It's not every racist who gets a soapbox with a national audience of about four million or the legitimacy of a perch once held by the likes of Henry Kissinger and Mikhail Gorbachev. And few right-wing conspiracy theorists get the chance to brand an apostle of the mainstream media a tool of a news monopoly on live net- work TV. On January 13, Black got those opportunities.
"Like many Website operators," intones a reporter in the opening video segment, "Black is using the Internet to promote a specific idea, in his case a political point of view."
Cut to Black propped in front of Old Dixie, a row of books, and a computer monitor advertising Stormfront: "The Net has provided us with the opportunity to bring our point of view to hundreds of thousands of people who would never have otherwise subscribed to one of our publications or otherwise been in touch with any of our organizations."
The reporter tells viewers the Wiesenthal Center estimates at least 800 Websites like Black's are now on the Internet and the bigotry-bashing group now spends 80 percent of its resources tracking "so-called 'on-line hate.'" Koppel explains the Internet could have about 200 million users by the turn of the century.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center: "The lunatic fringe has embraced this technology with a sophistication and a veracity that is frightening.... What started as a trickle has now evolved into an incredible deluge. In the last year alone, we've seen a 300 percent increase in the number of these pages put up on the World Wide Web."
Despite a sheen of sweat, the onset of stubble, and a drab gray pinstripe suit -- a no-no for TV -- Black was smooth, believable, and effective. He spoke in clear, crisp sentences. He invoked history, came across as authoritative about the mystifying mechanics of the Internet, and, when necessary, he parried sharply against Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment attorney, who was featured as Black's foil in the téte-à-téte portion of the show. Yet the two didn't spar that much. Abrams repeatedly expressed support for Black's right to spread his message. And if face-time renders a winner, Black won. His nine ripostes -- which included repeated plugs for Stormfront, condemnation of proposed censorship by ADL and America Online, and summoning Thomas Jefferson to his defense -- pummeled Abrams' six shorter responses.
"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.