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"You may consider my views dangerous, but so were those of the founding fathers," says Black, who in the video segment delivers his beloved Jeffersonian quote: "Nothing is more certainly written than that these, the Negro people, are to be free, nor is it less certain that equally free they cannot live under the same government." Black adds, "In fact their views... weren't that much different from my own."
Abrams: "Well, my --"
Koppel interrupts to dump on Black: "If you'll forgive me, most of us won't have trouble distinguishing between you and Thomas Jefferson," he said. But the momentarily flustered ex-Klansman sallied back: "The truth will win the debate. There's no controlled point of view on the Net. There's no, unlike the, what I, what we consider a media monopoly, which your network is part of, all points of view are accessible, good and bad... So when you start talking about how dangerous or hateful I am, I think that's a little bit self-serving."
Media attention is a double-edged sword for Black. He knows he'll be labeled a "hater," "bigot," or "supremacist." Words he views as "pejorative... meant to stifle argument." He prefers the sobriquet "racialist." But the mainstream media also brings large audiences. And his message, as was evident from his Nightline appearance, only has to prick a relatively few ears to serve his purpose. The next day 8020 hits registered on Stormfront, five times more than average. And a raft of e-mail queued up over the next few days. Some derided him or likened him to pure evil. Others simply requested more information on "interesting ideas." But most lauded him for being "articulate and credible," "cool-headed, polite, and very much a gentlemen," he claims. A few examples of those favoring Black:
Because I watched Nightline this evening, I found your site. I am a "white" person who has decided I will no longer accept that title. Because black people have demanded that they be called "African-Americans," I have demanded that I will henceforth be referred to as a "European-American."
I watched Nightline last night, and Ted Kippel's [sic] closed and bigoted mind positively disgusted me. It is clear to anyone with a trace of intellect that the USA promotes myths such as racial intellectual equality.... Negro intellectual inferiority is so obvious that one would think that only total idiots could conclude otherwise.
Dear Mr. Black:
Thank you for taking the time to care about our white pride and heritage. I am a firm supporter of your aims. The article entitled "What Is Racism" by Mr. Jackson touched me greatly. He clearly articulated what I have been feeling for many years. I will add your Website to my links page very soon... Again, thank you for your dedication and devotion to white heritage. White Pride!!!
David Hoffman, ADL's Webmaster in New York, lamented Nightline's decision to grant the ex-Klansman such exposure. "The short-form medium of television gives him a legitimacy he doesn't deserve," he said. "He was like an honest computer consultant with a different point of view. I believe in contextualizing this stuff. Most Americans will reject this garbage when they understand what it is. But people do elect demagogues -- and any soapbox only serves to fan the flames." The irony, both Black and Hoffman say, is that Black's enemies are often his best promoters.
"It turned out about as well as could be expected," Black said. "Most of our supporters thought it was very biased. But it's as good as it's going to get for network TV."
Even in the unreconstructed world of 1950s Athens, Alabama, Black's prejudices led him to grow up an outcast. The son of a wealthy real estate developer, Black remembers always being "vaguely concerned" about the civil rights movement. "I thought it was disrupting," he says. He avoided sports and cultural currents like jazz or the likes of Jimi Hendrix. Richard Wagner was more his style. Black was a loner and never had black, Hispanic, or Jewish friends. He once read John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me, a 1961 account of a white man who dyes his skin black. "It was a heart-wrenching thing," Black says. "He couldn't use the bathroom anywhere. But I didn't believe everything he wrote."
Black's views began to jell at age fifteen. A booklet called "Our Nordic Race" motivated him to write segregationist groups like White Power and Thunderbolt for similar literature. By his sophomore year, he was handing out their race-baiting tabloids at Athens High School. That was the young racist's first taste of controversy. The school board banned the distribution of political pamphlets. So he defied them, launching a mail campaign with addresses from the student handbook.
In 1970, a year later, Black joined the Virginia-based, neo-Nazi National Socialist White People's Party and went to Savannah to help entice Georgians to vote for white supremacist J.B. Stoner as governor. A few weeks later he nearly became a casualty to a conflict between Stoner flacks and the Nazis. Jerry Ray, Stoner's campaign manager and brother of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s killer, James Earl Ray, unpacked a .38-caliber pistol and pumped the teenager with one hollow-pointed bullet in the chest. Black had allegedly broken into Stoner's campaign office to filch records for the Nazis. He doesn't like to talk about the incident now. "The conflict has long since been resolved," is all he'll say. When he recovered, he returned to Alabama and finished high school.