In what seems to borrow a page from Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, a Black activist is now the leader of one of the nation’s largest neo-Nazi groups. And, he plans to dismantle it.
According to court documents filed on Thursday, James Hart Stern plans to use his new position as director and president of the Detroit-based, National Socialist Movement to undermine the group’s defense against a lawsuit, according to the Associated Press.
The NSM is one of several extremist groups sued after the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Stern’s court filing requests that a federal court in Virginia issue a judgment against the group before one of the lawsuits even goes to trial.
Stern replaced Jeff Schoep as the group’s new leader in January, according to Michigan corporate records. Court records don’t show how Stern came to be elected to the top position, but this story draws comparisons to Lee’s film, which won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and tells the true-life story of a Black police officer and how he infiltrates a Colorado branch of the Ku Klux Klan.
The AP tried, but neither Stern nor Schoep responded on Thursday to emails and calls seeking comment.
It appears there has been longstanding factioning within the ranks of the NSM. Matthew Heimbach, a prominent white nationalist who served briefly last year as the NSM’s community outreach director, said Schoep and other group leaders have been at odds with members over the direction of the organization, according to NBC News. Heimbach explained some members “essentially want it to remain a politically impotent white supremacist gang” and resist ideological changes that were being pushed by Schoep.
Heimbach said when Schoep left and Stern was installed, it signaled to him the end of the group.
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“I think it’s kind of a sad obit for one of the longest-running white nationalist organizations,” said Heimbach, who estimates it had about 40 active, dues-paying members last year.
In the past, NSM members used to attend rallies and protests dressed in full Nazi regalia. More recently, Schoep tried to rebrand the group and appeal to a new generation of racists and anti-Semites by dropping the overt displays of Nazi symbols.
Stern, on the other hand, has reportedly been trying to disrupt white supremacy groups such as NSM for more than two years. A message posted on his website said he would be meeting with Schoep in February 2017 “to sign a proclamation acknowledging the NSM denouncing being a white supremacist group.”
“I have personally targeted eradicating the (Ku Klux Klan) and the National Socialist Movement, which are two organizations here in this country which have all too long been given privileges they don’t deserve,” Stern said in a video posted on his site, according to NBC News.
This week, lawyers representing the plaintiffs from the Charlottesville rally who are suing white nationalist groups and white supremacist leaders asked the court to sanction Schoep for failing to turn over documents and give them access to his electronic devices and social media accounts. They also accuse Schoep of recently firing his attorney to buy time.
A federal magistrate judge in Charlottesville, however, ruled that Stern cannot represent the NSM in the case because he is not a licensed attorney. Stern still filed a request for summary judgment against his own group.
“It is the decision of the National Socialist Movement to plead liable to all causes of actions listed in the complaint against it,” he wrote in the filing, according to NBC News.
The irony in this case actually goes back some years. Stern once served a prison sentence for mail fraud at the same prison as former Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen, who was convicted in the “Mississippi Burning” killings of three civil rights workers.
In 2012, Stern claimed Killen signed over to him power of attorney and ownership of 40 acres of land while they were serving prison terms together. A lawyer for Killen asked a judge to throw out the land transfer and certify that Killen and his family owned the property, according to NBC News.