The end of december was not all fun, games and Christmas gifts for Stephen “Don” Black, the founder of Stormfront. The former Alabama Klan leader’s Internet site, the oldest and largest racist forum on the Web, is weathering a major storm.
Founded in 1995, Stormfront boasts more than 10 million posts, a quarter of a million registered users (more than half from foreign countries), and a reputation as the place to come to find out what’s happening in the white supremacist movement. It has long been considered the most important racist site in the world.
But Black’s empire of hate, which includes Stormfront, a radio show, and real-world gatherings of its members, is facing an onslaught of problems. Some have been accumulating for years, while others are posing serious new threats.
This December, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) revealed that Derek Black — Don Black’s college-age son, longtime ideological soulmate, and fellow rider of the racist circuit since childhood — had changed his mind about some of his father’s core beliefs. In an E-mail to fellow students at Florida’s New College, the young man who once ran “Stormfront for Kids” denounced many central movement ideas, including the very notion of white supremacy. Although he said he remained a “white nationalist,” Derek Black said he opposed legal discrimination and supported same-sex marriage — apostasy for the vast majority of movement racists.
In fact, the whole Black family is friendlier to gay rights than most white nationalists. Longtime Black associate and former Klan lawyer Sam Dickson, who runs a gay-friendly bed and breakfast in Key West, Fla., recently told a Stormfront-organized gathering that gay rights should not divide whites. But that did not dilute the overwhelming antipathy toward LGBT people of most dedicated racists.
It went downhill from there. In late December, Black announced that he was ending the “Derek Black Radio Show” after more than 600 programs. The show was created for his son, but Derek Black has not been involved since late last summer, ostensibly due to the heavy course load he is carrying at New College. Don Black blamed the show’s end on impending format changes at host station WPBR after its sale to a new owner — a claim contradicted by the current station manager in an interview with the Intelligence Report. In any case, it was always a strange fit, given that WPBR caters to a Haitian-American and African-American audience.
All in the family: Chloe Black has been married to former Klan leaders David Duke (wearing tie) and Don Black. But when questions came up about her work for wealthy socialite Emilia Fanjul, she embarrassed her movement colleagues by declaring that she rejected white supremacy.
And that’s only the start. Stormfront has suffered from the showcasing of a con man on its site, the notoriety of some of its users, a series of arrests including a whole group of Italian Stormfronters, and a dearth of money. Instead of the $7,500 needed each month to pay the bills, the site in December and through mid-January failed to cover expenses.
The numbers say it all. Page views on Stormfront — a key measure of a website’s popularity — have fallen by half over the last two years, according to Alexa, which tracks website viewership, as has the time spent by viewers on the site.
Finally, it hasn’t helped that federal law enforcement officials seem to regularly troll the site for evidence of threats or criminality. That attention, it seems clear, ratcheted up after a neo-Nazi skinhead named Wade Michael Page who had posted on Stormfront murdered six Sikhs in a Wisconsin temple last August (even though Don Black condemned the mass shooting). Recent investigations by police in at least two countries have led to charges related to death threats, intimidation and guns.
The Doubts Begin
The problems Stormfront is facing stretch back to 2008, when questions about Black’s dedication to the movement—basically, whether he and his family are just in it for the money—mounted after it became clear that his wife, Chloe, did not seem to be as keen on the family’s hate business as many assumed. Chloe was known as the ex-wife of former Klan leader David Duke, with whom she had two daughters, and also had a lengthy history in her own right as a white supremacist activist.
In 2008, the SPLC revealed that Chloe Black was employed by Jose “Pepe” Fanjul, a Cuban-American sugar baron in Florida. Remarkably, part of her job was serving as the contact for a school serving minority students that was founded and funded by Emilia Fanjul, Pepe’s wife. When asked by The Palm Beach Post about the conflict between her family’s racist politics and working for such a school, Chloe Black in effect denounced the family business. “I am not involved with the Web site and do not agree with extremist or racially prejudiced views,” she said.
At around the same time, Don Black toned down Stormfront, banning many symbols of Nazism that formerly were common on the site, including swastikas and SS lightning bolts, along with particularly offensive terms like “nigger.” Whether or not this was related to his wife’s comments is unclear. However, her salary from the Fanjul family is arguably the most important financial resource behind Stormfront (Black has specifically said in Stormfront postings that at certain times he has had to cover the site’s costs with his family’s money). Don Black, who is perennially asking for donations to keep Stormfront running, has no job, and the family lives in a West Palm Beach, Fla., home Chloe owns.
Prominent white supremacists were not happy with Chloe Black’s job and statements to the press or Don Black’s new timidity. Alex Linder, head of the neo-Nazi Vanguard News Network (VNN), wrote shortly after Chloe Black’s comments came out in the press, “It’s not that small a deal. … It shows at the end of the day money matters more than principle to WN [white nationalist] leaders.” Bill White, the former head of the neo-Nazi American National Socialist Workers Party who is now serving time in prison for making threats, posted a screed to VNN attacking Stormfront under the title, “Don Black Whores Himself to the Jew.” In it, White accused Black of selling out “to the Jew in exchange for a bit of media exposure and promotion for his dying and has been website Stormfront.” Since that time, Black and Stormfront have been pummeled on VNN and other racist websites.
Just after these disclosures, Don Black booted racist activist Jamie Kelso, who had ushered in something of a renaissance at Stormfront since becoming a moderator for the site in 2002. Kelso had aggressively promoted Stormfront and raised money for it while living in a trailer outside the Black’s home. Kelso told the Report he was proud of driving the site’s numbers up but was forced to leave in 2009 after using up a small inheritance from his parents and whatever else he had in savings.
Black told the Report that Kelso had actually been dismissed for “regularly chit-chatting” with the author of this article. But Kelso, who told the Report he hadn’t spoken to Black in years, saw it differently: “He didn’t fire me. He never paid me one single dollar.” Kelso, who has since created White News Now and other white nationalist websites and become a prominent member of the racist American Third Position political party, said diplomatically after being asked about the site’s current problems, “Not everyone has to get on the Stormfront bandwagon.”
Black displayed an apparent indifference to the welfare of his supporters again in February 2012, when Stormfront was apparently hacked by LulzFinancial, an offshoot of the Anonymous movement. The group posted a press release saying it had hacked Stormfront, along with other extremist sites, and, indeed, Stormfront was down for several days. But Black never made any statement about the situation, leaving his supporters — many of whom were terrified of having their identities made public, not to mention their credit card information — completely in the dark. Calls by the Report to several of Stormfront’s supporters revealed that none had been told by Black about possible compromises of their personal information.
Threats, Violence and Criminality
Federal authorities seem to keep a close eye on Stormfront’s users, and for good reason — members of the forum have a long history of violence and threats.
The most noteworthy of those incidents, of course, was the rampage of Wade Page, who killed himself after carrying out last year’s murders in Oak Creek, Wis. Page had posted on Stormfront, mostly using the name of his hate band, End Apathy, and advertised the band’s events to his fellow haters. (There was a silver lining to Page’s attack for Stormfront. August saw massive leaps in the number of people checking out the site, and TV reporters interviewed Black about the attack.)
But that’s not the only criminality associated with Stormfronters.
In mid-November, Italian authorities carried out a series of raids after reported blacklists of prominent Italian citizens, including Jews, religious leaders, politicians, journalists and pro-immigrant judges, were posted on Stormfront. Italian police say they confiscated knives, batons, and baseball bats, along with neo-Nazi and fascist propaganda, including pamphlets and banners emblazoned with swastikas.
Four Italians who were involved in running the Italian-language section of Stormfront were arrested and charged with illegally inciting racial hatred and spreading anti-Semitism. Officials said the four activists and their organization were about to progress from Internet propaganda to street violence, and were planning attacks on immigrants. Italian news reports said all four had criminal records.
The Italian government also blocked access to Stormfront.
Those kinds of incidents have not been limited to Stormfront’s foreign supporters. Douglas Howard Story, for instance, is an avid Stormfronter who lives in Manassas, Va., and posted regularly to the website as “Confederado.” Last June, Story was arrested for threatening President Obama and illegally taking possession of a machine gun. The weapon had been converted from a semi-automatic by an undercover agent posing as a racist who Story befriended via Stormfront.
A year earlier, in 2011, Daniel Springhorn, a Stormfront moderator who posts as “Sieg,” was arrested for transporting a weapon to a convicted felon. Officials also served a warrant on his Sharon, Wis., home for all computers, smart phones and data storage devices. Springhorn, approvingly describing Stormfront as “a gathering place for everything,” told the Report that the case against him was “a crock.”
Given these kinds of events, it’s not surprising that longtime Stormfronter Al Kelz of Bel Air, Md., a major financial supporter of Black’s now-defunct radio program, posted a warning to fellow site users in December. “ZOG,” he said, using neo-Nazi shorthand for the federal “Zionist Occupation Government,” was “coming down hard” on him. As a result, Kelz lamented, he had been financially wiped out.
Al Kelz (right), seen here with longtime white nationalist lawyer Sam Dickson, was a major Stormfront financial supporter until, he says, the government wiped him out.
Based on the Report’s calls to several Stormfront supporters and site moderators, Don Black’s followers seem unaware of the legal troubles besetting their fellow activists. That’s not entirely surprising, given that Black polices the site closely, apparently censoring any reference to such events. Information about the arrest of Daniel Springhorn, for instance, appears nowhere on the site.
The Fiscal Cliff
All these troubles may be hitting Black in the pocketbook. Each month, Black posts the donations as well as the donors’ Stormfront handles on his site, which he says costs about $7,500 a month to run, for all to see. In December, he didn’t cover the full amount, pulling in $7,183. By mid-January, he was well shy of that month’s required take, with a total of only $1,598 of donations having come in. The earlier shortfall, at least, may have contributed to the demise of the “Derek Black Radio Show,” which cost about $600 a week to broadcast.
Derek Black, son of Stormfront founder Don Black, had a radio show on a south Florida station, but gave it up recently. Part of the reason may be the expense.
The Report, seeking the reaction of Stormfront’s major financial backers to the site’s troubles, identified several through analyzing hacks of racist sites and open source information posted by other racists or by disgruntled former Stormfronters. Several remained loyal to Black and the Stormfront project, but not all.
“I don’t trust them. They are troublemakers,” William Gloss, a man from Lawrenceburg, Ind., who was once a major backer of the site and who posted there as “Raginbill,” told the Report. “They espouse violence and I oppose violence,” he added. “I gave them money at the beginning. It was stupid and naïve.”
Paul Ratliff of Hot Springs Village, Ark., another longtime Stormfront supporter who posts there as “RetiredinAR,” conceded that some Stormfronters “had broken the law.” But he said the site has been “worthwhile in keeping the movement alive” — important, he said, because “[i]t’s a movement that doesn’t move.”
Several other major donors declined comment. They included Philip White of Sebring, Fla., who posts as “strelnikov,” perhaps a reference to a revolutionary figure in Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago; and Michael Malone of Rockton, Ill., who posts as “Ironman1.” As of early January, however, only one of those backers contacted by the Report in early December — a major donor identified only as “Jewfish” — had given money to the site since hearing from the Report.
Is Stormfront in as much trouble as it seems? It’s hard to say, given that it’s had its problems before and survived. Certainly, Don Black won’t say so.
“I’m surprised they didn’t all tell you to go to hell,” Black said of his donors’ comments, adding that he’d “deal” with any complaints and “carry on, as always.”