A kinder, gentler racism

Stormfront.org strives to make extremism mainstream

Creative Loafing, Atlanta/February 28, 2007
By John F. Sugg

Sam Dickson, an Atlanta real estate lawyer, is fond of health food. He also likes to read bumper stickers. So, while trekking into the Little Five Points natural-eats emporium Sevananda about four months ago, he noticed that one car's bumper proclaimed: "Save Tibet!"

Inside the store, someone recognized him. Dickson, you see, is more than just a lawyer. For decades, he's been a firebrand proponent of segregationist and neo-Confederate causes.

And those years of toil have earned him a bit of notoriety. His photo was long posted on a now-defunct "rogues' gallery" anti-racism website, for example. In 2004 when he went to Midtown Art Cinema, someone called him a "Nazi."

"Nazi?" he reflects. "Most Americans are vehemently anti-Nazi, as I am."

As he reached the checkout counter at Sevananda, he was again recognized. "This guy had a huge black beard," Dickson says. The man told the clerk, a black woman, that he was surprised Dickson would buy anything from her. Dickson recalls that the man told the clerk Dickson is a racist.

"But she thought the guy was crazy, and so did I," Dickson says. "It was very ugly. One's enemies are motivated by hatred. I don't hate people. I just want to hold my opinions and be able to talk about them."

A man who has lectured on race politics for four decades with the passion of a tent-revival preacher isn't likely to run from critics. Recalling the bumper sticker he'd seen as he entered, Dickson told the people who perked up at the Sevananda confrontation, "You want to save Tibet. I'm in agreement."

Dickson took the opportunity to compare Tibet – which the communist Chinese government has flooded with non-Tibetans – and America. "I told those who attacked me that the people of Milton and Shakespeare have a right to save themselves, just like what they advocate for Tibet. They were furious at the idea of someone arguing that white people should try to avoid extinction. Which is what is happening."

Dickson's message hasn't changed much since he was a University of Georgia activist with the right-wing Young Americans for Freedom in the late 1960s: The white race must unite to save itself.

But technology has transformed racial politics just as it has the rest of our culture. Today Dickson's soapbox is no longer confined to small rooms where he addresses handfuls of fellow travelers. His message is amplified and shoots around the planet at light speed, thanks to Stormfront.org, the online bulletin board whose booming growth delights white nationalists and causes anguish among their enemies.

Joining Dickson as an online personality on Stormfront are a marquee array of other white nationalist luminaries: founder Don Black; day-to-day manager Jamie Kelso; America's best-known race polemicist, David Duke; former Reagan administration official Bob Whitaker; and Jared Taylor, a Yale-educated, self-declared "racial realist" who publishes the American Renaissance magazine.

Those men, all in their 50s or older, have the credibility of laboring long years in a movement that seldom elicits kind treatment from the media, much less polite discourse in mainstream culture.

Stormfront, Dickson says, "has enabled us to communicate directly with the people. And when people hear our message, they're not saying we're a bunch of crackpots. They're listening and many, yes many, are agreeing."

A key to the site's success is the apparent normalcy of its leadership cadre. They're not the skinheads or the lightning-bolt-SS-tattooed Aryans – although such folk crowd Stormfront's message boards. The website's masters and mentors sport coats and ties instead of sheets and hoods or brown shirts and jackboots. Racial epithets are verboten in the Stormfront realm (although some slip in), and Kelso dismisses the occasional swastikas that pop up as "expressions of members' frustration, but mostly it's kids having a little fun." Still, Germanic themes are pervasive, from Stormfront's circle-and-cross emblem to the Nordic mythology screen names and Nazi-era artwork icons used by many of the online community's members.

Bob Whitaker – in a previous political incarnation, he was in charge of the nation's civilian security clearances for Ronald Reagan – contends the online community is strong because it's ecumenical in its approach to the many issues that divide far-right groups.

"You can call us what you want," says Whitaker, who lives in Columbia, S.C. "But in the next 20 years, you'll see us become the voice of reason. Minorities are the Tontos, the mascots, of liberals, but that's going to break up. America will break up into political groups, with whites as the most powerful. And Stormfront, because it has no position, but welcomes the opinions of all right-thinking whites, will be there."

If numbers measure success, Stormfront certainly resonates with many people's angst over the future. The site boasts more than 103,000 members, according to the independent Big Boards monitoring group. Just two years ago, it had a mere 53,000 members, and only 10,000 in 2002. Kelso gleefully notes that membership is growing at a rate of 500 a week.

Put another way, Amazon.com's Alexa website-traffic rankings show Stormfront at No. 9,108. By comparison, Yahoo is No. 1, CNN is No. 46, Fox News is No. 451, Creative Loafing is No. 52,178 and the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala., hate-group monitor with a palpable distaste for Stormfront, is No. 118,380.

Stormfront's thousands of gray, white and blue pages, which can be researched and indexed by not-too-difficult tools, are graphically bland. But not the discussions. While its leaders deny they're propagating hate, the site clearly enables members to voice the most outrageous opinions.

You'll find predictable anti-Semitism ("[H]ow did so many Jews come to dominate media ownership?" wrote a member e-monikered "dukesrevenge"). And racism ("Even with all the welfair [sic], and diversity nonsense, blacks still feel that whites are racist, yet, so very few of them seem to be moving back to Africa," penned "youboob").

You'll also find advice on romance ("Belenus" chastises one comrade: "Interracial dating is simply a euphemism for what people know to be wrong and unnatural"), as well as domestic topics ("TheRebel," a pediatrician Stormfront member, asks: "I am curious as to which ladies here also hold jobs outside of a wife and/or mother. P.S. I did not mean to offend any housewives/mothers.").

Many of the most active topic groups are for international Stormfront activists – Britain leads with 352,405 posts since 2001, followed by the Netherlands (190,620) and "Stormfront Downunder" (122,240). Driving home the worldwide reach of Stormfront, the homepage's feature artwork is a series of rotating banners for each of the "white" nations.

The most frequented topic, after the general discussion "Lounge" (549,634 posts), is "Opposing Views," with 393,687 messages, which is moderated by a member dubbed "jack boot." The opposition, however, consists more often of sniping among rival right-wing groups than non-racists bombarding Stormfront. "The Ozman," for example, responded to the faintest whiff of tolerance by proclaiming, "Racial cultures don't mix successfully. Never will. Multiculturalism is a very real thing that only White countries suffer from."

But one visitor did have the temerity to announce, "You're all a bunch of f****ng racists."

"Oh, sure," Stormfront administrator Kelso says. "There are a lot of people who don't agree with us [visiting the website]. Reporters, law enforcement, professors, the Southern Poverty Law Center. But you know what? They're paying attention. They're seeing how many people agree with us. And many of those who visit start saying, 'Yeah, that makes sense.'"

What's clear – and frightening – is that not since the Ku Klux Klan recruited millions in the 1920s has an overtly racist organization reveled in such rapid growth.

"Our success is mostly having the right message at the right time," chuckles Kelso, whose digital persona is "Charles A Lindbergh," the famed aviator who also was a vocal racist and anti-Semite. It's been during Kelso's five years of day-to-day running of Stormfront that the online forum's growth has exploded. A longtime activist with the conspiracy-minded John Birch Society, Kelso is a chatty, often witty fellow who interrupted a busy schedule of making a documentary DVD and breakfasting with like-thinkers in Costa Mesa, Calif., to talk about how he has his finger on the button – literally – of the most successful whites-fighting-for-whites group of its kind in the world.

"The mainstream media ignores us, but they've missed big stories before," he comments. "Our numbers prove our point. We have a message worth hearing."

The biggest name in the alternative universe of "racialism" is David Duke, whose trajectory has carried him from youthful race-baiting antics (donning Nazi regalia to protest a leftist speaker at Tulane University) to successful electioneering (he was a Louisiana state representative) to failed runs for higher office to a tax-evasion conviction and 13 months in jail.

Nowadays, Duke has received a doctorate from a Ukrainian university and spends a lot of time in Europe lecturing; he was in Italy when he was interviewed for this article. He has his own website, promotes his latest book, Jewish Supremacism, and surfaced in December at a Holocaust-denial symposium in Tehran.

But through all of that, he's indefatigable on Stormfront, for which he writes and podcasts. The site "is so successful," he says, "because, at last, people can get the truth without distortion. There's no filter on the truth."

The story of Stormfront is a bellwether chapter in the cyber-transformation of the world's culture -- digital genius can bring us together, and it can exacerbate our differences. Stormfront's rise is the story of an old-fashioned ex-Klansman, Don Black, who became a computer geek.

Black's career as a professional white nationalist began as an aide to violent racist lawyer J.B. Stoner in his 1970 run for governor of Georgia – until a rival Stoner aide shot Black in the chest. After he recovered, Black teamed up with David Duke in the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke had eschewed the cross-burning harangues in cornfields, along with robes and terror, for a button-down, professional, mailing-list-driven approach to race politics – a point of departure for both men from the old stereotype of white supremacists as uneducated, brutal, rural rednecks.

Black, who eventually took over the Klan faction, had aspirations of creating a white nation in the Caribbean. In 1981, he led a squad of white nationalists on a quest to conquer the island of Dominica. But their boat hadn't left the dock in New Orleans before they were collared. Black spent the next three years in a federal lockup in Texas – where, significantly, he learned about computers. After his release, he tried to organize a brigade to fight with the right-wing Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua. And he quit the Klan, condemning its reputation for "random and senseless violence." Along the way, he married Duke's ex-wife, Chloe.

After moving to West Palm Beach, Black in 1995 used his prison-honed computer skills to create a clunky, dial-up bulletin board – and Stormfront was born.

"It's not a surprise that they're ecstatic nowadays," says Devin Burghart, executive director of the Chicago-based Center for New Community, which in 2000 issued a report that concluded white supremacists were gaining traction in mainstream politics, especially with the Republican Party. "When David Duke was beginning, he had to do stunts to gain attention. Now, Stormfront is a much more powerful tool to get the word out."

As the word was spreading, a new audience was emerging, fearful of a tsunami of brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking people crossing the border. Stormfront was there to give voice to America's new nativism.

"Immigration has become the nexus of racism," Burghart says. "In just a few years we've seen the number of anti-immigration groups increase by 600 percent, from 37 in 25 states to 254 in 42 states. For some, this is exciting as a potential to make race a potent message. For others, it's terrifying as it promotes the agenda of a group like Stormfront."

Kelso concurs that illegal immigration is driving his membership.

"It's the street-level experiences people have that are turning them into believers," he says. "With average white people, you have to tone down the message. But when they find a couple of illegals standing next to them in line at Wal-Mart, it makes them think, 'Hell, half the population of Mexico is living in the United States.' Then they see our Web pages and say, 'Yeah, that's us.'"

Duke sees the current surge in anti-immigrant passion as pure vindication. "Look, in 1977, I was patrolling the Mexican border," he says. "I was telling anyone who'd listen that illegal immigration would destroy our European culture. The media kept calling us Klansmen and racists, but the truth is that we were just ahead of the times. The media were so wrong. Look at the border now. All of America understands that we're under attack. Citizen groups like the [border vigilante] Minutemen have had to answer the call because the government won't."

Black didn't respond to repeated requests for an interview. Kelso fields questions for Stormfront, and says Black is too busy to deal with the press. Duke quips that Stormfront's proprietor, weary of Stormfront being dubbed a "hate" site by the media, has "become a little reclusive lately."

However, a CL reporter interviewed Black in West Palm Beach in 1999. At that time, his then-10-year-old son, Derek, had just won his dad's high praise for launching a neo-Nazi website for children. Derek explained his reasons: "White pride, keeping the race alive. In American history, they taught lies. I was always waiting for them to talk about Robert E. Lee or [Confederate general and KKK founder] Nathaniel Bedford Forrest. They never did."

In May 2004, David Duke and Sam Dickson assembled a broad spectrum of white nationalists to sign what was called the "New Orleans Protocol." It promised unity and an end to the factionalism that plagues the far right.

At first that didn't happen. But in the last two months, Stormfront has flexed its digital muscles, creating unity where there had been infighting.

That togetherness on the right began with angry friction 14 months ago, at a conference in Herndon, Va., sponsored by Jared Taylor and his American Renaissance magazine. The movement's fault lines were all too apparent.

Taylor – cultured, urbane and, as repetitiously noted by almost every journalist who has interviewed him, nattily attired – may be the new breed of white nationalist, but he can be divisive among his own kind. Taylor, for example, says he has no problem with "European Jews," and has avoided overt anti-Semitism, not that he shuns people such as Duke and Black who condemn Jews for the world's wrongs.

At the conference, Duke had made a speech decrying "a power in the world that dominates our government [and] influences our media." A Jewish attendee shouted, "You fucking Nazi! You've disgraced this meeting!" and walked out, to the derisive hoots of many in the audience.

Stormfront's pages blossomed with rants against Taylor, who had long been one of Stormfront's online personalities. "Yggdrasil" wrote: "The Jews are using Jared and we are using Jared. And like Cheney, Rumsfeld and our Congress, poor Jared is living on his knees in expectation of the 'quo' which never seems to arrive in this quid pro quo bargain."

Then, after an event 11 months later, Stormfront came to Taylor's defense, not only slapping a Band-Aid on the schism but achieving a smashing public-relations victory. On Jan. 16, far removed from race flashpoints of the Deep South or the Texas-Mexico border – in Halifax, Nova Scotia – Taylor was stormed by masked anti-racists.

"Thuggery," says Joseph Brean, the highly regarded commentator for Canada's conservative National Post newspaper.

"They wore kerchiefs like banditos," grouses Taylor, a 1973 Yale graduate who was raised in Japan and works as a consultant for corporations doing business there.

Taylor had been invited to Halifax to debate Dalhousie University professor David Divine on the merits of multiculturalism. Ironically, Divine holds a chair that is restricted to blacks.

But the professor backed out, saying he hadn't realized Taylor was a white nationalist.

"I thought it was unmanly of him to run away," sniffs Taylor, who decided to go it alone and to give his side of the debate in a room he rented at Halifax's Lord Nelson Hotel. Local newspapers had refused to run ads for his speech, so the audience was almost entirely composed of anti-racists there to protest. When Taylor began to speak, about two-dozen people, many masked, shouted slogans, banged pans and destroyed Taylor's literature. "Do us a favor and put a bullet in your head," one protester screamed.

The mob then manhandled Taylor from the room. Taylor has accused them of assault, and police began investigating. Stormfront quickly came to Taylor's defense, with Kelso orchestrating a media circus.

"We got millions of headlines," says no-stranger-to-hyperbole Kelso. "Millions of people who would never have heard of Stormfront now know of us and our message."

Stormfront's threads were flooded with commentary, some blaming what members called "liberal fascists." A member screen-named "OdinPatrick" identified and posted photos of Taylor's attackers – mostly from their MySpace.com profiles. Kelso denies his members were seeking vigilante justice.

"Our primary concern is freedom of speech," he told Canadian newspapers. "We considered the people who interrupted that appearance to be criminals."

What happened in Halifax has created the type of bonhomie and unity Duke longed for three years ago. Although there have been no reports of them singing "Kumbaya," the white nationalists are linking arms, rather than shelling each other with rhetorical broadsides.

The arbiter and unifier is Stormfront. The audience has noticed. The number of Internet users visiting Stormfront has increased 11 percent since the Halifax incident. And Stormfront has moved up almost 900 notches in the Alexa traffic rankings of websites.

It would be hard to distinguish a gathering of Stormfront leaders from a Rotary Club meeting -- until they started talking. Even then, the rants echo right-wing, often race-baiting mainstream media commentators such as Ann Coulter.

In 2000, Coulter wrote, "They [whites] were buying them, fair and square, from their African masters. Slavery ... is the only African institution America has ever adopted." Meanwhile, Stormfront members often recycle on website threads a parallel quote from the late William Pierce, founder of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, who opined, "Whites didn't enslave Blacks – ever. What Whites did was make the mistake of buying Black slaves from other Blacks who had enslaved them and then bringing their merchandise to this country."

"They've put themselves at the mainstream table," says College of Charleston history professor Bob Moore, who has studied extremist groups for more than three decades. "Mainstreaming extremism involves softening the rhetoric while sending the same message. Look at David Duke and [former presidential candidate] Pat Buchanan. Buchanan is just Duke without the baggage." (You can find "Buchanan for President" petitions posted on Stormfront.)

The Stormfront fellows say there's hardly a Confederate dollar's worth of difference between their views and what's broadcast on talk radio or the evening news. "What we've been talking about for years, now it's so common, you hear it on the television, read it in the papers, it hardly makes sense to call us extremist, does it?" says Stormfront's Kelso.

In one regard, the Stormfront folk are, at least, up front. "I'm not here to fool you," Dickson says. "I'm a responsible right-wing extremist. I believe race is important, and that it's vital to preserve America as a white nation. But, no, I'm not a racist. I don't believe in hurting black people. I just believe in protecting the great culture my people have built."

Stormfront has become a bridge to the mainstream, where controversial comments strangely mirror the rhetoric of avowed racists.

Compare David Duke's anti-Semitic diatribes with the drunken rants of actor Mel Gibson when he told a cop who arrested him for DUI that "Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." The big divide is that Gibson apologized – perhaps nothing more than a desperate scramble to salvage his career. Duke and his Stormfront cohorts are decidedly unapologetic.

Is there a difference between Gibson's outburst and what Duke told me last month? "Why are we in Iraq?" Duke muses. "Who is promoting illegal immigration? I'll tell you. It's Jewish supremacists."

Or consider state Rep. Ben Bridges, R-Cleveland, who in February introduced a bill that would ban teaching evolution. Although he now claims he knew nothing of it, a memo distributed under Bridges' name contends the scientific mainstay is an insidious deception perpetrated by a secretive Jewish sect.

Compare that with this Stormfront post by a moderator with the screen name "John Law": "The Jews sought to invade the territory of other races by stealth and then to subvert them, to undermine their morale, to break down the order and structure in their societies as a concomitant to controlling them and exploiting them."

Many prominent politicians have given succor to the online white supremacists' closest allies, such as the Council of Conservative Citizens, a neo-Confederate group that joined Duke in the 2004 "New Orleans Protocol."

Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, former Virginia Sen. George Allen and more than four dozen national and state politicians also have been members of the council, spoken at its events or befriended its leaders, often posing for grip-and-grin photos.

In the late 1990s, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr was the keynote speaker to the council's national convention. The council's website has urged "white Americans" to "look at the faces around you: Find the faces like yours, and see them as your brothers and sisters." Barr later called such sentiments "repugnant," but the group's message is hardly new, subtle or secret.

And today, nothing is more volatile than immigration. CNN's Lou Dobbs' almost-nightly diatribes against Mexicans who've illegally crossed the border include bombasts that they're an "army of invaders" and that "illegal alien smugglers and drug traffickers are on the verge of ruining some of our national treasures." U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colorado, the most inflammatory voice against immigrants in Congress, spoke last fall to the white supremacist and secessionist League of the South in South Carolina, decrying the "cult of multiculturalism." Now he's running for president. (Full disclosure: A reporter from our sister Creative Loafing newspaper in Charlotte also has addressed the league.)

If you go to Stormfront, you'll find thousands of echoes of those personalities' comments. "If it weren't for multiculturalism we wouldn't be digging bodies out of the rubble in New York and Washington, D.C.," wrote a Gwinnett County website member with the e-nickname "leafericksen." Immigration, wrote another member, pen-named "bookworm," "will be the death knell for our kinsman and kinswoman."

There's another group Stormfront's leaders are embracing – not that those embraced return the favor. Many liberals and leftists are dismayed at Israel's actions and its influence over American foreign policy. The most notable is Jimmy Carter, whose current book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, has provoked a firestorm from Israel's defenders.

"Wow! What a book!" Kelso says. "We oppose Carter ideologically on almost everything, but he has integrity. There's a convergence of right and left on many issues among people who can't be bought." The Carter Center declined to comment.

It's unlikely we'll see Jimmy Carter, Bob Barr or Pat Buchanan moderating forums on Stormfront. However, the growth of the electronic activists can't be disputed. Nor can the fact that their voices resonate with many Americans. "When a society is stressed, and America is stressed, people listen to extremes," says the College of Charleston's Moore.

Whitaker, the former Reagan official, puts it in slightly scarier terms. "We don't plan to be on the fringe forever," he says. "If you don't want the Klan, you'd better start choosing David Duke, Don Black, Sam Dickson and me."

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