Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporter Saslow (Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President, 2011) delivers a memorable story of a prodigal son who broke with white supremacy thanks to the kindness of strangers.
It is a small irony that Derek Black abandoned the nationalist, white power movement at just about the time that a president entered the White House who consciously put white nationalist rhetoric at the center of his campaign. Black came by his race hatred naturally, following his father’s ideology as the founder of Stormfront, the neo-Nazi clearinghouse, and that of his godfather, KKK stalwart David Duke. From his father, Black carried the urgent message that whites were being made victims of cultural genocide in their own country, a grievance of the loss of privilege. However, he had a different vision in which hooded, hidden supremacists would become respectable, persuading his father to outlaw “slurs, Nazi insignia, and threats of violence or lawbreaking” from the Stormfront website. Thus Charlottesville, with its clean-cut, polo shirt–wearing torchlight parade marchers. By then, though, Derek was long gone. Bright, well-read, and skilled in debate, he had gone off to college in Florida, and there, his home-schooling parents’ worst nightmare was realized: He formed a bond with a Jewish girl, though he continued his agitating, and when his identity as a white nationalist was exposed, a Jewish conservative invited him to exchange ideas. Black’s eventual renunciation of the nationalist cause threw his parents into turmoil; as Saslow writes, his father hoped that “maybe Derek was just faking a change in ideology so he could have an easier life and a more successful career in academia.” But absent widespread changes of heart, Black’s story is an anomaly, if an instructive one—and one that closes with a dark message that conflict is looming as the white nationalist movement appears to be mushrooming.
A sobering book that deserves a wide audience among politics-watchers in an age of reaction.