People change, sometimes even for the better. Eli Saslow, in the Washington Post:
Their public conference had been interrupted by a demonstration march and a bomb threat, so the white nationalists decided to meet secretly instead. They slipped past police officers and protesters into a hotel in downtown Memphis. The country had elected its first black president just a few days earlier, and now in November 2008, dozens of the world’s most prominent racists wanted to strategize for the years ahead.
The room was filled in part by former heads of the Ku Klux Klan and prominent neo-Nazis, but one of the keynote speeches had been reserved for a Florida community college student who had just turned 19. Derek Black was already hosting his own radio show. He had launched a white nationalist website for children and won a local political election in Florida. “The leading light of our movement,” was how the conference organizer introduced him, and then Derek stepped to the lectern.
“The way ahead is through politics,” he said. “We can infiltrate. We can take the country back.”
Years before Donald Trump launched a presidential campaign based in part on the politics of race and division, a group of avowed white nationalists was working to make his rise possible by pushing its ideology from the radical fringes ever closer to the far conservative right. Many attendees in Memphis had transformed over their careers from Klansmen to white supremacists to self-described “racial realists,” and Derek Black represented another step in that evolution.
He never used racial slurs. He didn’t advocate violence or lawbreaking. He had won a Republican committee seat in Palm Beach County, Fla., where Trump also had a home, without ever mentioning white nationalism, talking instead about the ravages of political correctness, affirmative action and unchecked Hispanic immigration.
He was not only a leader of racial politics but also a product of them. His father, Don Black, had created Stormfront, the Internet’s first and largest white nationalist site, with 300,000 users and counting. His mother, Chloe, had once been married to David Duke, one of the country’s most infamous racial zealots, and Duke had become Derek’s godfather. They had raised Derek at the forefront of the movement, and some white nationalists had begun calling him “the heir.”…
Eight years later, that future they envisioned in Memphis was finally being realized in the presidential election of 2016. Donald Trump was retweeting white supremacists. Hillary Clinton was making speeches about the rise of white hate and quoting David Duke, who had launched his own campaign for the U.S. Senate.
White nationalism had bullied its way toward the very center of American politics, and yet, one of the people who knew the ideology best was no longer anywhere near that center. Derek had just turned 27, and instead of leading the movement, he was trying to untangle himself not only from the national moment but also from a life he no longer understood…
Most of the other students in his dorm were college freshmen, and as a 21-year-old transfer student, Derek already had a car and a legal ID to buy beer. The qualities that had once made him seem quirky — shoulder-length red hair, the cowboy hat he wore, a passion for medieval re-enactment — made him a good fit for New College, where many of the 800 students were a little bit weird. He forged his own armor and dressed as a knight for Halloween. He watched zombie movies with students from his dorm, a group that included a Peruvian immigrant and an Orthodox Jew.
Maybe they were usurpers, as his father had said, but Derek also kind of liked them, and gradually he went from keeping his convictions quiet to actively disguising them. When another student mentioned that he had been reading about the racist implications of “Lord of the Rings” on a website called Stormfront, Derek pretended he had never heard of it…
He was still considering what to do when he returned home to visit his parents later that summer. His father was tracking the rise of white nationalism on cable TV, and his parents were talking about “enemies” and “comrades” in the “ongoing war,” but now it sounded ridiculous to Derek. He spent the day rebuilding windows with them, which was one of Derek’s quirky hobbies that his parents had always supported. They had bought his guitar and joined in his medieval re-enactments. They had paid his tuition at the liberal arts college where he had Shabbat dinners. They had taught him, most of all, to be independent and ideological, and to speak his beliefs even when doing so resulted in backlash.
He left the house that night and went to a bar. He took out his computer and began writing a statement.
“A large section of the community I grew up in believes strongly in white nationalism, and members of my family whom I respect greatly, particularly my father, have long been resolute advocates for that cause. I was not prepared to risk driving a wedge in those relationships.
“After a great deal of thought since then, I have resolved that it is in the best interests of everyone involved to be honest about my slow but steady disaffiliation from white nationalism. 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 of them in a certain way or be suspicious at their advancements.
“The things I have said as well as my actions have been harmful to people of color, people of Jewish descent, activists striving for opportunity and fairness for all. I am sorry for the damage done.”
He continued to write for several more paragraphs before addressing an email to the SPLC, the group his father had considered a primary adversary for 40 years.
“Publish in full,” Derek instructed. Then he attached the letter and hit “send.”…
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