The anniversary of Stormfront, the internet's leading hate site, is a moment to weigh its successes, failures and future prospects
Twenty years ago this spring, a former Alabama Klan leader named Don Black started a primitive website that would ultimately grow into the largest white supremacist Web forum, with close to 300,000 registered users, in the world.
But Black is facing trouble on numerous fronts. Other white supremacist forums that place far fewer restrictions on what their members post are competing with Stormfront for users. Money is a perpetual problem, with Black increasingly forced to beg his supporters for cash to keep the site alive. Despite his attempt to seem more respectable, Black and his cohorts are increasingly incapable of hiding their admiration for Adolf Hitler and National Socialism. Black is personally a poor speaker, and is also reportedly in poor health, and these factors have cost him a more prominent spot on the radical right. And recent efforts by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have brought serious financial and political pressures to bear.
Several years ago, Black and his then-teenage son, Derek, launched the “Don and Derek Black” show, first as online radio but later over the airwaves as well. But then Derek seemed to drift away from both the show and the white nationalist beliefs that he had been reared in, culminating in a 2013 statement to the SPLC in which he renounced racism and his family’s ideology. The news came as a shock to his father, but Don Black renamed the show “Stormfront Radio” and soldiered on. The show allows Black and his various co-hosts to preach racial revolution nationwide on the Oregon-based Rense Radio Network, run by anti-Semitic activist Jeff Rense.
Last December, Black managed to secure a coveted primetime broadcast spot on a European satellite, giving his program international reach. For the next four months, Black’s two-hour show was being streamed to more than 100 million homes in Europe and the Middle East via Eutelsat’s Hot Bird 13A. Neo-Nazi and former Klan boss David Duke, who is America’s best-known anti-Semite and a long-term Black friend and ally, also had a daily hour-long show on the same satellite.
But this April, the SPLC contacted Eutelsat, which is based in France, to inform the company of the nature of the content it was broadcasting. Eutelsat appears to have been unaware that its network was being used to promote Nazi ideology, incite hatred against Jews and deny the Holocaust, all illegal in France. Eutelsat reacted by promptly dropping Black and Duke’s satellite feeds.
The loss of the European satellite feed came after another significant blow. Earlier in April, the SPLC had contacted Salem Media Group, one of the largest and most successful Christian-based radio content providers in the United States. Black was playing Salem Media’s newscast at the top of each hour, something that Black boasted was helping to make his program sound “like a real radio show.”
That quickly became a problem for Black. It turns out Salem had not sanctioned his use of its programming. A Salem spokesman told the SPLC that Stormfront had “kidnapped our news” and “we want nothing to do with them.”
Black was livid over the loss of his satellite feed and Salem’s news, blaming “Jewish supremacists.” But he hadn’t lost everything. “Stormfront Radio” is still broadcast online and across North America on a different satellite. He may not be in Europe any more but, like his radio theme song says, he isn’t backing down.
Media-Savvy But No Intellectual
Don Black understood the power of new media before most people.
Early on, in the 1980s, he was already touting the propaganda value of VHS tapes, as shown in the documentary “Blood in the Face.” He later went to federal prison — he and several white supremacist cohorts had planned to invade the Caribbean island of Dominica — and spent his three years there learning computer skills. A month before the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, he used those skills to build and open Stormfront, the first major hate site on the Internet.
But unlike many prominent figures in the racist movement, Black has written no manifesto and published no books or notable essays on his racial beliefs. His rare public speeches are short and disjointed. He lives like a hermit in his wife’s family home in West Palm Beach, Fla. — a modest and overgrown corner lot in a quiet residential neighborhood. He runs Stormfront from his dining room table, seldom travels anywhere, and rarely posts anything on his own message board.
Black’s venture into radio, however, gave him a perfect vehicle for his personality. Radio seems to bring him to life in a way that his forum doesn’t. On air, Black rants and raves about Jews and minorities. He frequently becomes agitated, smacking his lips as he dives into exhausting tirades about whites being victimized and targeted for “genocide.” He regularly describes himself as on a rant.
Those rants are, for the most part, extemporaneous speech, right off the top of his head. Black’s ad-libbed shows rarely follow a theme, and he appears to do no research or broadcast preparation beyond what he might have picked up that morning on “The Today Show.” Chiming in when a co-host or caller raises an issue, he often sounds like a bitter and bypassed old man, ranting from his porch.
Relentlessly nostalgic, Black repeatedly recalls the highlight reel of his life as David Duke’s right-hand man. He tells the same stories in almost every opening monologue, and you can almost see his co-hosts roll their eyes as he goes into another tale of how it was “back in the day.” But at the same time, Black, who has banned Nazi symbols on Stormfront, betrays just how radical he really is.
Three Cheers for National Socialism
It is on his radio show that Black reveals himself most plainly. And increasingly, those revelations have a lot to do with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
On his last New Year’s Eve broadcast, for instance, Black cited Nazi Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels in an effort to goad his listeners into action. “I hope 2015 is a lot better than 2014 was,” Black said. “And we’ll look forward to us accomplishing more, and it depends on us. … Things are not going to fall into our laps. Berlin is not going to fall into our laps. As Joseph Goebbels pointed out in his diaries, it wasn’t something that just happened. It was something [the Nazis] worked hard for, were very persistent, very dedicated and creative when necessary to accomplish their goals. So we have to look at it the same way.”
As reflected in that comment, Stormfront Radio is really about resuscitating the Nazi brand, a fact best illustrated by the words of its hosts and callers.
Both hours of the Jan. 29 show, in another example, were dedicated to ridiculing Jews and the Holocaust. Black was incensed that day over news coverage of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and repeatedly used the term “holohoax” to describe the Nazi slaughter of Jews during World War II. In the second hour of the broadcast, he went on about “Jewish ritual murder,” an age-old racist claim that Jews kidnapped and killed Gentile children and used their blood to make matzoh. Black said these ritual murders “really did happen” and, he continued, “We have to accept the fact that the Holocaust really didn’t happen.”
These kinds of comments, while serving to retain a certain set of Nazi sympathizers, have likely diminished Black’s ability to grow his audience. In any event, they surely cancel out his earlier attempts at surface de-Nazification.
Another problem for Black is the way that the SPLC has outed a number of his key followers, including, most recently, two of his radio show co-hosts — men who appear to be just as pro-Nazi as Black, Duke, and their allies.
Take the man who goes by “Jay” on the show. Jay is actually Albert W. Hess of Tallahassee, Fla., who defended the Third Reich on Dec. 31, saying, “Hitler and the Nazis were basically a reaction to Jewish power and treason in Germany.” Hess, 61, has been a neo-Nazi activist going back to George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party of the 1960s, and later, the neo-Nazi National Alliance.
Another co-host goes by “Truck Roy” on the program, but is really Freeland Roy Dunscombe, a 38-year-old barber from Harrison, Ark. Speaking on the same show, he responded to Hess: “Well, of course, back then, you know, what Nazi meant back then is not what it means now. You know, when the National Socialists first came on the scene as a party that got people’s attention in Germany, they didn’t have baggage or decades of Hollywood conditioning against their brand.”
Retorted Hess: “I’d also just like to mention, you know, every year, every New Year’s at midnight, I make a toast that, and I hope everybody will join me, my toast is, ‘Next year in Berlin.’” Black concurred: “Okay, next year in Berlin!”
Stormfront and Murder
On any given day, fewer than 1,800 registered members — some 0.6% of the total — log on to Stormfront. And yet that small number of active users has been disproportionately responsible for some of the most lethal hate crimes and mass killings since the site was put up in 1995, according to an SPLC study last year. The study showed that the rate of murders by Stormfront members began to accelerate rapidly in early 2009, after Barack Obama became the nation’s first black president. In the past six years, Stormfront members have murdered almost 100 people.
The homicidal trend began just four years after the site went up. On Aug. 10, 1999, Buford O’Neil Furrow, a regular user of Stormfront, left his parents’ home in Tacoma, Wash., and drove to Los Angeles, where he shot and wounded three children, a teenage girl and an elderly woman at a Jewish day care center. Furrow walked away and went on to shoot dead a Filipino-American postal worker.
Another murderous Stormfronter was Richard Scott Baumhammers, who in 2000 shot and killed his next-door neighbor, a 63-year-old Jewish woman, and then went on a shooting rampage, specifically targeting minorities and killing five more people. And there are many more such examples. The most notorious Stormfront-using killer was Anders Breivik, who murdered scores of Norwegians in a 2011 rampage aimed at stopping what he saw as a Muslim invasion of his country.
The SPLC report received a great deal of press attention and appears to have been responsible for a marked drop in the number of visitors to Stormfront. And there are other damaging reports of violence from those associated with it.
In November 2012, for instance, Italian police raided several homes and arrested Stormfront Italia leaders Diego Masi, Mirko Viola and others. Dozens of knives and several blood-stained bats and clubs were among the weapons seized from Viola’s residence. The arrests came after Stormfront Italia published a “blacklist” of Italian citizens that marked them for “racial abuse.”
The fact that Black is so virulently anti-Semitic is not surprising, given his long friendship with Duke, who once led the Klan group that Black headed up in Alabama. Even as a youth, Duke was a neo-Nazi, and that has continued to the present. True to form, Duke’s latest project is an illustrated version of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a wildly anti-Semitic screed lauded by Hitler.
To say the two men are “close” would be an understatement. Black and Duke built the Knights of the KKK together in the 1970s, they’ve been arrested together, and they have defended each other from critics and competitors for decades. The two men have also fathered three children, between them, with the same woman.
Black has been Duke’s campaign manager. He has pushed the idea that “Dr. Duke” — the former Klansman has a degree from an anti-Semitic Ukrainian school — is the leading advocate for white people in American history. On his show, Black has said, in effect, that he built Stormfront to serve as Duke’s online campaign booster and fan club. Any Stormfront member engaging in the slightest online criticism or questioning of Duke is banned from the forum immediately.
Through it all, Black and Duke have claimed to be essentially nonviolent — though it’s hard to see how the heavily armed Black intended to take over the island of Dominica without gunplay. In fact, the two men were among the leaders who, in 2004, wrote and signed the so-called “New Orleans Protocol.” Though the protocol called for an end to infighting on the radical right and a “high tone in our arguments and public presentations,” its first provision was “zero tolerance for violence.”
The reality is quite different, and it may be that that reality continues to cut into the successes of Stormfront, as potential recruits are turned off by Black’s Hitler worship and talk of racial revolutions that can only mean mass bloodshed.
Indeed, if Black were to become incapacitated or even die, it now seems very likely that his Web forum and other projects would land in the historic dustbin of failed political programs. In any case, protestations of peacefulness notwithstanding, it’s clear that the real legacy of Don Black’s 20 years on the radical right — from his years in the Klan to his building of Stormfront — is race hate and violence.