Father and son target kids in a confederacy of hate

USA Today/July 16, 2001
By Tara McKelvey

West Palm Beach, Fla. -- Twelve-year-old Derek Black won first place this year in a local science fair, and he carries around an encyclopedic knowledge of frogs, snakes, fish and the Web.

With red hair past his shoulders and slightly crooked front teeth, he looks like the typical tech-savvy preteen he is. Yet the thing that makes his father proudest is that Derek runs a Web site for kids -- promoting white supremacy and racial hate.

''Couldn't ask for anything more,'' says Don Black, who keeps a framed photo of Derek dressed in a Confederate soldier's uniform above his desk in his home office.

In 1995, Black, 47, created what is believed to be the Web's first hate site, Stormfront.org. Today he boasts that it has become the most visited white supremacist site on the Net. Derek runs the site's children's section, working closely with his dad.

More than 5,000 unduplicated visitors come to Stormfront daily, and several hundred a day (344,000 in 2 years) have visited the children's pages, where puzzles and games are mixed with animated Confederate flags, sound files of white-pride songs, an inflammatory article about Martin Luther King Jr. and a personal statement from Derek, asking visitors to stop sending him hate mail.

''I get a lot of people who think I'm just a pawn in this horrible game of lies,'' says Derek, who has been home-schooled since third grade by his mother, Chloe, the ex-wife of David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

''One person said, 'Don't listen to what your father says. Go turn on the Discovery Channel. Find out what the real world is like.' Why would I turn on the TV to find out what the real world is like?''

Marketing hate to youngsters

A database compiled by researchers at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the international Jewish human rights organization, now lists 2,500-plus extremist and hate sites -- many run by a new breed of activists, better-educated and more technologically proficient than their predecessors.

''Put aside your prejudices about who's in the hate movement,'' says David Friedman, director of the Washington, D.C., office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). ''If you're looking for people in white sheets, you won't find them. These are sophisticated bigots who have thought very carefully about the best ways to proselytize people to their hate.''

These new racist entrepreneurs have also tapped into a sophisticated marketing strategy. Just as fashion editors and e-book publishers have started reaching out to elementary school children and teens -- a prime, impressionable and coveted demographic -- so have hate groups.

White supremacists have recently started using the Net to target very young children by using Pokémon figures and ''simple, basic language,'' says Mark Weitzman, director of the Wiesenthal Center's Task Force Against Hate. Other groups are using jazzed-up graphics and music to reach teens.

Of the 2,500 hate Web sites, 44 have sections designed for children, teens and parents, Weitzman says; another 110 sites peddle hate music and merchandise to preteens and teens. While the number of sites may be small, child psychologists and others monitoring their activity are alarmed about their reach and influence.

''The number of people involved in these movements is not the only important factor,'' says Weitzman. ''Sometimes when the numbers are low, members think the only way they can get their message across is through an act of domestic terrorism or extreme violence.''

''If you have a susceptible child who is angry and depressed, the sites could push a child towards certain behavior,'' adds psychiatrist Sirgay Sanger, director of the Early Care Center, a children's clinic in New York. ''It's the first step toward throwing a rock.''

Civil liberty advocates point out that the messages, however objectionable they may be, are protected by the Constitution. ''There's going to be all different kinds of speech on the Internet, some we love and some we find repulsive,'' says Shari Steele of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. ''The best thing to do with speech you don't agree with is to speak out against it.''

'A laid-back guy'

Don Black is 6-foot-3, muscular, with dark brown hair with specks of gray and a reserved manner. He's known as a ''laid-back guy,'' according to Bill Rothchild, director of the Palm Beach region of the ADL. ''He has a fairly low profile in Palm Beach County.''

But in Huntsville, Ala., in 1970, Black, then 17, started a local chapter of the White Youth Alliance, an organization run by a relatively obscure Louisiana State University student: David Duke. In 1980, Black succeeded Duke as Klan leader. Several months later, Black began planning an armed invasion of a Caribbean island.

The following year, with a group of white-supremacist buddies, he tried to invade the Caribbean island of Dominica to establish a base for their movement. Black spent two years in a federal penitentiary for attacking a friendly nation; the minimum-security facility was ''where the term 'Club Fed' originated,'' he says. ''You can't leave, but it's about as good as you can get.''

That's where he learned about computers, taking a course through a local college. ''Unfortunately,'' he says, ''I had to leave'' before getting a degree. Although Don Black has tried to protect his son (the only child still at home) from the realities of having a white supremacist father, hackers have tried to break into their Web site, and the family has received bomb threats.

Don Black says he's never shied away from political activity -- and getting Derek involved in the Web site is an example. Both father and son are proud of the traffic they get. Stormfront.org is No. 28,409 in traffic rankings tracked by Alexa Internet (which offers free tracking services), while the ADL's anti-hate site is No. 59,570.

One of the primary ways hate groups reach out to teens is with skinhead music, says Jordan Kessler, director of an Internet monitoring unit for the ADL. ''This is a language kids understand, a band of cool-looking young guys blasting out music. One label, Resistance Records, sold ''close to $1 million'' in merchandise last year, mostly online, says CEO Erich Gliebe of Cleveland. Items include a Nazi parade flag and a CD entitled War Songs of the 3rd Reich, Vol. 3.

''We believe people can potentially be affected by what they hear and see on a Web site,'' says the ADL's Rothchild, who encourages parents to use filtering software to block hate sites.

A diverse Palm Beach

Palm Beach may be known for grand hotels, oceanfront mansions and polo clubs, but the Black family lives in a working-class neighborhood. Guatemalan immigrants live a few houses away, and a condominium complex across the street is filled with Jewish retirees.

Black runs a moderately successful consulting business. ''Mostly people don't care (about your views) as long as you don't cause them to get publicity,'' he says.

Still, he is not oblivious to how he may be perceived. ''People say, 'You're teaching your son Satan,' '' he says. But ''I think anyone who is critical of me for instilling in my son my worldview has lost track of how a society should function.''

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