Raised Racist: How David Duke's Godson Decided to Oppose White Nationalism
As a teenager, Derek Black was the webmaster for Stormfront, the Internet's most prominent message board for white nationalists. But Black escaped that world thanks to an unlikely ally.
Amaryllis Fox is a Former CIA Clandestine Service Officer, writer, television host and peace activist. Before attending university, she traveled to the Thai-Burmese border to volunteer in the Mai Laa refugee camp and worked with the Burmese democracy movement and eventually interviewing Aung San Suu Kyi for the BBC, which landed her a brief stint in Burmese prison at the age of 18, but also resulted in the first radio broadcast from Suu Kyi in almost a year.
In 2002, after extensive field work in East Timor and Bosnia, Amaryllis graduated from Oxford with an honors degree and started graduate work in international security at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. There she developed an algorithm to predict terrorist activity under thesis advisor Dan Byman, a leading thinker on terrorism and US security policy. Asked by the University's CIA Officer in Residence, Dallas Jones, to share the algorithm with the Agency, she began work as a political and terrorism analyst for SE Asia, commuting between Langley and Georgetown to finish her degree with honors. Following graduation, she moved into CIA's Directorate of Operations and deployed as a Clandestine Service officer, focused on counterterrorism and counterproliferation. She served in 16 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, before leaving government service in 2010.
Following her CIA career in the field, Amaryllis has used her coding abilities and international experience to build projects in support of international development and has covered current events and offered analysis for CNN, National Geographic, al Jazeera, BBC, and other global news outlets. She speaks at events and universities around the world on the topic of peacemaking and her videos about dialogue and nonviolence have been viewed over 120 million times online. She is the co-host of the History Channel series American Ripper and lives in San Francisco, CA, with her daughter Zoë.
AMARYLLIS FOX: Because of my work in counter-terrorism I’ve seen so many of these lessons around identifying humanity in one another unfold overseas. And when I came back to the United States I was really interested as to whether those same lessons would apply in daily life here. Is it possible to find common humanity in one another domestically that would be just as shocking as finding common humanity with our adversaries was to me during the war on terror? And the answer is a resounding yes.
One of the examples that I really find moving and that really gives an idea of how powerful this can be in a community’s life is that of Derek Black.
And this is the story of a young man who grew up, a teenager with a father who was friends with David Duke, started Stormfront which is the first and still the largest neo-Nazi online community in the United States. And because even neo-Nazis need online help from their kids, when Derek was a teenager his dad looked to him to be the webmaster of this dark, hate-filled online community.
And so Derek who grew up 13, 14, 15 years old being the webmaster, being the moderator for discussions of hate online. And eventually having his own podcast that went out nationwide to this community of neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Now when it came time for Derek to graduate high school, he got into college and went and started at New College in Florida, a liberal arts community, and didn’t tell anybody about what his family was known for, about Stormfront, about his role as the kind of anointed prince of the neo-Nazi community in the United States.
He kept his head down, lived in the dorms, made friends with his next door neighbors, one of whom was an orthodox Jew who will be relevant later in the story. So he made good friends with those around him, did his work but continued to go home and live this dual life as the webmaster for Stormfront.
Between his first and his second year somebody at his college was doing a paper on the neo-Nazi movement in the United States and in doing research came across Derek’s profile on Stormfront and wrote to the college message board: “Hey, this is a member of our community. Was anyone aware of this? Look at the hate on this website. What should we as a community do about the fact that this young man is in our midst? He was living in the dorms with us.” And the thread is incredibly passionate and many students are horrified. Many advocate for his dismissal and don’t want him in their midst, understandably, based on the vitriol that was being quoted in this discussion.
Derek come September went back to school but lived outside of the dorms off campus. He didn’t comment on the thread and continued to keep his head down and go to school.
Of course at this point everybody knows who he is and is avoiding him. He attends class and goes home every day. Now when from his first year in the dorms he had an orthodox Jewish friend who had lived on the same hall as him in the dorms.
And this friend said, unlike everyone else’s response, “Here’s what I would like to do. I would like to invite Derek to Shabbat dinner. And those of you my friends who will also share Shabbat dinner with us I would ask of you one thing. Please do not talk to Derek about this particular issue. Anything else is on the table but please don’t raise this issue with him.”
And for many of the guests it was a big challenge, but those who attended agreed and Derek came, shared a meal and the next week he was invited again and again he came. And this continued Friday after Friday after Friday throughout the year until eventually one day Derek said of his own accord, “You know, this is nothing like what I was raised to believe that it was. You’re nothing like the way that I was raised to believe that you were.”
And he began to give examples of the crazy, terrible, slanderous myths that he had been raised to believe about the Jewish community. And his new friends said, one by one for each myth, “Let’s look that up together. Let’s see where that myth began. How crazy that is. Let’s all try to learn its history together and what we can learn from it.”
And together as a community they debunked myth after myth after myth to the point that Derek initiated a new area of study at the college that involved building travel around different societies and communities that a given student feels that they don’t know enough about, and traveling to those countries or to those regions of the United States to spend time immersed in other cultures.
And this got Derek to the point where he had to remove himself from his family’s life and his father was not accepting of his change of heart and excommunicated him from the family. And as far as I’ve heard last of the story that’s where it stands. But Derek is now a leader in the academic community there at the college around building study from language to community to culture to counteract one’s built-in prejudices through compassionate engagement and immersion rather than vitriol and isolation.
As a teenager, Derek Black was the webmaster for Stormfront, the Internet's most prominent message board for white nationalists. The reason? His father created the site and needed technical assistance. As a result, Derek was indoctrinated to hate non-whites. Derek became so bonded to the white nationalist community that he became the godson of David Duke, outspoken racist and founder of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. But Derek escaped that world thanks to an unlikely ally: a Jewish community that consistently invited him to Shabbat. Derek came to realize that the hatred he'd been taught was a lie. The lesson, says former CIA clandestine operator Amaryllis Fox, is that counter-terrorism tactics regularly used abroad against enemies of the United States, i.e. exposing them to the truth, can be used effectively against its own internal enemies.
The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity
- Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
- And you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity
- If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist
Chicagoland is Obamaland
Image: The Pudding
Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.
Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).
The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.
The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.
How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."
‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'
Image: The Pudding
Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.
That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.
Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.
The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.
The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".
Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.
Royals and (other) mortals
Image: The Pudding
There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.
Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.
But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.
Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).
Freaks and angels
The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.
It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.
Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.
As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...
Average waiting time for hitchhikers in Ireland: Less than 30 minutes. In southern Spain: More than 90 minutes.
- A popular means of transportation from the 1920s to the 1980s, hitchhiking has since fallen in disrepute.
- However, as this map shows, thumbing a ride still occupies a thriving niche – if at great geographic variance.
- In some countries and areas, you'll be off the street in no time. In other places, it's much harder to thumb your way from A to B.
Technology may soon grant us immortality, in a sense. Here's how.
- Through the Connectome Project we may soon be able to map the pathways of the entire human brain, including memories, and create computer programs that evoke the person the digitization is stemmed from.
- We age because errors build up in our cells — mitochondria to be exact.
- With CRISPR technology we may soon be able to edit out errors that build up as we age, and extend the human lifespan.
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