The New York Times reports that a Baptist preacher from Los Angeles, James Hart Stern, took control of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) earlier this year. The NSM is one of the oldest still-operating neo-Nazi groups in the United States, with links to the American Nazi Party, and at one time had over 60 chapters throughout the country which advocated violence against Jews and African-Americans.
There's just one wrinkle. Stern is a black civil rights activist — and he engineered a hostile takeover of NSM in order to destroy it from within. The Times reports that Stern is in a battle with fellow NSM official Burt Colucci, a longtime member and true believer, for control of the group's website.
Stern's plan is simple: neo-Nazi groups tend to rely on internet outreach to recruit and radicalize unsuspecting young people. So Stern wants to completely remake the website to educate people about Jewish history and culture, and continually loop scenes from Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" — completely neutering the Nazi message and cutting off the group's ability to recruit. "If you've never heard the truth about the Holocaust, this could change everything," he explained.
Stern had previously moved registration of the website's corporate registration from Michigan to California in order to consolidate his control over it, but Colucci seized control of the domain, and Stern is now suing to reclaim it.
As odd as this plan sounds, Stern has successfully done a similar thing before to a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. After being arrested for wire fraud, he developed a prison friendship with Edgar Ray Killen, an elderly Klan activist serving a life sentence for the murder of three civil rights activists (and who killed dozens more he was never convicted for). Stern helped keep Killen alive, as he was too weak to feed himself, and in return, Killen gave him power of attorney over his estate — which Stern used to shut down the White Knights after being released.
From the outside, hate groups can appear invincible. But in reality, they are often plagued by fractured leadership and can be brought down quickly — as was demonstrated last year when the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Workers Party collapsed due to a bizarre love triangle and trailer-park brawl involving two of its leaders. Stern understands that the very thing that makes hate groups dangerous also leaves them vulnerable — if just one person can radicalize hundreds of people, then just one person can shut it all down as well.