James Alex Fields Jr., the neo-Nazi who ran his car into a group of counterprotestors in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12, 2017, was convicted of first-degree murder of Heather Heyer.
DETROIT – An African-American civil rights advocate is now the president of the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group based in Detroit, and he says he wants to effectively dismantle the organization.
James Stern, 54, of California filed incorporation records in January with the State of Michigan that show he is now the white supremacist group’s leader after the previous leader, Jeff Schoep, handed over the group to him amid concerns over a lawsuit filed against the group tied to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
Stern told the Detroit Free Press on Monday he took over legal ownership of the group “for the purposes of obliterating it, getting rid of it. … They are going to be destroyed.”
This is the second time Stern has assumed leadership of a white supremacist group to dismantle it, said the Southern Poverty Law Center.
While serving time in prison, he once befriended Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Edgar Ray Killen, who was involved in racial killings in Mississippi that were depicted in the movie “Mississippi Burning,” and then dissolved the group Killen was in.
Dispute over who’s in control
Stern said he had been in conversations with Schoep since 2014 and that Schoep was trying to find a way to escape liability from the Charlottesville lawsuit. Stern runs Racial Reconciliation Outreach Ministries, a group he said promotes dialogue and unity.
Stern said he wanted to transform the group and its website into a platform against racism that teaches about the Holocaust, the history of slavery in the U.S. and the plight of Native Americans.
But in spite of Stern’s plans, a leader with the neo-Nazi group told the Free Press on Monday that Stern is actually only the president of the organization on paper and that they intend to push the black man out of the group.
“He has not taken over the group,” said Burt Colucci, who said he’s the new commander of the group and was its former chief of staff. “He’s a paper tiger. … He definitely needs to be removed from the organization.”
Colucci said that Stern has no access to the group’s website, its assets, bank accounts or membership records.
Colucci said the National Socialist Movement is a civil rights group for whites and plans to continue its message. He said he intends to bring back the Nazi swastika as part of its logo, which had been replaced a few years ago.
“There is no bigger enemy than communism,” he said.
Schoep, the previous commander of the group, could not be reached for comment Monday. State incorporation records list Eastpointe, Michigan, as his city of residence, with the group’s address in Detroit.
Schoep told the Associated Press that Stern had basically tricked him by convincing the neo-Nazi leader to hand over the group as a way to avoid liability in the Charlottesville lawsuit.
Schoep has led the National Socialist Movement since 1994, said the Southern Poverty Law Center, which noted last month that Stern had become president of the group.
Colucci said that Schoep had named him to be his successor.
Colucci said that Schoep “was apparently coerced into believing that he would not be liable in the lawsuit from Charlottesville if he signed the organization over to a black civil rights leader, which is an incredible mistake to make.”
Neo-Nazi group faces Charlottesville lawsuit
The origins of the National Socialist Movement go back to 1974, and it became one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the U.S., according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“We’re coming up on a 75th anniversary of the Holocaust, of 6 million Jews that were killed during World War II, by a horrible man, Hitler,” Stern said. “The teachers of this group, for 45 years have been teaching that the Holocaust didn’t really happen, it didn’t exist, that it was Jewish propaganda.
“This is a group that’s been teaching separatism, saying that blacks and whites can’t live together, can’t mate together … the racist belief itself is just why the group has got to go, the hate, the violence,” Stern said. “My message is that there’s only one race, and that’s the human race.”
In 2017, a federal lawsuit was filed in Virginia against several white supremacist groups, including the National Socialist Movement, over violence that broke out in August of that year in Charlottesville, where several white nationalist groups held protests. One counterprotester who opposed white nationalists, Heather Heyer, was killed.
After becoming president of the neo-Nazi group, Stern filed last month a notice of substitution with the court in Virginia that he was now the representative of the group. On Thursday, Stern asked the court for a summary judgment ruling against him, admitting the group is at fault in the Charlottesville violence.
But Colucci said that members of National Socialist Movement did not do anything illegal in Charlottesville and should not be blamed for others who were violent during the protests.
Colucci said he was “completely in the dark” about Stern talking with Schoep, whom he had reported to as chief of staff of the group.
“I never even heard of this guy prior to” Stern becoming president, he said.
James Stern dismantled a branch of the KKK
Stern said that Schoep had contacted him in 2014 after hearing about Stern connecting with Killen while in prison.
Stern was serving a sentence for wire fraud while Killen was serving 60 years for killing James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner near Philadelphia, Mississippi. They shared a cell in 2010 and 2011, said the Southern Poverty Law Center.
During that time, Killen spoke about his killings and later gave Stern power of attorney over the KKK group he led. Stern dissolved the KKK group in 2016.
During their conversations since 2014, Stern said he and Schoep disagreed on racial issues.
“We agreed … to disagree,” Stern said. “We knew we would never see eye to eye on any of our views.”
But, he said, he convinced Schoep to get rid of the Nazi swastika from the organization’s logo.
Stern said Schoep contacted him in December worried about the lawsuit. “He sounded like a different person,” Stern said. “He sounded like he was in trouble, like he was disturbed.”
Schoep confided in Stern about his worries about the lawsuit, Stern said.
“I outsmarted him,” Stern said.
Contributing: The Associated Press Follow Niraj Warikoo on Twitter: @nwarikoo
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