Why is Neo-Nazi Group’s New Leader a Black Man?

One of the nation’s largest neo-Nazi groups appears to have an unlikely new leader: a Black activist who has vowed to dismantle it.

Court documents filed Feb. 28 suggest James Hart Stern, a California-based Black activist, is the new director and president of the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement, one of several extremist groups sued over bloodshed at a 2017 White nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

On January 14, Michigan records show, NSM leader Jeff Schoep legally named Stern the organizations president, treasurer, secretary, and the sole member of its board of directors. But those records and court documents say nothing about how or why Stern got the position. His feat invited comparisons to the recent Spike Lee movie “BlacKkKlansman” in which a Black police officer infiltrates a branch of the Ku Klux Klan.

Stern has vowed to use his position to dismantle the group, the Associated Press reported. Exactly why Schoep would let him do it, most likely has a lot to do with who these two individuals REALLY are.

Interesting Facts: 

•Schoep, the neo-nazi leader, had a half-Black step daughter he kept a secret from NSM members 

•Stern, calls himself the “race-whisperer,” for his ability to manipulate some of the most noxious far-right figureheads in the US.

• Schoep took over the helm of the National Socialist American Workers Freedome Movement at age 19.

• Stern shared a cell in prison with former KKK leader Edgar Ray Killen.

Jeff Schoep, The Charming Cult Leader  

Jeff Schoep claims he realized he was a Nazi in the fourth grade, when he read Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. At 19, he went public, joining the National Socialist American Workers Freedom Movement, a minor neo-Nazi group founded in 1974 in South St. Paul, Minn., by Robert Brannen and Cliff Herrington, both former officials of the American Nazi Party of the 1960s.

Schoep tried to invigorate the aging hate group by distributing literature, organizing rallies and recruiting younger members including unaffiliated racist skinheads in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. As a result, he was soon a rising star on the neo-Nazi scene.

In 1994 at age 21, Schoep took over the National Socialist American Workers Freedom Movement, renaming it the National Socialist Movement, after the group’s leader, Cliff Herrington, stepped down. Under Schoep’s leadership, the NSM grew rapidly and became one of the most active neo-Nazi organizations in the country, though it is frequently ridiculed by more elitist White supremacists for the crudeness of its propaganda and its members’ penchant for brown shirts, swastika armbands and shiny boots.

Its growth, however, was not so much due to Schoep’s organizing abilities as it was the near-collapse of two larger neo-Nazi groups, the National Alliance and the Aryan Nations, both of whose leaders died in the early 2000s, and the upset of a third, the World Church of the Creator (later renamed the Creativity Movement), whose leader was sentenced in 2003 to 40 years in prison for soliciting the murder of a federal judge.

But the NSM has managed to stay quite large even as other start-up neo-Nazi groups started out strong but failed to remain so.

Some of the best insight into Schoep personally came from his ex-wife Joanna. They were married from 2008-2011, and split acrimoniously after she found out he was cheating on her. The two met online on a conservative dating site, talked back and forth for a while, before he relocated to Chicago, moving in with her and her daughter. The couple married 90 days later.

Joanna, is one-quarter Arab and her daughter is half Black. This didn’t seem to bother Schoep, but he kept their heritage from members of NSM.

Joanna says he treated her daughter well, was never overtly racist to their minority neighbors or to her non-White friends. He was instead mostly a raging anti-Semite, who directed his vitriol at “the Jews.” In her view, Schoep really wasn’t serious about the NSM and its politics.

In an article for the Southern Poverty Law Center, Joanna described the group as Schoep’s personal piggy bank, where he wielded total control over finances. She came to see NSM as a cult-like organization where all power was centralized in one man’s hands, and its ranks were filled with uncritical followers who believed just about anything he had to say.

“I know he’s in it for the money; NSM is his only income,” said Joanna in the 2012 splcenter.org article. “His job is basically sticking hate music and other CDs inside envelopes and then mailing them off. He runs the NSM’s record label, NSM Records. He also lives off NSM dues and spends a lot of time trying to get people to send in as much money as possible.

“He liked it when people sent him cash because he would pocket that. None of the members know how much is coming in, because he keeps the books private.

Joanna described the organization as a cult.

“I went to rallies with Jeff, and his followers just worship him. No one can question Jeff. Everybody called him ‘commander.’ He will tell them about Jewish conspiracies and they end up totally brainwashed,” Joanna told splcenter.org. “That’s why I think it’s a cult. And Jeff is very charismatic. He is a very good speaker. He could earnestly sell a TV to a blind person. He has all these people completely and totally brainwashed.”

James Stern Has An Interesting Story

According to Wikipedia, James Hart Stern, 54, is a civil rights activist, speaker, and author from Los Angeles, California. He is most well-known for his work defusing gang violence through a series of summits in the 1980s and 1990s and for his incarceration with Edgar Ray Killen, the former KKK leader who was convicted of the 1964 Mississippi Burning murders.

Stern grew up in Watts, a suburb of Los Angeles. The son of working-class parents, as a teenager, he honed his public speaking skills and apprenticed as a pastor in Tabernacle of Faith Baptist Church under the tutelage of the well-respected Rev. Frederick Douglas Ferrell who had been the first Black pastor elected to the California State Assembly.

Stern went on to attend a theological seminary and was ordained a minister at age 22. As a pastor, to make a change for his parishioners and the community, Stern organized a series of gang summits starting in 1988 to facilitate communication and decrease the violence.

Gang leaders from Watts, Crenshaw, Compton, and South-Central Los Angeles met in secret locations to participate in the meetings. In August 1988, more than fifty gang members from the Bloods and the Crips stood on the steps of Los Angeles Court House with Rev. Stern and pledged to create a collective of “silent warriors” in an attempt to put a stop to the needless deaths.

He continued his community work and in 1992 negotiated another truce between two rival gangs. However in 2007, while serving as the chief executive officer of the L.A. National Association of Cosmetology, an organization that handled electronic funds transfers and automated clearing house payments he was charged and convicted of mail fraud.

Several employees skimmed money off the top of the transfers and implicated Stern in their scheme. Stern signed a plea deal for 25 years in prison, on the promise that he would be able to appeal. Throughout the process, Stern maintained his innocence on all charges throughout his incarceration. He was released from prison in 2011.

While in prison, Stern shared a cell with former KKK leader Edgar Ray Killen, who was convicted in the “Mississippi Burning” murders of three civil rights workers. During their little more than a year as cell mates, the two forged a close relationship and Killen hand wrote dozens of letters to Stern outlining his views on race as well as confessing to other crimes.

In addition to the letters, the former leader of the KKK signed over power of attorney and his land in Mississippi to his cellmate.[ Stern detailed this experience in his 2017 book “Killen the KKK.”]

Dismantling Racism

After his release from prison, Stern founded Racial Reconciliation Ministries, an organization dedicated to promoting conversations between people of all races and resolving the wounds of racial conflict. Speaking around the country and working with groups across the country.

“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 to his website.

In January 2016, using the power of attorney he received from Killen, Stern filled a Declaration of Dissolution to disband Killen’s Ku Klux Klan branch.

Sterns appears to have been targeting the NSM for years. His connection with the former KKK head also led to a 2014 “race summit” with Schoep. The two men kept in limited contact over the years, with Stern convincing him to drop the swastikas from the NSM logo.

In 2017, he wrote that he met with Schoep to “sign a proclamation acknowledging the NSM denouncing being a White supremacist group.”

“This is a start in the right direction and any one that stands in the way of this is really the Racist, don’t say you want change and you don’t give the racist a chance to change. He was thought to be a racist he can learn not to be one,” Stern wrote on his website.

Schoep Facing Financial Ruin

Stern and Schoep reconnected in December to discuss another summit. But when Schoep called in January, “he was concerned and scared,” Stern told the Daily Beast. “He told me he was having problems … He told me for the first time about the lawsuit going on in Virginia.”

The NSM was among a group of White supremacists that marched en masse in Charlottesville, VA in 2017. But what racists planned as a coming-out moment turned deadly when a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, killing one.

More than a half-dozen white supremacists have been convicted for attacks in Charlottesville, and dozens of racist individuals and organizations named as defendants in Sines v. Kessler, a sprawling lawsuit by powerhouse lawyer Roberta Kaplan. Schoep is named in the lawsuit as an individual, and implicated again in his capacities with the NSM and fascist supergroup Nationalist Front, both of which are also defendants.

When legal pressure against the group escalated in January, Schoep signed over all its leadership positions to Stern, in a bid to avoid a court case. Now Stern is taking a legal sledgehammer to the organization.

Lawyers for the plaintiff in Sines v. Kessler have asked the court to Schoep. They say he has ignored his obligations to turn over documents and give them access to his electronic devices and social media accounts. They also claim Schoep recently fired his attorney as a stalling tactic.

Since taking over, Stern has agreed to surrender NSM documents for the discovery process (lawyers for the plaintiffs previously accused NSM of stalling the discovery process) and filed a motion for summary judgment “which is basically the NSM pleading guilty.

“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.

Recently, Schoep made an attempt to save face by releasing a press release informing members Hart is not affiliated with NSM in any capacity, announcing his own retirement from the organization he led for more than two decades and appointing NSM’s former Chief of Staff Burt Colucci as NSM’s new commander.

But according to the Daily Beast, affidavits, court transcriptions, and recorded calls suggest Schoep was in on the plan. After Schoep signed over the rights to the NSM, Stern asked him to sign an affidavit explaining the decision. Stern also shared phone calls with Schoep, which he says he recorded with Schoep’s knowledge.

Sources: splcenter.org, Wikipedia, the Daily Beast and the Associated Press.