How I Freed Myself From The KKK

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In the fall of 2010, 21-year-old Derek Black was living a dangerous double life.

At night, he’d lay in bed with his girlfriend, a Jewish girl named Rose, and talk into the night. Then in the morning, while Rose slept, he’d call in to the white-nationalist radio show he co-hosted with his father and discuss how Jews were ruining the world.

According to the new book “Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist” (Doubleday), the smart, well-spoken Derek was regarded as the future of white nationalism before ultimately renouncing the movement. Black is the son of Don Black, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and founder of the racist, anti-Semitic website Stormfront.

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Don’s fellow former Grand Wizard, David Duke, was Derek’s godfather.

Before he turned 20, Derek had already founded a kids section of the Stormfront site, launched a 24-hour radio network for white nationalists and won election as a Republican committeeman in Palm Beach County, Fla.

Having been taught a version of US history that specifically focused on the supremacy of white people, he believed that “white nationalism wasn’t just a fringe racist movement but something much more forceful and dangerous: a foundational concept embedded in the American DNA. So of course the cause must somehow be noble, even patriotic,” the book’s author Eli Saslow writes.

“Derek believed the answer was written into the country’s history: America had always defined itself as white, and when pressed it would do so again.”

But while many in the movement lived by its radical belief system, Derek understood as a teen that the best way to nudge their message into the mainstream was by “adopting a new language . . . that sanitized the ideology and distanced it from a history of violence.”

On the show, Derek spoke of white genocide, reinforcing the belief that their movement wasn’t against minorities so much as it was for promoting the survival of the white race.

“As Derek explained it to his listeners,” Saslow writes, “white nationalists were not fighting against minority rights but fighting for rights of their own.”

But while Derek was positioned as the movement’s future, the movement hadn’t counted on the influence of his college schoolmates.

Derek had enrolled at New College of Florida, in Sarasota, because it was cheap. But the student body was also 20 percent non-white and the most liberal in the state. Derek had never encountered diversity before. Running an hour late for orientation due to bad directions, he met a Peruvian student named Juan who was also lost. The two found the campus together and soon became friends, as Derek kept his background and beliefs secret.

He spent much time on the school’s student e-mail group, known simply as the forum. As students expressed forceful politically correct views, Derek read, absorbed and kept his thoughts to himself.

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Grand Wizard dad, Don (center in robe).Bettmann Archive

In time, he became study buddies with Matthew, the only Orthodox Jew on campus, and developed a crush on Rose, which blossomed into a relationship.

The conflict tore him up. He tried outing himself in December 2010, at the end of his first semester, by placing an old article about himself from Details magazine in the school’s gym in the hopes that someone would find it. No one did.

But he was exposed the following April when a senior who was researching a thesis on domestic extremism saw his name on a section of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website called “The Extremist Files,” which detailed “lone-wolf terrorists, synagogue bombers, border vigilantes, and political demagogues,” Saslow writes.

The student e-mailed this information to the forum, outing Derek as one of the country’s most prominent white nationalists, and within hours the thread became the longest in the school’s history.

At the time, Derek was spending a semester in Europe. He’d gone first to visit his godfather, Duke, at his home in the Alps, before working on a farm in Ireland and taking language classes in Germany.

The senior had posted his message at 1:56 a.m. By 4:11 a.m., there were more than 100 responses. Derek spent three days in his room in Munich, poring over the comments.

“He had expected to feel some relief at being freed from his double identity, but instead he found himself mourning all of the relationships he’d lost,” Saslow writes.

“On the forum, the fallout was even worse than he’d feared. These were smart people whom he respected, and now they were calling him an ‘idiot,’ ‘a hatemonger,’ a ‘Hitler’ and a ‘fraud.’ He sat for hours in a straight-backed chair at a Spartan desk in a country where he knew almost nobody and watched as each new classmate joined in on the thread, his relationships disappearing one message at a time as he waited for the response he worried about most.”

Rose, now known on campus as the Jewish girl with the neo-Nazi boyfriend, arranged a Skype call with him for later that day. She had friends with her for emotional support when they spoke, and she wanted to understand. Had there been some misunderstanding? Had these been views he held as a child but then grew out of?

“Derek fumbled through apologies and then tried for one of the first times in his life to explain his ideology to an outsider,” Saslow writes.

‘I can’t support a movement that tells me I can’t be a friend to whomever I wish.’

“He wasn’t a white supremacist, he said, but in fact a white nationalist — or, better yet, a racial egalitarian. He told her that he believed all races were in fact equal but that whites were better served living apart from other races. He told her words like ‘racist’ had been invented to demonize well-meaning white people. He said the cornerstone of his belief was fear of a white genocide, and for proof he showed her recent census data that indicated the rising minority population in the United States.”

The call ended in a flurry of confusion and anger, with Rose in tears.

Derek brooded over her for several days. He “watched movies and thought about Rose as he listened to the same six mournful songs by one of his favorite folk bands, the Avett Brothers, replaying those tracks more than a dozen times over the course of a weekend.”

He e-mailed her, trying to charm her with lyrics from songs. But Rose wrote that it was all emotionally too much for her. When he eventually went to see her upon his return the following semester, she said she never wanted to see him again.

As for the other students, the reactions were all over the map.

Some expressed fear about having Derek on campus, some believed his views were his own business and others thought befriending him would be the smartest tactic.

Matthew and his friend Moshe chose the latter path and invited Derek to their weekly Friday night Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner, with Matthew hoping to “make Jews more human for him.” Derek accepted the invitation.

Their dinners became friendly, if awkward, discussions of history, college and the world, with careful avoidance of Derek’s beliefs, which everyone in the room was now well aware of. The first dinner, writes Saslow, ended with “the beginnings of mutual respect.”

“For the last few months, Derek had been trying to condition himself to the idea of a solitary life on campus, but now he sensed the possibility of joining an established group of friends. It seemed to Derek as if Matthew, Moshe and Juan had offered him an implicit agreement: They would pretend to be oblivious about his white-nationalist convictions so long as Derek treated them with respect and kept his beliefs to himself. Derek decided it was harmless. Maybe every minority didn’t need to be his ideological enemy. He decided he would stay quiet about his beliefs, return to Shabbat, and see where it went.”

In time, real friendships developed. After Matthew threw Derek a birthday party, Derek responded by cooking Matthew and his friends a three-course kosher meal, writing to them beforehand, “It would be a true pleasure to host you.”

But Derek’s full transformation away from white nationalism took several years as he went back and forth between feeling a strong pull toward white nationalism then toward the merits of diversity.

What tipped the balance was Matthew’s roommate, a fellow student named Allison who had been a regular at Matthew’s Friday night dinners before Derek became a permanent guest.

At first, Allison was disgusted by Matthew’s experiment with Derek and stopped coming to the weekly Shabbat dinner. After several months, seeing that Derek wasn’t immediately dangerous, Allison returned to the dinners but kept Derek at arm’s length.

But after they found themselves on a boat together in April 2012, the thaw slowly broke as they discussed the landscape and the wildlife, leading Derek to offer to teach her how to sail.

A friendship blossomed with an attraction lurking beneath. Allison, after seeing that Derek was “nothing like the extremist she had expected” in person, wrote to a friend, “I’m wicked curious about the kid. I’m like a detective.”

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Derek’s godfather was onetime Ku Klux Klan head David Duke.AP

But as they grew closer, she remained baffled and appalled by his beliefs. She researched him at length, scouring the Internet and even signing up for a Stormfront account so she could read his many posts over the years.

As the two grew closer, she grew increasingly frustrated at the gulf between the sweet, charming, considerate man she spent her time with and the hate-filled bigot who was the leader of a white supremacist movement. She began to wonder if she could “push him to challenge his beliefs.”

She researched his claims about European white history and the differences between races in order to debunk his beliefs with facts, including how all else being equal, black people are far more likely than whites to live in poverty or wind up in prison.

Derek read what she sent and began to waver, wondering if “he had been wrong that it was white people who were discriminated against.”

In the summer of 2013, he published a long letter on the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center — his father’s sworn enemy — renouncing 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 about them in a certain way or be suspicious at their advancements,” he wrote, in part. “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 puts on maintaining an oppressive, exclusive sense of identity — oppressive for others and stifling for our society.”

When his father read the letter, he simply assumed Derek had been hacked and called to tell him so. But when Derek said the letter was real, Don was speechless, “stumbling for words before abruptly hanging up.” Derek called back soon after, and Don asked again, confirming it wasn’t a prank or some temporary delusion. Soon, the reality sank in.

“The next hours unfolded in a cycle of rage and grief,” Saslow writes. As Derek tried to distract himself with schoolwork and a trip to the movies, every few hours found another call or message from his family.

“His parents said they had raised him to make history, not just study it. They said he had thrown away 25 years of the family’s hard work,” Saslow writes.

“They said he wasn’t the person they thought they knew. They said, after a lifetime spent fighting against the SPLC, he had walked across enemy lines and ‘surrendered the biggest possible trophy.’ They said this was ‘nails to the heart.’ They said not to come back to West Palm Beach. They said, ‘You need to make new friends and family.’ They said, over and over, that they never wanted to speak with Derek again.”

While Derek did, in fact, speak to his father again, their relationship never fully recovered. Don remains active in the movement, and the two have settled into an uneasy peace, though Derek is no longer in touch with his godfather, Duke.

Derek, now 29, is still with Allison, and is finishing his Ph.D. in history at the University of Chicago. He speaks out on issues related to his former life and consulted with Facebook this summer on combatting extremism and polarization online.

He also issued personal apologies to many people in his life, including Rose, Juan and Matthew. But while he continues speaking out against white supremacy, he understands he’s got a lot to atone for.

“It’s impossible to apologize to everyone I hurt,” he once told Allison, “because I basically hurt the entire world.”

Source : https://nypost.com/2018/10/06/how-david-dukes-godson-freed-himself-from-the-kkk/

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