A kinder, gentler racism 

Stormfront.org strives to make extremism mainstream

Sam Dickson, an Atlanta real estate lawyer, is fond of health food. He also likes to read bumper stickers. So, while trekking into the Little Five Points natural-eats emporium Sevananda about four months ago, he noticed that one car's bumper proclaimed: "Save Tibet!"

click to enlarge STORM FRONTMAN: Atlanta lawyer Sam Dickson says, "I'm a responsible right-wing extremist. I believe race is important." - JOEFF DAVIS
  • Joeff Davis
  • STORM FRONTMAN: Atlanta lawyer Sam Dickson says, "I'm a responsible right-wing extremist. I believe race is important."

Inside the store, someone recognized him. Dickson, you see, is more than just a lawyer. For decades, he's been a firebrand proponent of segregationist and neo-Confederate causes.

And those years of toil have earned him a bit of notoriety. His photo was long posted on a now-defunct "rogues' gallery" anti-racism website, for example. In 2004 when he went to Midtown Art Cinema, someone called him a "Nazi."

"Nazi?" he reflects. "Most Americans are vehemently anti-Nazi, as I am."

As he reached the checkout counter at Sevananda, he was again recognized. "This guy had a huge black beard," Dickson says. The man told the clerk, a black woman, that he was surprised Dickson would buy anything from her. Dickson recalls that the man told the clerk Dickson is a racist.

"But she thought the guy was crazy, and so did I," Dickson says. "It was very ugly. One's enemies are motivated by hatred. I don't hate people. I just want to hold my opinions and be able to talk about them."

A man who has lectured on race politics for four decades with the passion of a tent-revival preacher isn't likely to run from critics. Recalling the bumper sticker he'd seen as he entered, Dickson told the people who perked up at the Sevananda confrontation, "You want to save Tibet. I'm in agreement."

Dickson took the opportunity to compare Tibet – which the communist Chinese government has flooded with non-Tibetans – and America. "I told those who attacked me that the people of Milton and Shakespeare have a right to save themselves, just like what they advocate for Tibet. They were furious at the idea of someone arguing that white people should try to avoid extinction. Which is what is happening."

Dickson's message hasn't changed much since he was a University of Georgia activist with the right-wing Young Americans for Freedom in the late 1960s: The white race must unite to save itself.

But technology has transformed racial politics just as it has the rest of our culture. Today Dickson's soapbox is no longer confined to small rooms where he addresses handfuls of fellow travelers. His message is amplified and shoots around the planet at light speed, thanks to Stormfront.org, the online bulletin board whose booming growth delights white nationalists and causes anguish among their enemies.

Joining Dickson as an online personality on Stormfront are a marquee array of other white nationalist luminaries: founder Don Black; day-to-day manager Jamie Kelso; America's best-known race polemicist, David Duke; former Reagan administration official Bob Whitaker; and Jared Taylor, a Yale-educated, self-declared "racial realist" who publishes the American Renaissance magazine.

Those men, all in their 50s or older, have the credibility of laboring long years in a movement that seldom elicits kind treatment from the media, much less polite discourse in mainstream culture.

Stormfront, Dickson says, "has enabled us to communicate directly with the people. And when people hear our message, they're not saying we're a bunch of crackpots. They're listening and many, yes many, are agreeing."

A key to the site's success is the apparent normalcy of its leadership cadre. They're not the skinheads or the lightning-bolt-SS-tattooed Aryans – although such folk crowd Stormfront's message boards. The website's masters and mentors sport coats and ties instead of sheets and hoods or brown shirts and jackboots. Racial epithets are verboten in the Stormfront realm (although some slip in), and Kelso dismisses the occasional swastikas that pop up as "expressions of members' frustration, but mostly it's kids having a little fun." Still, Germanic themes are pervasive, from Stormfront's circle-and-cross emblem to the Nordic mythology screen names and Nazi-era artwork icons used by many of the online community's members.

Bob Whitaker – in a previous political incarnation, he was in charge of the nation's civilian security clearances for Ronald Reagan – contends the online community is strong because it's ecumenical in its approach to the many issues that divide far-right groups.

"You can call us what you want," says Whitaker, who lives in Columbia, S.C. "But in the next 20 years, you'll see us become the voice of reason. Minorities are the Tontos, the mascots, of liberals, but that's going to break up. America will break up into political groups, with whites as the most powerful. And Stormfront, because it has no position, but welcomes the opinions of all right-thinking whites, will be there."

IF NUMBERS measure success, Stormfront certainly resonates with many people's angst over the future. The site boasts more than 103,000 members, according to the independent Big Boards monitoring group. Just two years ago, it had a mere 53,000 members, and only 10,000 in 2002. Kelso gleefully notes that membership is growing at a rate of 500 a week.

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