How a black man ‘outsmarted’ a neo-Nazi group and became their new leader

To understand how Stern came to overtake Schoep’s organization, you first must understand how the Michigan neo-Nazi came to find the California activist.

Stern says that while serving prison time in Mississippi for mail fraud, he formed a relationship with his cellmate and onetime Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Edgar Ray Killen. The KKK leader had been convicted in the “Mississippi Burning” killings of three civil rights workers. Though Killen regularly called Stern a racial slur, he nevertheless granted his cellmate power of attorney over his life story and estate.

Stern was paroled from prison in 2011. In 2016, he used his legal discretion to dissolve the Klan organization that Killen once led. That was his first successful infiltration, and the lore of Stern’s relationship with the KKK leader is what Stern says first drew Schoep in.

In 2014, Schoep called Stern to inquire about his relationship with Killen, the activist said. Schoep asked to see the man’s prison ID card and said Stern was the first black man his organization had reached out to since Malcolm X. Stern said he searched Schoep’s name, discovered he was a white supremacist, then arranged for the two to meet in California for a small race-relations summit.

The two fostered a strange kind of relationship, Stern said.

Schoep and Stern remained firmly entrenched in their political camps, he said, fundamentally opposed to what the other represents. But they also engaged in regular debate: about the Holocaust, the ugliness of the Nazi swastika, the fallibility of Schoep’s white-nationalist ideals and, most critically, the fate of his hate group.

The goal, Stern claims, was always to try to change Schoep’s mind.

“From day one, I always told him: ‘I don’t agree with you; I don’t like you,’ ” Stern said. “I talked to him because I wanted to hope to change him.”

Stern did not change Schoep’s beliefs.

But according to Stern’s version of recent events, he was able to accomplish the next best thing.

In early 2019, Stern said Schoep came to him for legal advice on the lawsuit, which was filed in 2017 by a Charlottesville counterprotester against NSM and other white-nationalist groups that attended the Unite the Right rally.

Schoep seemed “rattled,” Stern said, and began talking about making a change. “I was hoping he was talking about his ideology,” Stern said.

Instead, Stern said the white-nationalist leader called NSM an “albatross hanging around his neck” and said he was looking for ways to get out. He still held the same beliefs, Stern said, but he was ready to cut ties with NSM and start a new organization because he felt underappreciated by his followers and left out of the mainstream white-nationalist movement that had swept the country in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.

Schoep was concerned about the repercussions of the Charlottesville lawsuit and the legal bills he was shouldering, Stern said, and he confided in the California activist as he sought solutions.

“I saw a crack in that armor,” Stern said.

So he encouraged Schoep to get a fresh start by handing Stern the control of the Detroit-based organization and website.

Schoep said yes.

“He knew that he had the most vulnerable, the most loose-cannon members that they had ever had in the organization,” Stern said. “He realized somebody was going to commit a crime, and he was going to be held responsible for it.”

Stern says he’s preparing for what comes next and is seeking guidance from Jewish leaders. He said he does not plan to dissolve the corporation because he doesn’t want Schoep’s followers, or others in the white-nationalist movement, to reincorporate it.

Stern admits his plans for the website are still evolving, but his primary goal is to offer it as a reclaimed space to Jewish organizations that could help him educate NSM’s followers on the history of the Holocaust.

“Everything is out in the open,” Stern said. “My plans and intentions are not to let this group prosper. It’s my goal to set some hard records right.”

Schoep took control of NSM in 1994 and was responsible for growing its membership and brand as an organization of Holocaust deniers and Adolf Hitler acolytes. The group maintains a website that draws in millions of visitors from around the world, Stern said, and has organized public rallies across the county.

The group, whose members wear SS-like uniforms that mirror those worn in Nazi Germany, was founded under a different name in 1974 by two former officials of the American Nazi Party, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Signing over leadership of an organization this old is the equivalent of a death sentence in the white-nationalist movement,” said Keegan Hankes, an SPLC research analyst. “It’s one of the strangest things I’ve seen since I started tracking these things five years ago.”

Several of the people listed on the NSM website as leaders within the organization did not respond to a request for comment from The Post on Friday. One man, who identifies himself as SS Capt. Harry L. Hughes III and is listed as the public relations director for NSM, said in an email that he is “not involved in the NSM’s legal affairs” and was “not at liberty to discuss anything, until Commander Schoep personally makes a statement.”

“Just like you and the rest of the media, I’m waiting in suspense, too,” Hughes added.

Matthew Heimbach, a leading white-nationalist figure who briefly served last year as the organization’s community outreach person, told the Associated Press that there has been conflict between NSM’s leaders, including Schoep, and its membership. Heimbach estimated the group had 40 dues-paying members last year.

The biggest challenge the group has faced, Hankes said, was being outshone by the more refined efforts of new alt-right leaders such as Richard Spencer. There was tension within the organization about the need for a shift to a less violent, less explicit brand of neo-Nazism, he said.

“A lot of these groups see [NSM] as extremely detrimental to anything regarding identity politics,” Hankes said.

Stern told The Post that he and Schoep discussed this infighting and that Schoep expressed a desire to leave NSM behind and start a new organization with less baggage.

Schoep offered a different perspective in his statement: “I realize that there is a lot of confusion right now, and ongoing legal matters prevent me from being more thorough in my explanation of events. Regardless, it is important for me to communicate that my actions are always done for a reason, and I would never purposefully damage the organization I have spent so many years serving.”

Though Schoep is no longer legally affiliated with NSM, he still faces the lawsuit because he is listed as a defendant.

“It’s definitely not good for him, and it shouldn’t be good for him,” Stern said. “You spend 25 years terrorizing people, you can’t rebrand overnight. It doesn’t work like that.”

Stern, who runs Racial Reconciliation Outreach Ministries, is still sorting through the legal intricacies his NSM leadership entails. He is listed as the attorney representing NSM in court filings, but a judge ruled Friday that he cannot be NSM’s lawyer because corporations are not legally authorized to represent themselves in court.

Stern said he is working on hiring an outside lawyer to refile his motion for a summary judgment on the lawsuit. He has also offered the plaintiff’s attorneys full access to NSM social media accounts, he said, because he claims to own those, too.

“Say what you want about me,” Stern said. “But I’ve done this twice now.”

Emmett Till Sign Is Hit With Bullets Again, 35 Days After Being Replaced

For more than 50 years after the murder of Emmett Till, no historical markers in the Mississippi Delta told the story of the 14-year-old African-American boy who was dragged from his bed in the night, lynched and then dumped in the Tallahatchie River.

That changed in 2007. Eight signs were erected in northwest Mississippi, including at the spot on the river where fishermen in 1955 discovered Emmett’s mutilated corpse tethered to a cotton-gin fan.

But a year later, vandals tore down the sign on the riverbed. It was replaced. But then bullets were fired into that marker — more than 100 rounds over several years. A new sign was installed in June. Thirty-five days later, on July 26, it was shot up again.

.. There was a highway marker with his name on it, but that too was vandalized when the letters KKK were spray-painted across it. It was later completely covered in black paint.

.. Mr. Weems said that in the decades after Emmett’s death, people in the Mississippi Delta region wanted to forget about the crime and act as if it never had happened. While that sentiment holds true with some people there, he said, most people in the area have voiced support for preserving Emmett’s story in the historical markers.

.. “My sense is that it only takes one person to do this,” Mr. Weems said.

Trump wants his ‘Space Force’ to be ‘separate but equal.’ Notice anything odd?

Separate but equal” is a segregation-era term — one that most Americans are trying to put behind them, not delightedly apply to the armed forces.

.. Another Trump administration favorite is “law and order,” a holdover from Richard M. Nixon’s 1968 campaign. Candidate Trump reclaimed it in 2016 and has been repeating the term ever since. It’s not about actual law and order, of course (otherwise, something would have to be done about the array of grifters and criminals parading through the White House and Cabinet), but about creating a perception of growing crisis. The purpose of the term is to spawn nightmares of violence and criminality, controllable only from the top down. And it’s best applied in a racialized manner —

  • to “illegals,”
  • immigrant “animals” and
  • purveyors of inner-city “American ­carnage.”

.. Which brings us to “America First,” the phrase that rolls off Trump’s tongue — and Twitter feed — with a gleefulness that belies its distasteful history. That particular slogan rose to prominence around 1915, when President Woodrow Wilson used the phrase to defend American neutrality in World War I. Its nativist undertones lent it credibility as a Ku Klux Klan slogan, and, grounded in nationalism and xenophobia, the phrase was again famously deployed by anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh to advocate for keeping America out of World War II.

.. What Trump’s go-to word associations have noticeably in common is that they are all phrases of division, plucked from the uglier chapters of the past century of American history. They are racialized. And they are used to stoke a fear of the other while promoting self-serving — Trump-serving — ways of quashing dissent and asserting ­authority.

.. Just a day after using “separate but equal,” Trump branched out to using shameful episodes in other countries’ recent histories to supply the vocabulary for his spur-of-the-moment public statements. In a tweet Tuesday morning, he attempted to lay the family separation policy at the feet of Democrats, saying that “they don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.” An outside population “infesting” a nation, like vermin. Where have we heard that before?

.. Trump’s flights of language are bizarre but not entirely accidental. This Space Force announcement should remind us that even when our administration talks about the future, we should beware attempts to pull us back into the past.

Reagan’s infamous speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi

In 1980, one of the major party presidential nominees opened his general election by delivering a speech in a small town in the Deep South that just by coincidence happened to be the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan. That same candidate had previously complained about federal housing policies which attempted “to inject black families into a white neighborhood just to create some sort of integration.” He argued that there was “nothing wrong with ethnic purity being maintained.” That candidate was President Jimmy Carter, the Democratic nominee.

.. Seven miles away from the fairgrounds is the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. Unfortunately, it would be difficult to find many places in Alabama or Mississippi which are not within seven miles of the scene of some infamous past act of racial violence, such as a lynching.

.. It would be false to say that Carter was appealing to racists because he kicked off his campaign in a town that was the current home of the Ku Klux Klan, and it would be equally false to say that Reagan was appealing to racists because he mentioned his lifelong theme of state’s rights at a county fair several miles away from the site of an infamous crime 16 years earlier. Today, columnists and commentators who tell you that the “kick off” for Reagan’s general election campaign was an appeal to racists are demonstrating that they don’t bother to check the facts before they make extreme allegations. People who are making coded appeals to racism don’t tell their audience that the “stereotype” of welfare recipients is wrong, and that “the overwhelming majority” of them want to work.