Last fall, Derek Black visited the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University to talk about hate. Derek is the son of Don Black, the founder of Stormfront.org, the oldest and one of the most influential hate sites on the Internet, boasting some 300,000 members, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The site features vile anti-Semitism—“the Jewish problem” and the alleged Jewish conspiracy to “rule the world” figure prominently—as well as old-school white supremacy, with references to the “Browns and Blacks” flooding the United States and Europe. I joined Derek on a panel to learn more about his father’s teachings and also why he had abandoned them.
Derek is a soft-spoken, wide-eyed twentysomething with a round face and a mop of reddish-brown hair. He’s thoughtful, clear and careful in his speech—a perfect example of how the movement’s leaders have cultivated a politics of respectability. Supporters must follow the New Orleans Protocol, a code of conduct signed by white-nationalist leaders during a Crescent City gathering in 2004 headed up by former Klansman and Louisiana state representative David Duke. The protocol eschews violence, demands upstanding behavior, and insists that everyone “maintain a high tone” in their “public presentations.”
A child of the movement, Derek noted that his father has worked for decades to mainstream it. The 2017 riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists staged a massive rally and were confronted by left-wing protesters, proved to be a watershed moment: When President Trump blamed both sides for the violence, Derek said, it was “the first time that I, or any of them who were at that thing, or any white nationalist who wasn’t there, has ever seen anybody hesitate and say, ‘Well, hold on, we need to give these people a fair shake’…. There’s nothing that could have been more encouraging than that.”
Although Derek escaped what might seem like a foreign land to most people, even he is impressed by how much more popular white-nationalist views have become “in this last year and a half, where so much of what I taught people to talk about is mainstream political commentary.”
Indeed, one year into the Trump administration, media coverage and commentary on American racism in its many forms has raised difficult questions. Ever since Charlottesville, numerous press accounts of “the Nazi next door” have elicited outrage. When The New York Times profiled Tony Hovater, a suburban Dayton, Ohio, man with a fondness for Seinfeld, NPR, and fine cooking, last November, readers blasted the paper for normalizing hate. Many argued that providing a platform for white supremacists would only spread their ideas and further their cause. Times national editor Marc Lacey replied: “My outrage is directed at the fact that bigotry is going mainstream, which is what this piece was trying to describe.”