One of the country's largest neo-Nazi groups seems to have an unlikely new leader: a black activist who has vowed to dismantle him.
Court documents filed on Thursday suggest James Hart Stern wants to use his new position as director and president of the National Socialist Movement to undermine the Detroit-based group's defense of a lawsuit.
NSM is one of many extremist groups prosecuted for bloodshed at a white nationalist rally held in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Stern's case asks a Virginia federal court to render a judgment against the group before the trial begins.
Stern replaced Jeff Schoep as head of the group in January, according to Michigan records. But these documents and court documents say nothing about how or why Stern got the job. His exploit invited comparisons with Spike Lee's recent film "BlacKkKlansman" in which a black policeman infiltrates a branch of the Ku Klux Klan.
Neither Stern, who lives in Moreno Valley, Calif., Nor Schoep responded on Thursday to e-mails and calls for comment.
Matthew Heimbach, a white nationalist figure who briefly served as NSM's director of community relations last year, said Schoep and other group leaders disagreed with the grassroots members. Heimbach said some members "basically want him to remain a gang of politically powerless white supremacists" and resisted the ideological changes advocated by Schoep.
Heimbach said that Schoep's apparent departure and Stern's installation as a leader probably signify the end of the group in its current form. Schoep was 21 when he took control of the group in 1994 and renamed it National Socialist Movement, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"I think it's kind of sad for one of the oldest white nationalist organizations," said Heimbach, who estimates he has about 40 active members and contributors last year.
The group attracted much larger crowds during rallies.
Members of the NSM attended rallies and demonstrations in national uniform, including during a march to Toledo, Ohio, which sparked a riot in 2005. More recently, Schoep had attempted to change their name and appeal to a new generation of racists and anti-Semites. by getting rid of these obvious demonstrations of Nazi symbols.
It turned out that Stern had been trying for at least two years to disrupt the group. A message posted on his website announced that he would meet Schoep in February 2017 "to sign a proclamation recognizing that NSM was denouncing the status of white supremacist group".
"I have personally targeted the eradication of (Ku Klux Klan) and the National Socialist Movement, which are two organizations here in this country to whom privileges have not been granted for a long time," Stern said. a video posted on his site. .
On Wednesday, plaintiffs' lawyers suing White supremacist groups and movement leaders following the violence in Charlottesville asked the court to punish Schoep. They say he has ignored his obligation to hand over documents and give them access to his electronic devices and his social media accounts. They also claim that Schoep recently dismissed his lawyer as a delay tactic.
A federal magistrate in Charlottesville said last Friday that Stern could not represent the MNS in this case as he did not appear to be a licensed lawyer. This did not stop Stern from filing a summary judgment application Thursday against his own group.
"This is the decision of the National Socialist Movement to plead responsible for all the causes of acts listed in the complaint against him," he wrote.
Stern served a prison term for postal fraud in the same premises as former Ku Klux Klan chief Edgar Ray Killen, who was found guilty of murdering three civil rights activists by Mississippi Burning. Killen passed away in January 2018.
In 2012, Stern claimed that Killen had signed a power of attorney and owned 40 acres of land while they were serving joint prison sentences. A Killen lawyer asked a judge to reject the land transfer and certify that Killen and his family owned the property.