MORENO VALLEY, CA — It’s a story that’s reminiscent of last year’s Oscar-nominated film “BlackKkKlansman”: a black activist from Moreno Valley has been named the head of a large Neo-Nazi group that celebrates Adolph Hitler and dons uniforms similar to those seen in Nazi Germany.
Now in charge of the organization, he wants to destroy it.
James Stern, 54, told media outlets he has taken over the National Socialist Movement, replacing longtime leader Jeff Schoep. And he did it by establishing years of communication with Schoep.
“The National Socialist Movement put a poison pill into the truth of history. I think we can be the antidote to make sure that we correct some of those wrongs,” Stern told The Associated Press on Friday.
The switch happened after Schoep indicated he wanted to disband the group. But Stern said dissolving the group leaves open the door that someone else could come along to reincorporate it. The group would then be able to continue the “same shenanigans as it never stopped,” he said.
The timing of the switch isn’t coincidental. Schoep resigned as the group faces a civil lawsuit filed by survivors of the violent 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, dubbed “Unite the Right.” The National Socialist Movement and Schoep are among multiple defendants.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, said the organization “specializes in theatrical and provocative protests,” and called the NSM the country’s largest Neo-Nazi group. The group is rooted in the original American Nazi Party, which was founded in 1959. Seven years after its founder was killed by one of his followers in 1967, two of his top lieutenants formed the National Socialist American Workers Freedom Movement in St. Paul, Minnesota. Leadership later passed to Schoep in 1994, and he renamed the group the National Socialist Movement.
Schoep acknowledged he was duped into handing over the reigns to his organization to Stern. He said Stern suggested the move as way to get the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to stop trying to sue. Schoep — who had been preparing to step out of his leadership role anyway — agreed, thinking it could help shield his organization in court.
“He has that piece of paper, but he is absolutely not recognized as the leader of the National Socialist Movement,” Schoep, of Detroit, told the AP of his successor.
Schoep told group members he was “deceived” by Stern, who he said “convinced me that in order to protect our membership from the ongoing lawsuit, I should sign over NSM’s presidency to him.”
But Stern filed a motion in the case Thursday. In that motion, he admits the group is liable.
“Justice must be served and the truth must be told,” Stern wrote. “Consequences must be excepted (sic).”
The Washington Post reported that Stern has now set his sights on the group’s website. Specifically, he wants to change it to teach about the history of the Holocaust.
“I did the hard and dangerous part,” Stern told The Post. “As a black man, I took over a Neo-Nazi group and outsmarted them.”
In the Spike Lee film, which is based on a true story, black detective Ron Stallworth manages to infiltrate the Colorado Springs Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. The key reason he was able to do so — Stallworth initiated a relationship with former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke by calling him on the phone. The two eventually set up face-to-face meetings with another police officer, who is white.
Unlike Stallworth’s story, Stern and Schoep were actually well acquainted. The two held what they called a “race relations summit” in California, where representatives with Schoep’s group talked with black leaders about how they could work together peacefully, The Post reported.