Derek Black, whose father founded the hate forum Stormfront, changed his name, publicly rejected white nationalism and cashed in a bequest from a wealthy racist—all during one long weekend in July 2013.
Five years ago, Derek Black (above) was the future of the white power movement. Today, as a Washington Post profile recently recounted, Derek Black is the movement’s best known traitor, having denounced white supremacy and befriended Jews. How was a committed white supremacist, nearly from birth, able to make that change?
Black certainly had the right pedigree, growing up a home-schooled prodigy in a high-tech, Klan-affiliated family where he learned to write Internet code and was building, by the age of 10, racist websites targeting children. Using data compression algorithms and high-speed servers, Derek set up and maintained “Stormfront Radio,” one of the first 24-hour racist radio networks on the Internet, while still in his teens.
In September 2011, then a 22-year-old junior at New College of Florida, Derek organized a national seminar to teach fellow racists how to optimize messaging code and memes for white supremacist infiltration of Internet social media. His father, Stormfront founder and former Klansman, Stephen “Don” Black, bragged after the event that Derek had “revitalized the seminar with his own inspired vision.”
At the time, Derek was deeply involved with the concept of racist “meme generation,” promoting the mass propagation of short, almost benign, white supremacist messages online. Most of these memes were created by Bob Whitaker, a former Reagan Administration official and political street fighter who had written something called “the Mantra” for advancing white separatist ideas.
Whitaker’s ambitious strategy directed hundreds of racist trolls, called “Bugsers,” to “swarm” social media with cleverly devised white nationalist memes. One claimed Jews were promoting “white genocide.” If someone challenged the premise of the posted meme, or replied with an anti-racist message, they were “swarmed” personally and accused of being “anti-white.” Thus began the now common organized racist cyber-stalking of critics of white supremacy online.
The meme, “Stop White Genocide,” is one of the more common comments now plastered hundreds of thousands of times on social media. Derek’s signature on Stormfront at the time read “There is a genocide going on. You are either pro-White or pro-White Genocide.”
Within weeks of Derek’s September 2011 Stormfront seminar, the “White Genocide” meme took off. Indeed, Google trend analytics show the term overtook Stormfront’s decades-old message of “White Pride World Wide” before the end of that year.
As Derek and others pointed out at the seminar, swarming the web with clever racist memes would build a broader public awareness of white separatism. Attendees agreed that getting the media to report on the proliferation of these messages could amplify their impact. In a Stormfront thread discussing the 2011 seminar, Derek expressed his skepticism of the mainstream media while he explained the value of manipulating the press to promote a racist message. In one comment, he posted his personal strategy for working the media.
“I'd use the media for certain things, like promoting an event,” Derek wrote, “I just think it has a lot of propensity to damage us because it's institutionally anti-White.”
“Blinding Lights and Surrounding Darkness”
Despite claiming to be concerned about damaging publicity from press coverage there seemed to be no such thing as bad publicity to Derek when promoting his family’s website and the white racist cause. In fact, 11 months after his Stormfront seminar, Derek was in a Fox News studio, taking pictures and “promoting an event.”
On August 5, 2012, Wade Michael Page, a Stormfront member, went on a shooting rampage in the middle of Sunday services at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six people before turning the gun on himself. President Obama denounced the attack and lamented Americans would recoil at the idea that the victims were targeted because of their race. But the horrific killings actually earned praise on Stormfront, with one influential donor claiming “It's almost a misstatement to call it ‘domestic’ terrorism when the people he killed do not belong here in the first place…A native son shot some aliens who are destroying something precious and irreplaceable. Well, it seems more like an act of homeland defense in that light.”
For his part, Derek was posting pictures on Stormfront promoting his father’s appearance on a Fox News cable program alongside National Socialist Movement leader Jeff Schoep. The two were invited on air to discuss the killings.
Recalling his experience of being in a Fox television studio while his dad was angrily telling a live nationwide audience that “Third World” Sikhs like those killed at the Temple had no business being in America in the first place, Derek wrote: “Here are some photos of the shoot just so people know what a weird situation these remote linkups are. People assume you have a screen or something to look at, but it's just blinding lights and surrounding darkness and someone talking to you through an ear piece.
“Those circumstances really impress me that the guys appear so comfortable.”
The fact that Derek, then a senior at New College, appeared so comfortable promoting his father’s explanation of the racist ideology that motivated Page to perpetrate a mass killing 12 days earlier was not particularly surprising at the time. The dehumanizing cynicism of publicly bragging about attending an on-location “shoot,” where his dad explained away a horrific shooting, passed without notice.
The real surprise came less than three months later, in November 2012, when Derek publicly renounced the white supremacist movement and claimed he was now anti-racist, pro-gay marriage and pro-choice in a mass email to his fellow students at New College.
Within days, Stormfront founder, Don Black, announced the cancellation of the Don and Derek Black radio show.
If Stormfront members were surprised and saddened by Derek’s public renunciation of everything racists hold dear, they were in for an even greater shock seven months later, when Derek sent a long email to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), in July 2013, denouncing white supremacy and insisting he would never involve himself in the racist movement again.
“Five Days in July”
In the course of researching a report on the financials of the racist right, Hatewatch reached out to Derek Black in late September to ask about a large inheritance he had received from a wealthy white supremacist donor three years ago.
A comparison of the date of Derek’s receipt of this bequest, and other records, with the timeline of his unexpected departure from the racist movement, shows a number of odd coincidences.
A few weeks after his November 2012 renunciation of racism, for example, Derek applied to a graduate school in the Midwest. He also applied for an academic scholarship to the school and was approved a few weeks later. Perhaps the mass email to his New College colleagues helped with his grad school application?
Regardless, it looks like it took just five days for Derek Black to completely escape the racist movement later that summer. On Friday, July 12, 2013, Derek applied to have his name legally changed. The following Monday, July 15, Derek emailed his denunciation of the racist movement to the SPLC. The next day, Tuesday, July 16, 2013, Derek withdrew $125,000 from the Charles Schwab IRA account of Stanley Paul Ratliff, a retired banker and major Stormfront donor who had died six weeks earlier at the age of 75.
As a result, by August 2013, Derek Black was out of the racist movement, working on his Master’s degree at a university far away from Florida, living under a new identity with a six-figure bank account to support whatever he wanted to do next.
Our ongoing study of the top financiers behind the racist right reveals Ratliff, who went by retiredinAr on Stormfront, was a major donor to Don Black and several other organizations and individuals, including the neo-Nazi National Alliance and its media director, Kevin Alfred Strom.
Ratliff appears to have given at least $325,000 to the white supremacist movement in the last ten years of his life.
Kevin Strom was a major beneficiary, collecting more than $2,000 a month in financial “gifts” from Ratliff from around 2003 to 2006. For his part, Don Black once identified Ratliff and Texas attorney John Gardner, “Yggdrasil” on Stormfront, as the all-time biggest financial supporters of Stormfront.
Artifacts of other donations Ratliff made to racist leaders also exist. For example, in July 2003, the NA attempted to cash a check Ratliff had sent to then-NA board member, Fred Streed. The check was refused by the bank because it had not been endorsed by the recipient.
Streed resigned from the Alliance in July 2003 and it appears the NA attempted to deposit Ratliff’s “gift” into the group’s bank account without Streed’s endorsement.
It remains unclear if Ratliff ever issued another check to Streed to replace the one the NA tried to deposit.
What is clear is that Derek Black secretly received $125,000 from the estate of Stormfront’s biggest donor the day after he denounced Stormfront and everything it represented. And despite publicly denouncing his son for leaving the racist movement, Don Black was fully aware that Derek received the bequest and had cashed the check.
In a series of text and email exchanges with Derek over the last four weeks, he explained how he came to receive the Ratliff bequest, though he could not explain why there was never an announcement of Ratliff’s passing on Stormfront, which has a special section devoted to user recollections about deceased forum members, called “The Eternal Flame.”
So, why the secrecy? Derek confirmed his father was aware he received the bequest. When it was pointed out that $125,000 was more money than Stormfront usually received in a year and a half of collecting donations (see chart) and that just a few months after Derek received the inheritance Don Black was in civil court being sued for more than $16,000 in past due credit card bills, Derek claimed ignorance of his father’s financial difficulties.
Despite some gains from the Trump candidacy, Stormfront has been losing revenue and audience share since 2014. In fact, it is no longer the largest white supremacist website, though it remains the most lucrative. Younger racists seem to be more likely to visit the more activist-driven hate site, Daily Stormer, which exceeded Stormfront’s Alexa ranking earlier this summer. (See charts.)
In late September, Derek reviewed the timeline Hatewatch compiled and agreed to discuss details of his decisions during that period, but asked that we not report anything until after the Washington Post story about him was published on Oct. 15. The in depth article, titled “The White flight of Derek Black” was well received by readers who found Derek’s story filled with hope.
Derek claims Ratliff was fully aware of his 2012 renunciation of the racist movement and said Ratliff “was someone I grew up knowing. He knew I was going to leave [the racist movement]. He left me the money anyway.” One of Ratliff’s heirs told Hatewatch the family was upset that he had named Derek in his will. Ratliff told his family they were not going to receive that part of his estate because they disagreed with his white supremacist beliefs. A family source also, however, confirmed that Ratliff learned about Derek’s change of heart six months before he died but he decided to keep Derek in his will anyway. Derek recalled that when he received notification of the inheritance, it included a small note from Ratliff saying, “Good luck, Derek.”
Derek was asked if he truly wanted nothing more to do with Stormfront or white nationalism (WN) how could he, in good conscience, accept such a large sum of money from one of the most generous racist moneymen in the movement.
“There was no monetary incentive for me to renounce WN,” Derek told Hatewatch. “If a close family friend chose to bequest that money to me despite knowing I was leaving a movement he loved, that was his choice, and I accepted the money.”
Derek also confirmed that Ratliff’s bequest, one of the biggest cash contributions ever made by a Stormfront donor, did not and will not go to fund Stormfront or pay off his father’s credit card debts.
“If you're concerned about the bequest getting to Stormfront, then that mission is accomplished. It is now and has always been out of their hands. I would never allow money to go to funding any WN causes,” Derek wrote in an email last month.
Derek was asked about the many failed fundraising schemes advertised on Stormfront over the years. In his appeal for donations on the site, Don Black often speaks of important special projects user contributions go to help.
Other than cheap trinkets, very little of what is promised to Stormfront donors gets delivered. Last year, for example, anyone who donated $1,000 to the website was offered their choice between an “Anne Frank Bobble Head” or a pocketknife embossed with the website’s logo. Most of these special projects, however, never see the light of day. Here’s a list of those that never came to fruition:
STORMFRONT DVD: In 2005, Stormfront began soliciting funds to produce a DVD of the American Renaissance (AmRen) conference to be held in February 2006. In one post, James Kelso wrote: “We'll need help paying for the production of a feature-film-quality DVD that will be packed with scenes from AmRen, as well as tutorials on how to really get the most out of Stormfront.”
Though a professional camera crew was present at the AmRen conference, complete with studio lighting and sound equipment, apparently David Duke kept walking in unexpectedly on most of the shots and one of Duke’s daughters allegedly got drunk and spent the night with one of the guys on the camera crew. Although Don Black assured readers after the conference that he was paying for the video’s production with his own personal credit card, no DVD was ever released of the event.
When asked about what happened to the Stormfront DVD, Derek replied. “I think it wasn’t very good. I don’t know if I ever saw a finished product.”
STORMFRONT WHITE COUNTRY RECORDS – Don Black also spent thousands in donations on the production of a country music CD. One studio session cost more than $7,000 and Stormfront evidently paid for two. Yet, only a handful were ever produced. A thread on Stormfront indicates one user received a CD but others said they were unable to purchase them. The only poster who reported receiving a White Country CD ended the thread with “I take it this SF project went over like a lead balloon.”
Derek recalled playing guitar on a couple of the tracks for one album. “We went to a recording studio over several days and they made an album. It was an interesting experience. I have no idea how much it cost,” he said. “I have no idea why they weren’t sold.”
DAVID DUKE –former Klansman, David Duke, Derek’s godfather and his mother’s ex-husband, also solicits money on Stormfront for projects that don’t ever seem to materialize. Forum posters who challenge Black or Duke over these fundraising schemes are banned or their questions just go unanswered.
Duke continues, for example, to solicit funds for his updated and illustrated Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. He promised forum members more than two years ago if they would just send him the funds to get the book printed it would prove “the Jewish conspiracy” once and for all. The book has yet to be made available. Last year, a skeptical Stormfront user asked when the book was going to be published.
“You've been promoting the imminent release of your new book for over a year! Can you at least release another 'teaser' chapter on your website?” he wrote. The question got no response.
“Hope Springs Eternal”
For his part, Don Black has sheepishly admitted in his fundraising appeals that most of the projects he has solicited money for on Stormfront have never come to pass.
In 2010, for example, he wrote: “We also occasionally launch special projects -- the White Scholarship Program, the White Pride Video Contest, White Country Records, the Stormfront DVD. Most of those haven't panned out...but hope springs eternal.”
When questioned about these various projects and his father’s explanation, Derek replied, “I presume large amounts of money were spent on all this stuff, but for whatever reason they never actually sold them. I know you’re looking for a conspiracy or secret spending, but for what it’s worth I never saw evidence that money was spent on anything that he didn’t describe in that post you quoted.”
STORMFRONT LEGAL DEFENSE FUND - “We are under siege!” Don Black wrote on July 4, 2015, announcing his latest special project, the Stormfront Legal Defense Fund. The fund has raised more than $6,000 to defend Don Black from an FBI inquiry involving the Dylann Roof Charleston Church murders. It remains unclear how much Black has raised. The running total was mysteriously removed or relocated from the site’s contributions page earlier this year. A March 2016 archive is here.
Perhaps grasping the forum’s growing skepticism of Stormfront’s online appeals for money, Black prefaced his request for donations with: “This isn't some fundraising hyperbole on my part. The Obamanation and much of the controlled media, formerly champions of First Amendment ‘protected speech,’ when it was their speech being protected, are now openly calling for ‘an exception to First Amendment liberties.’"
With no mention on Stormfront of the FBI visit to his home in early July 2015, Black provided little explanation as to why he needed the money. “I can't discuss any details for the usual lawyerly reasons,” Black wrote, “but the assault has begun. I don't know how far it will go or where it will end.”
It may end this month during the Dylann Roof murder trial, scheduled to start jury selection Nov. 7. Black told the press last year “It’s likely Roof had posted” on Stormfront though Black has repeatedly refused to confirm if he received a subpoena for IP addresses or other user records from his website. It seems inconceivable that Black would not warn his forum users if it were so. Whatever Black may or may not have provided to investigators may become clearer in the coming weeks. If there is a documented link between Stormfront and the mass murders at the Charleston AME Church, Roof will be yet another addition to the long list of racist killers and domestic terrorists associated with Don Black and his website.
Leaving the “Family Business”
For his part, Derek describes his former “family business” with disgust. “If my family had done something like own a bakery, I could have been so involved in that and been proud of it. Instead, at the most mundane level, my family was devoted to building something reprehensible. It hurts sometimes that I can never be a part of what draws the rest of them so close.”
Of course, Derek is not the first in his family to make a public denunciation of the racist movement. His mother, Chloe, distanced herself from Stormfront in an email to the Palm Beach Post in 2008. "I am not involved with the Web site and do not agree with extremist or racially prejudiced views," she wrote.
A more convincing case could probably be made that Derek’s childhood and adolescence exposed him to a form of “Stockholm Syndrome” that created deep indoctrination and loyalty to the racist ideology sustaining the racist family business he now describes as “sludge.”
“I don’t think you understand how much I believed in WN,” Derek wrote to Hatewatch last month, “I never would have left it had I still thought it was right. The stuff I’ve done since 2013 hasn’t been huge dreams I just couldn’t accomplish without leaving WN; it’s more like looking for a new purpose in life after my first one turned out to be sludge.”
For his part, Don Black continues to defend his son on Stormfront. Last month, in the Sustaining Members section of the website, “Klarn,” an influential Klansman, was critical of Derek’s recent interview in the Washington Post. He wrote: “One has to wonder if Dericks [sic] beliefs would remain liberal if Don pulled the plug on all these vacations and liberal college study.”
An agitated Don Black tersely replied, “As usual, you don't have a clue. Or maybe you do. Derek has been completely independent of us the past three years. You could at least spell his name right, though. Your sponsored [sustaining membership] is now revoked.”
The fact that Black was willing to revoke a Stormfront donor’s sustaining member status over an off-the-cuff criticism posted in the private section of the forum is particularly instructive since “Klarn” is believed to be United Dixie White Knights Imperial Wizard Brent Waller, a well-known and widely respected Ku Klux Klan leader in Mississippi.
Escaping “Ideological Villains”
Derek lamented the loss of his family’s support in his emails to Hatewatch, though he says that he was raised to never lie, and upon realizing the so-called “moral high ground” of white supremacy was built on a mountain of lies, he left the movement and has not looked back.
It has not been an easy transition.
“Did I carefully think about when and how I wanted to renounce WN? Of course I did,” Derek wrote in an email to Hatewatch last month. “I was aware that I was going to lose everyone I had grown up knowing and caring about. I knew these individuals as real people, not just as ideological villains. They were my community. I was hurting them and hurting my family, creating irreparable tears in our relationships. But I had also been raised to never lie about my beliefs, and so the choice was clear. I no longer identified with the movement, viewed the movement as fundamentally wrong, and had come to grips with the harm the movement (and by extension I) had done to others. And so I spoke out, and I promise you I've suffered for it.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has intentionally left out information about Derek Black’s whereabouts and other matters that might indicate his location due to the horrific backlash he received on Stormfront after talking to the Post. For example, a Stormfront user threatened his life on October 19. “Filthy pig should be shot, never mind who is father is,” wrote “Citizen12” on the forum. That comment, here referred to within another posting, was removed in minutes.