he forced himself to walk away from the computer each afternoon for twenty minutes and sit outside in the yard, where he could close his eyes in a chair facing into the sun. But at conferences Don was energized and popular—a white nationalist icon equally capable of debating eugenics and skull sizes with racial academics and trading war stories with militant skinheads. He brewed his own beer and drove the after party late into the night. Among white nationalists, Don was revered for his loyalty and generosity.
* Allison began to send him studies from her own online research and also from the scientific journals in her Stigma and Prejudice syllabus, and she targeted her evidence at the basic pillars of Derek’s beliefs. He thought of different races as subspecies that had evolved over time to have clear biological differences, so she sent an article from American Psychologist about how race itself was a fluid, unscientific concept. The only thing anthropologists agreed on was that Homo sapiens of an unknown color had evolved in Africa from Homo erectus about 200,000 years ago. The idea of race was a modern, sociopolitical concept that was impossible to define because there was no one exact metric. In South Carolina, someone one-sixteenth black could be categorized as black, whereas someone in Brazil who was fifteen-sixteenths black could still be considered white. Some Asians in America were categorized as blacks in Britain. “At what point is White Black or Black White?” the article read.
Derek also thought most other races were biologically inferior to whites, with the possible exception of Asians. He had often cited as evidence the small differential in average IQ score between whites and blacks that he had read about in books like The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. Derek believed minorities were genetically less intelligent than whites, and therefore he thought that a rising minority population also meant a dumbing down of America. But through her psychology course work and her own research, Allison had learned more specifics about the IQ test and some of its shortcomings, and she began to send Derek several more recent IQ studies based on better data. Allison’s studies showed that any nominal differentials in IQ score between whites and minorities could be explained by implicit cultural bias in the IQ test itself and also by confounding factors for test takers like poverty, educational discrepancies, health, and poor prenatal nutrition—all of which were statistically more likely to affect minorities. She sent Derek research on a well-documented phenomenon called stereotype threat, which happens when a person fears his test score will confirm a negative stereotype and then that fear itself negatively affects performance. She sent Derek a recent study from Johns Hopkins University University about how first-generation immigrant children performed better in school than other American students. It wasn’t that other races were biologically less intelligent than whites, Allison told Derek. It was that, in America especially, other races faced more obstacles and had fewer opportunities, which was sometimes reflected in test scores.
But Derek believed it was whites who were oppressed in America by policies like immigration and affirmative action, so Allison began bombarding him with data and studies that proved the opposite was true. She sent him research about the overwhelming white representation in state government and how whites were more likely to be promoted over similarly qualified minority candidates at work. She emailed evidence about how blacks were twice as likely as whites to be suspended from school for the same behaviors; twice as likely to work for minimum wage in the same jobs; three times as likely to live in poverty; and five times as likely to go to prison. She provided provided readings from her Stigma and Prejudice class about how whites enjoyed an advantage over minorities in everything from lower prices at car dealerships to better fruits in their grocery stores. It was still very much a white person’s country, she told him, at the great expense of everyone else.
* But sometimes Allison wanted their conversations about race to be emotionally charged. White nationalism wasn’t just some academic thought experiment. It was a caustic, harmful ideology that was causing real damage to people’s lives, so Allison began to send Derek links about that, too. She emailed him medical research from Harvard about how psychologists considered racism a chronic stressor with the power to alter brain chemistry. Derek clicked through Allison’s links and read about how minority victims of prejudice were more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, suppressed immunity, depression, and heart disease. White people in those same studies did not show any physical response to prejudice, which made Derek begin to wonder if in fact he had been wrong in his theory that actually it was white people who were discriminated against.
* The summer before coming to New College, Derek had taken a four-week road trip across America with his niece to visit national parks. They had no camping gear and little money for hotels, so once they arrived in each city, Derek would look up the local Stormfront contributors and send them private messages, asking if he and his niece could stay for the night. He gave each one of his hosts a copy of his favorite white nationalist book, a collection of essays called Race and the American Prospect. Most of the people Derek messaged were strangers to him, and yet they had shown him their cities, taken him for hikes, invited him for dinner, and allowed him to sleep on their couches. Derek found a wide cross section of America hidden behind the anonymity of Stormfront user names: a lonely businessman in Kansas City, a karaoke singer in Vegas, a millionaire in Montana. These people weren’t evil psychopaths, Derek told Allison. They were his community.
* Don had built his first dial-up internet bulletin board for David Duke supporters in 1990, the year after Derek was born. Next came Stormfront magazine a few years later and then the Stormfront website in 1995, just as Derek started school. Don had chosen the name Stormfront, he said then, “because turbulence is coming, and afterward there will be a cleansing effect.” Within a few years, the site had amassed an international following and helped coalesce the fractured white supremacy movement. Only on Stormfront could neo-Nazis and racist academics plot strategy for a white takeover in French, German, or Russian. “I’ve done a thousand times more for our cause in three years than I did in the last thirty,” Don explained during a television interview in the late 1990s. “The expansion of our message on the web is exponential.” The problem for Don was that the responsibilities of Stormfront kept expanding, too: tens of millions of visitors to the site during the next decades, thousands of posts each day, and all of it dependent on him. There was no paid staff, and he sometimes struggled to raise enough money from the site’s sustaining members to keep it online. The site was under constant attack from hackers, so Don began waking up to check the board several times each night. There was no one else he could trust to keep the site alive, no one who understood the history of Stormfront or shared in his commitment.
* Don himself had gone through stretches of fatigue and depression about the white nationalist movement, when the country’s changing demographics made the whole enterprise seem pointless…
* After poring over so many of Allison’s psychological studies, Derek no longer believed the white nationalist myths he had propagated about “Jewish manipulation,” “testosterone-fueled black aggression,” or larger brain sizes for whites. He was becoming unsure that his theory about IQ discrepancies held up to the best modern science. During his time at New College, Derek had gone from believing whites were a superior race in need of an exclusive homeland, to thinking all races were equal but should be preserved by living separately, to thinking that segregation wasn’t really necessary, so long as whites weren’t forced to assimilate.
* He read that white households accumulated an average wealth of $111,000 versus $7,000 for minorities; that 75 percent of whites owned their homes versus 40 percent of blacks; that whites lived three years longer on average than blacks or Hispanics; that blacks made up 12 percent of the population but held less than 3 percent of top management jobs.
* Then he started his French classes and befriended a handful of other American college students who were studying abroad. Eventually one of those students searched Derek’s name on Google, and soon the group was uninviting him to parties and talking about him loudly in the school. “His name is Black and he doesn’t like black people,” Derek overheard one of them say. He closed the door of his room and vented online to Allison. She asked him: How many more potential friendships was he willing to sacrifice for an ideology he no longer really believed in? How many more opportunities would he allow himself to lose? “Sometimes I just wish I could spend the rest of my life going where nobody has ever heard of me,” he wrote to Allison, but because he knew that wasn’t possible, Derek said he planned to adopt another approach. He wanted to withdraw from white nationalism and disappear from public life.
* “Sadly the overwhelming amount of violent crime in our major cities is committed by blacks and Hispanics—a tough subject—must be discussed,” Trump had written, and now thousands of people were bringing those same assumptions to Stormfront. Traffic had spiked to a record 3.5 million U.S. visitors during the last three months. “Everyone is paying attention to this situation with poor little Trayvon,” Don had said on the radio. “There will be massive riots. There will be huge backlash among our people.” Derek listened to some of Don’s points, and his confusion hardened into anger. For years, Derek had finished Don’s sentences on the radio, but now his father’s reasoning sounded foreign, uninformed, and cruel. Derek had done his own thinking about Trayvon Martin during the last weeks, reading articles that detailed “the talk” black parents sometimes gave their children about how to stay safe in a country that feared them. Derek had done his part to help instill that fear—to make people like George Zimmerman think young black men were somehow biologically prone to be more violent. Now Derek believed that theory was utter nonsense. Instead he thought young black men were “in one of the worst positions in society,” he wrote to Allison, because they were the victims of both structural and interpersonal prejudice.
He thought again about everything his father had said publicly about Trayvon Martin. It was all typical stuff—the same ugly talking points Derek had been hearing and often repeating for his entire life—so why did it make him so angry? It wasn’t just his father’s views that suddenly horrified him, Derek decided. It was the memory of his previous self. He had made versions of those same flawed arguments. He had expressed similar callousness, ignorance, and cruelty. It seemed obvious to him now that he needed to publicly condemn not only white nationalism but also his past life.
* Derek wrote to the SPLC: “The things I have said as well as my actions have been harmful to people of color, people of Jewish descent and all others affected. I will not contribute to any cause that perpetuates this harm in the future. Advocating for redress of the supposed oppression of whites in the West is by its nature damaging to all others because of the privileged position of white people in these societies. Promoting a victim complex for whites does not recognize the oppressed experiences of others, and that’s what my efforts have done. It is impossible to argue rationally that in our society, with its overwhelming disparity between white power and that of everyone else, racial equity programs represent oppression of whites. More importantly, white nationalism’s staunch opposition to the gains in numbers and in influence of non-whites makes it a movement by nature committed to suppressing these people. It has become clear to me that white nationalism is not a movement of positive identity or of asserting cultural values, but of constant antagonism at the betterment of other groups. Advocating for white nationalism means that we are opposed to minority attempts to elevate themselves to a position equal to our own. It is an advocacy that I cannot support, having grown past my bubble, talked to the people I affected, read more widely, and realized the impact my actions had on people I never wanted to harm. I am sorry for the damage done by my actions.
I realize not all will instantly believe me, or may perceive this as a seemingly abrupt change when it has been instead a gradual awakening process. I understand that my words don’t suddenly heal all wounds caused by my actions or my encouragement of others. Time, however, will demonstrate my full lack of involvement. I should be the one who calls out what I disagree with. I can’t support a movement that tells me I can’t be a friend to whomever I wish or that other people’s races require me to think about them in a certain way or be suspicious at their advancements. Minorities must have the ability to rise to positions of power, and many supposed “race” issues are in fact issues of structural oppression, poor educational prospects, and limited opportunity. I believe we can move beyond the sort of mind-boggling emphasis white nationalism nationalism puts on maintaining an oppressive, exclusive sense of identity—oppressive for others and stifling for our society.”
There was only one venue that Derek thought made sense—the one publication read by white nationalists, social justice advocates, and the mainstream press. It was where his renunciation would resonate the loudest. It was also where it would hurt his family the most. He opened up an email and addressed it to the SPLC, the civil rights group his father had been battling against for more than forty years. “Please publish in full,” Derek instructed. Then he attached his letter and hit send.
* He declined all of their interview requests, but he decided to write a public response to a feature article about his transformation in an online publication called the Daily Beast. The story contained quotes from Don about his own disappointment, and the writer speculated that Derek, an unusually bright college student, had thought his way out of white nationalism by reading studies and books. Derek wrote to the reporter after the story was published to tell her that it “seemed mostly fair” but that the influence of New College students on his thinking “was the biggest chunk missing.” “People who disagreed with me were critical in this process,” he wrote. “Especially those who were my friends regardless, but who let me know when we talked about it that they thought my beliefs were wrong and took the time to provide evidence and civil arguments. I didn’t always agree with their ideas, but I listened to them and they listened to me. “Furthermore, a critical juncture was when I’d realize that a friend was considered an outsider by the philosophy I supported. It’s a huge contradiction to share your summer plans with someone whom you completely respect, only to then realize that your ideology doesn’t consider them a full member of society. I couldn’t resolve that.”
* Don read back through some of Derek’s old text messages and Stormfront posts, looking for clues he might have missed, but nothing helped him understand the full force of Derek’s transformation. For years, Don had believed in two facts above all: that white nationalism was an inherently righteous cause; and that Derek was one of the smartest, most rational people he knew. Now those facts were in conflict. Had Don been wrong about Derek’s intelligence? Or had he somehow been wrong about white nationalism? He didn’t want to consider either possibility, so he tried to come up with theories that would make it all fit. Maybe Derek was just faking a change in ideology so he could have an easier life and a more successful career in academia, he thought. Or maybe this was Derek’s way of rebelling against his family. Don spoke for hours on the phone that week with Duke, who suggested another theory. Duke thought Derek was suffering from a kind of Stockholm syndrome. He had become a hostage to liberal academia and then experienced a misguided empathy for his captors and their views about the world.
Derek Black, the Reluctant Racist, and His Exit from White Nationalism
Derek Black’s head isn’t shaved. He doesn’t have a swastika tattoo. He’s never been arrested for a violent crime. Yet this 24-year-old from West Palm Beach, Florida, was once the future of white hate.
Black was born into the white-power aristocracy and spent his life building a reputation as a rising star in the white-nationalist scene. His father founded Stormfront.org, the Internet’s oldest and largest white-supremacy forum, and his mother was once married to former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. Black used his prominent standing within the hate movement to amass a following of his own.
At age 12, Black was featured in the HBO documentary Hate.com for creating a kid’s guide to white pride on his father’s website. While still in his teens, Black hosted a Stormfront radio program, lectured at white-pride conferences, and dabbled in local politics, running for a seat on the Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee on a platform of banning immigration for non-Europeans. He won a primary election but was later disqualified for not signing a party loyalty oath forbidding activities—such as white nationalism—that would make Republicans look bad. At 21, he hosted a local AM radio show that paradoxically catered to a predominantly Haitian audience, featuring guests like Gordon Baum, head of the racist Council of Conservative Citizens, and Jared Taylor, editor of the “race realist” magazine American Renaissance.
But last week, Black threw it all away. In a letter to the movement’s biggest enemy, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a Montgomery, Alabama–based anti-racism group, he shocked his former allies by detailing his disillusionment with white supremacy. He wanted out.
“I’m baffled. I’m disappointed in many ways,” said Derek’s father, Don Black. Almost immediately after reading Derek’s letter to the SPLC, the elder Black wrote on his Stormfront blog that he no longer wanted to speak to his son. He told The Daily Beast that he changed his mind a few days later. “I regret that I’ve lost a comrade in arms … It’s gut-wrenching for me because Derek and I have traveled around the country since he was 9 years old. But he’s still my son and I love him. In some ways I’m actually relieved that he’s taken himself out of the war zone, so to speak.”
…When Black announced that he was calling it quits last week, angry Stormfront users suggested that his liberal education was to blame. According to the SPLC, Black, who was home-schooled, is a junior at the New College of Florida, a relatively diverse liberal-arts school. Don Black says his son graduated from the New College and is working on campus before attending graduate school in the fall. In the spring of 2011, he studied abroad in Munich, later describing the experience as “essential to my personal growth” and “ability to think globally.” Mark Potok, the SPLC senior fellow to whom he emailed his letter of defection, says Black’s education is what makes him so unusual.
“He seems to have simply thought his way out of this movement as an intellectual exercise, which is pretty much remarkable,” Potok told The Daily Beast. “He’s a bright kid who went to a big, multiracial, liberal school and started to see a bigger world around him than the Klan and white nationalism.” Furthermore, Potok suggests that the college-age white supremacist just wanted to fit in. “Over the years it bothered him that fellow classmates felt he was scary.”
Don Black, who can’t resist boasting about his son’s accomplishments, from winning a science fair at 13 to making stained glass and metal working at a Renaissance fair, said he was concerned about sending his son to a school that, according to the Princeton Review, has one of the most politically liberal student bodies in the country. Now, after hearing from some of Derek’s friends about how he was supposedly treated by other students, Don Black believes his concerns were justified.
“He was subject to a vicious hate campaign,” he said. “A minority of students there made a cause out of hating Derek. In fact, some of them actually made hating him and harassing him in every way part of their identity.”
Stormfront, the Internet’s Oldest White Supremacist Site, Says It’s Going Broke
Stormfront.org has been an internet hate hub since it launched in 1996. Its owner, former Ku Klux Klan leader Don Black, said last week that donations had plummeted and that the site was scaling back operations. But longtime Stormfront posters suggested Black’s wife had been paying the bills, and that she was finally checking out.
“Our contributions have once again totaled less than $2,000, which is not enough to cover our basic server and radio bills, and this month we no longer have enough personal money to make up the difference,” Black wrote last week in a post first spotted by the Southern Poverty Law Center..
“Don Black’s wife, Chloe, had been working full time past retirement age to help support this site,” one Stormfront user claimed, with others also claiming Chloe had kept the hate site’s lights on.
“All of the years that Don posted how much was needed to run this site and all the months that SF didn’t receive enough donations. That difference was made up from Chloe Black’s income. She is now recently retired and deserves to spend her time with her grandbabies. This situation combined with litigation from when SF was shut down last August, Don has more bills and less revenue to run the site.”
Chloe Black, who could not be reached for comment on Monday, has a long history of involvement in the white supremacist movement. Chloe was previously married to former KKK leader David Duke, whom she met at a White Youth Alliance college gathering in the 1970s, and later divorced him to marry Black, another former KKK leader and neo-Nazi who was convicted in 1981 of attempting an armed overthrow of the predominantly black island nation of Dominica.
While Chloe has previously distanced herself from Stormfront in written statements, watchers of the site have long speculated that she might be partially bankrolling the project.
So many others in white nationalism had come to their conclusions out of anger and fear, but Derek tended to like most people he met, regardless of race. Instead, he sought out logic and science to confirm his worldview, reading studies from conservative think tanks about biological differences between races, IQ disparities and rates of violent crime committed by blacks against whites. He launched a daily radio show to share his views, and Don paid $275 each week to have it broadcast on the AM station in nearby Lake Worth. On the air, Derek helped popularize the idea of a white genocide, that whites were losing their culture and traditions to massive, nonwhite immigration. “If we say it a thousand times — ‘White genocide! We are losing control of our country!’ — politicians are going to start saying it, too,” he said. He repeated the idea in interviews, Stormfront posts and during his speech at the conference in Memphis, when he was at his most certain…
At first they knew nothing about him, and Derek tried to keep it that way. New College was in Sarasota, three hours across the state, and it was the first time Derek had lived away from home. He attended an introductory college meeting about diversity and concluded that the quickest way to be ostracized was to proclaim himself a racist. He decided not to mention white nationalism on campus, at least until he had made some friends…
Matthew Stevenson had started hosting weekly Shabbat dinners at his campus apartment shortly after enrolling in New College in 2010. He was the only Orthodox Jew at a school with little Jewish infrastructure, so he began cooking for a small group of students at his apartment each Friday night. Matthew always drank from a kiddush cup and said the traditional prayers, but most of his guests were Christian, atheist, black or Hispanic — anyone open-minded enough to listen to a few blessings in Hebrew. Now, in the fall of 2011, Matthew invited Derek to join them.
Matthew had spent a few weeks debating whether it was a good idea. He and Derek had lived near each other in the dorm, but they hadn’t spoken since Derek was exposed on the forum. Matthew, who almost always wore a yarmulke, had experienced enough anti-Semitism in his life to be familiar with the KKK, David Duke and Stormfront. He went back and read some of Derek’s posts on the site from 2007 and 2008: “Jews are NOT white.” “Jews worm their way into power over our society.” “They must go.”
Matthew decided his best chance to affect Derek’s thinking was not to ignore him or confront him, but simply to include him. “Maybe he’d never spent time with a Jewish person before,” Matthew remembered thinking.
It was the only social invitation Derek had received since returning to campus, so he agreed to go. The Shabbat meals had sometimes included eight or 10 students, but this time only a few showed up. “Let’s try to treat him like anyone else,” Matthew remembered instructing them.
Derek arrived with a bottle of wine. Nobody mentioned white nationalism or the forum, out of respect for Matthew. Derek was quiet and polite, and he came back the next week and then the next, until after a few months, nobody felt all that threatened, and the Shabbat group grew back to its original size.
On the rare occasions when Derek directed conversation during those dinners, it was about the particulars of Arabic grammar, or marine aquatics, or the roots of Christianity in medieval times. He came across as smart and curious, and mostly he listened. He heard a Peruvian immigrant tell stories about attending a high school that was 90 percent Hispanic. He asked Matthew about his opinions on Israel and Palestine. They were both still wary of each other: Derek wondered whether Matthew was trying to get him drunk so he would say offensive things that would appear on the forum; Matthew wondered whether Derek was trying to cultivate a Jewish friend to protect himself against charges of anti-Semitism. But they also liked each other, and they started playing pool at a bar near campus.
Some members of the Shabbat group gradually began to ask Derek about his views, and he occasionally clarified them in conversations and emails throughout 2011 and 2012. He said he was pro-choice on abortion. He said he was against the death penalty. He said he didn’t believe in violence or the KKK or Nazism or even white supremacy, which he insisted was different from white nationalism. He wrote in an email that his only concern was that “massive immigration and forced integration” was going to result in a white genocide. He said he believed in the rights of all races but thought each was better off in its own homeland, living separately.
“You have never clarified, Derek,” one of his Shabbat friends wrote to him. “You’ve never said, ‘Hey all, this is what I do believe and this is what I don’t.’ It’s not the job of someone who’s potentially scared/intimidated by someone else to approach that person to see if they are in fact scary/intimidating.”
“I guess I only value the opinions of people I know,” Derek wrote back, and now he was beginning to count his Shabbat friends among those he knew and respected. “You’re naturally right that I deemphasize my own role,” he wrote to them.
He decided early in his final year at New College to finally respond on the forum. He wanted his friends on campus to feel comfortable, even if he still believed some of their homelands were elsewhere. He sat at a coffee shop and began writing his post, softening his ideology with each successive draft. He no longer thought the endpoint of white nationalism was forced deportation for nonwhites, but gradual self-deportation, in which nonwhites would leave on their own. He didn’t believe in self-deportation right now, at least not for his friends, but just eventually, in concept.
…But the unstated truth was that Derek was becoming more and more confused about exactly what he believed. Sometimes he looked through posts on Stormfront, hoping to reaffirm his ideology, but now the message threads about Obama’s birth certificate or DNA tests for citizenship just seemed bizarre and conspiratorial. He stopped posting on Stormfront. He began inventing excuses to get out of his radio show, leaving his father alone on the air each morning to explain why Derek wouldn’t be calling in. He was preparing for a test. He was giving those liberal professors hell. Except sometimes what Derek was really doing was taking his kayak to the beach, so he could be alone to think.
He had always based his opinions on fact, and lately his logic was being dismantled by emails from his Shabbat friends. They sent him links to studies showing that racial disparities in IQ could largely be explained by extenuating factors like prenatal nutrition and educational opportunities. They gave him scientific papers about the effects of discrimination on blood pressure, job performance and mental health. He read articles about white privilege and the unfair representation of minorities on television news. One friend emailed: “The geNOcide against whites is incredibly, horribly insulting and degrading to real, actual, lived and experienced genocides against Jews, against Rwandans, against Armenians, etc.”
“I don’t hate anyone because of race or religion,” Derek clarified on the forum.
“I am not a white supremacist,” he wrote.
“I don’t believe people of any race, religion or otherwise should have to leave their homes or be segregated or lose any freedom.”