Animals and Us   /   Spring 2019   /    Book Reviews

How to Save a Life

When we dismiss evil philosophies, we need to avoid throwing out the person.

Tony Rehagen

Derek Black, 2017; Zuma Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo.

Derek Black was born into hate. He was a child prodigy of the white nationalist movement in America. His godfather and mentor was none other than David Duke, and his father, Don Black, was a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who was once imprisoned for plotting to overthrow the government of Dominica and establish a white utopia on the tiny Caribbean island. Don later founded Stormfront, a website and online forum for Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and general racists to perpetuate the myth of “white genocide” at the hands of foreign interests, immigrants, and minorities.

As a child, Derek started a children’s section of that website, hung Confederate flags on the walls of his bedroom in West Palm Beach, Florida, and cohosted The Don and Derek Black Show on Internet radio. There, the well-spoken preteen pushed conspiracy theories of an economy and a manipulative media controlled by Jews, pointed to the pseudoscientifically “proven” intellectual inferiority of black people, and questioned whether the Holocaust was actually as severe as so many Jews and Jewish sympathizers claim. Derek rode that notoriety to speaking engagements at white nationalist gatherings all over the world. He became something of figurehead, the heir apparent of the movement.

All of that is prologue to Eli Saslow’s book Rising Out of Hatred, which pivots on the moment Derek decides to leave home for Sarasota to pursue degrees in medieval history and German at New College of Florida, a small public institution that is one of the state’s top liberal arts honors schools. Saslow, a staff reporter for the Washington Post, points out that while New College’s student population of 800-plus was 80 percent white, the school, built on the former estate of circus magnate Charles Ringling, had also been “listed in college guides as the most liberal school in Florida, the best school for hippies, the most gay-friendly, the most pot-friendly, the most likely to ‘transform your worldview.’” The first chapter closes on a day shortly before Derek left for Sarasota in his packed secondhand PT Cruiser, when a listener called in to Don and Derek’s radio show and asked the father if he was worried about his son living alone “among the enemy in a hotbed of multiculturalism.” Don laughed off the notion and said that his son was a staunch nonconformist more likely to change the minds of his fellow students than vice versa.

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