In recent months, two former racist activists, one of them well known, have quit the movement. Their stories are instructive
Even as the white nationalist movement continues to grow, a steady trickle of disillusioned former racist activists departs. These men and women have a multitude of reasons for rejecting the racist philosophy they once embraced, not to mention the reasons they joined in the first place. The Intelligence Report has chronicled the tales of many of them in past issues. Below, we present two very different stories. The first is that of Derek Black, the 24-year-old son of Don Black, a former Alabama Klan leader who founded and still heads Stormfront, the largest racist Web forum in the world. The younger Black, after going away to college and seeing the wider world, wrote a lengthy E-mail to the editor of this magazine in July, detailing his thinking about white nationalism and its many problems. (Publication of the E-mail on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s blog that month prompted a flood of attacks on Derek Black from still-active white nationalists.) For reasons of space, the E-mail is slightly abridged here. The second is an interview with Corinna Burt, a 34-year-old mother of two, bodybuilder and former porn star who until recently was involved with the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement and, later, the Northwest Front.
A ‘GRADUAL AWAKENING’
I’m writing this letter partly in response to the SPLC’s recent article discussing my [November 2012] message to fellow students and also out of a desire to articulate my thoughts. I have decided to write now after thinking about the implications extensively, and I am requesting that this letter be published and available to the public in full… .
A few months ago, the SPLC wrote an exposé about a letter of mine only intended for fellow students. I was not ready for it to go public. 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. From a young age I observed my dad sacrifice dearly for his commitment — a conviction stemming from nowhere else than ardent resolve in the rightness of the cause. I was not prepared to risk driving any wedge in those relationships and I did not believe that was necessary. The number of changes in my beliefs during the past few years, however, has amounted to a shift that I think needs to be addressed. When the SPLC exposed a letter meant only to discourage misconceptions about me among fellow students, I was not prepared then to remark more. I commented and labeled myself as someone who still believed in white nationalism. After a great deal of thought since then, I have resolved that it is in the best interests of everyone involved, directly or indirectly, to be honest about my slow but steady disaffiliation from white nationalism.
Over the past few years, I have been disentangling myself from white nationalism. While the radio show I founded ended in January of 2013, over the course of the prior year I only appeared rarely and typically only when emergency required that someone fill in for the other hosts. I haven’t posted on Stormfront in 2013, and I only posted once in all of 2012 — then to give a report on my dad’s media appearance. I am closing my Stormfront account. Also, in the last article written about me, the SPLC reported that I attended a “European American Leadership Seminar” in 2012, when in fact I did not. And while I did speak at last year’s Stormfront conference, I am not involved this year at all and will not be attending.
I acknowledge that 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, and others affected. It was not my intention then, and I will not contribute to any cause that perpetuates this harm in the future. Advocating for redress of the supposed oppression of whites in the West is by its nature damaging to all others because of the privileged position of white people in these societies. Promoting a victim complex for whites does not recognize the oppressed experiences of others not in the position of a white person in society, and that’s what my efforts have done. For those to whom the white nationalist perspective is alien, I think it’s worth summarizing here:
White nationalism supports the premise that multiculturalism is a failure, and that politicians trapped in a multicultural status quo are oppressing white people in “their own country.” They typically blame the West’s movement toward inclusion on a conspiracy of Jewish power to promote multiculturalism at the expense of whites. White nationalists cite black-on-white crime statistics and the increasing prevalence of “nonwhite” cultures and values in western society, as well as the growing number of legal protections and employment opportunities that a “minority” status now affords. On the other hand, white nationalists consider white people in the US to be ostensibly the victims of an ongoing genocide brought about by immigration and miscegenation, and feel that when they try to speak up about it, they are subjected to a vicious double standard. They observe that Black Nationalism and Zionism are recognized as tolerable, but whites with a similar declaration are vilified as racists. When they attempt to claim an accomplishment or cultural production for the white race that produced it, they are called racists. If they produced their own Malcolm X, the nation as a whole would regurgitate. Thus their own white leaders are victimizing white people — the system has turned its formidable weapons against a white identity. Therefore they think that whites must oppose resistance to racism in order to guarantee the future of white people as a people.
I now consider this belief system principally flawed. Most arguments that racial equity programs disadvantage whites who would otherwise be hired or accepted to academic programs mask underlying anxieties about the growth of non-white social status. It is impossible to argue rationally that in our society, with its overwhelming disparity between white power and that of everyone else, racial equity programs intended to affect the deep-rooted situation represent oppression of whites. More importantly, white nationalism’s staunch opposition to the gains in numbers and in influence of non-whites makes it a movement by nature committed to suppressing these people. The advancement of minorities in the US is not insignificant, but has not ended (let alone reversed) their circumstances. Particularly bizarre to me is the determination of Jewish social domination. Though there are plenty of powerful Jewish activist groups pursuing their chosen agendas, it is inaccurate and outrageous to talk about people of Jewish descent as “the enemy” of anyone, as it is essentializing a large group into a fairy tale antagonist. It has become clear to me that white nationalism is not a movement of positive identity or of asserting cultural values, but of constant antagonism at the betterment of other groups.
A white nationalist party can’t function without standing on these disparities between whites and other groups and essentially endorsing them. To say that white people have let the “minority agenda” go too far implies that the relatively insufficient gains they have made are oppressing us. There is no way to advocate for white nationalism but by arguing that minorities pose a threat to our supremacy. It is not enough to say it is opposition to assimilation when the proposed recourse is to expel, suppress, or marginalize these other groups. Advocating for white nationalism means that we are opposed to minority attempts to elevate themselves to a position equal to our own. It is an advocacy that I cannot support, having grown past my bubble, talked to the people I affected, read more widely, and realized the necessary impact my actions had on people I never wanted to harm.
I believe that a healthy sense of identity and belonging are necessary, and I think being proud of where you came from is important regardless of race or class. I do not believe advocacy against “oppression of whites” exists in any form but an entrenched desire to preserve white power at the expense of others. I am sorry for the damage done by my actions and my past endorsement of white nationalism.
I realize not all will instantly believe me, or may perceive this as a seemingly abrupt change when it has been instead a gradual awakening process. I understand that my words don’t suddenly heal all wounds caused by my actions or my encouragement of others. Time, however, will demonstrate my full lack of involvement. To white nationalists, I have remarked that most people face a huge hurdle before they embrace an unpopular opinion, referring to those unwilling to risk being called racist for what I had believed was a just cause. Now I look at it from a new vantage point: I should be the one who calls out what I disagree with. 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. One revelation for me was when I grasped I would be much more likely to help an individual through our legal system towards citizenship than to work towards his or her expulsion. 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. The differences I thought I observed didn’t go nearly as deeply as I imagined. 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.
‘THIS IS THE REAL ENEMY’
What were your parents and your upbringing like, Corinna?
My parents both are very liberal. My father is an electrician and my mother is a bookkeeper and a teacher’s aide. I grew up with my mother in the liberal university town of Eugene, Ore.
I considered myself pretty liberal, but I had little exposure to anyone of another race. It was an almost all-white school district. I really didn’t have exposure to other races until I moved to Portland for school when I was in my late 20s.
Was it a happy childhood?
I think I was always really bored, just restless, and also very sad and angry. I was bouncing back and forth between two parents. They split up when I was like 3 years old, and my dad moved up to Alaska. I would go back and forth between the two of them. Sometimes, it was a summer visit. A lot of times, my parents were just saying, “Okay, I don’t know what to do with you, you’re going back to your mom.” Or, “This isn’t working. You’re going to live with your dad for a while.”
Do you think their split affected you in a serious way?
I don’t know. I was just real angry and antagonistic and always in trouble for real stupid, petty things. I’m sure it must have, though I was only 3. I don’t ever remember living with both parents together. I guess I always had this feeling, you know, that I’m looking for the family I’m really going to stay with.
You married while you were still in Eugene, right?
We got married in 2000, when I was 22, and split up in 2004. We had two daughters.
When was it that you started to star in pornographic movies? Was that before college?
Kind of in between. I dragged college out for a long time. I think it was between 2006 and 2008.
What attracted you to that?
What first drew me into it was morbid curiosity. I wanted to see if I could possibly do something like that. Maybe I was just an exhibitionist. Then, later, it was just for financial reasons. I had no idea how expensive it would be to live in Portland.
When was that? You moved there for college, right?
Yes, around 2007. I was going to Mount Hood [Community College] and OSU [Oregon State University] concurrently. I went to OSU for psychology and Mount Hood for mortuary science. I had job at a funeral home.
When did you become attracted to the racist movement?
I didn’t have any personal incident. But I was in the funeral industry and I was seeing a lot of victims of violence, and it stood out for me that the perpetrators were so often black or Mexican. I saw a lot of black homicide victims, usually shot by other blacks. It seemed to me that this was a race of people who were out to destroy each other and they hurt white people along the way. I saw a lot of children who were killed by their mothers’ boyfriends or their stepfathers. I have seen just about everything that there is and every horrible action one person can do to another.
What was your interest in mortuary science to begin with?
I got into that because I had an interest in restoring accident victims or suicides and making them look viewable for their families.I had a younger brother who died in a drowning accident and he was not viewable. He was 20 years old and I was close to him. I think that if I had had that chance for viewing him, it would have brought me a lot of closure.
So how do you come into contact with organized racism?
I began poking around online and discovered [the racist Web forum] Stormfront. That’s what really drew me in. I started reading about anti-immigrant policies, immigrant crime, black crime, and just generally white pride. I started to think, “Well, nothing wrong with being proud of your race. Other races do it all the time, why can’t white people?”
I found a link on Stormfront to the NSM [National Socialist Movement, an explicitly neo-Nazi group]. I was always interested in Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, so that interest, coupled with finding that link, led me to sign up. The NSM was really pushing the immigration issue, which is what drew me in. The Klan pushes a more religious angle, which didn’t appeal to me.
Eventually, I grew to hate Jews as well. Just reading about the Holocaust from their side and thinking, “Well, Jews, they’re liars. They made up the whole thing.”
How long did you stay with NSM, and what did you do next?
I think I officially resigned in 2011. I was really embarrassed about the behavior of the NSM at rallies and I didn’t want to be associated with them. I expected dignified marches, you know, against all the horrible things being done to white people. And they were really just shouting matches.
Instead, I got deeply involved with the Northwest Front [an online group run by longtime neo-Nazi Harold Covington]. I felt they were a better use of my time. They really appealed to me because there were no skinheads and drunk, stupid people. And I liked Harold. He was a good writer. And he seemed to be educated, although not formally.
At the time, I didn’t think that maybe white supremacy in general was wrong. I just thought that I had joined the wrong group.
How much of a real organization is the Northwest Front?
They have units in every state like the NSM. But I guess it depends on what you consider a member. Some people just send money or read the literature. Some actually go to meetings. I’d say the number of people who actually get together from time to time are maybe 200 or 300 nationwide.
They say, “We’re not really an organization. We don’t have membership cards or an application.” But there was a list made available only to Harold and myself, because I was working for him as an assistant. I moved up there, to his home in Port Orchard, Wash., and was there from 2011 to mid-2012. It amounted to a 40-hour-a-week job.
What did you think of Covington?
I was hooked immediately, although I now think he was pretty much the most horrible person ever. He seemed very much like this poor church mouse who wanted to do nothing but save white people in his remaining years. He was always going on about how he’s going to die any day now.
What did he have to say about the movement?
His idea is that he needs to get a thousand alpha Aryan males to move to his neighborhood and then basically just start shooting everyone who isn’t white.
Was he interested in you, sexually?
I don’t think so. But he did tell me that destiny said I was to be a central part of the revolution. He said that when he was a teenager, he had this vision and some angel told him I would be the one to kick-start the revolution. I guess he left then, because the angel was about to say that I was going to end up liking black guys.
Any insight into why Covington is always accusing fellow activists of being gay?
I don’t know. But I do know that he’s called nearly everyone in the movement a homosexual and he has accused various men of having sexual thoughts about him. That’s common in the movement, but Harold does it a lot more than anyone else. He goes on and on about how all the black guys secretly want to rape him. If he ends up in prison, that probably is the first thing that will happen. Although he probably secretly wants to end up in prison so he can be the biggest man in the trailer park, so he can whine about how he has this perfect plan, that the revolution was going so well, but then the Jews took him away for his thoughts.
What was Covington’s place like?
He was filthy. There were layers of grime all over his apartment, piles of trash in the corners. He would be eating a bowl of oatmeal and it would be spilling out all over his shirt. He would walk around like that all day.
At one point you moved in with April Gaede, the well-known neo-Nazi activist who lives in Kalispell, Mont.?
I met April and we became friends immediately. She invited me that day to move in with her. She had a kind of Aryan dating service and set me up with a skinhead guy. We went out for a couple of months.
She was the one who had major problems with my porno past. She said I obviously had no idea what white nationalism was all about.
At one point, I remember getting into an argument with her. She wanted to have some white power rally in town, and I just didn’t want to have my name out there any more. She started going off, saying, “I’d be willing to give up anything to get our message out. I would give up my own children if I had to. I don’t care what happens.” Her younger daughter was standing right there listening to this.
Eventually, you left Covington and the movement. Why?
I started realizing that Harold wasn’t the great white answer to anything. His whole group is just a scam. It’s just Harold basically begging for money from his supporters — he gets in about $40,000 in donations a year. And he just lives off the money. He doesn’t spend it on the revolution like he claims.
I guess I just got disillusioned with white nationalism in general. I realized, okay, no, people of other races have never done anything to me or my children in the way white nationalists have. This is the real enemy.
I realized much too late that this entire movement is a huge waste of life, and people who dedicate their lives to such a cause end up with nothing to show for it but their ruined families, destroyed careers and often a loss of personal freedom. I’m glad I got out when I did and I know there are others who want out. Look at the stories of people who have left and who have renounced their beliefs; consider that maybe they had compelling reasons for doing so, when to do so often means putting yourself at great personal risk. I decided that risk was worth it if it meant escape from a life of absolute blind hatred with no end in sight. s
Interview conducted by Mark Potok and Laurie Wood.