“Rising Out of Hatred” is an unflinching examination of how white supremacy has grown to be part of the mainstream in today’s American culture. It is also a “prodigal son” story of the young leader of a large Internet hate group who abandons white nationalism because of the patience and kindness of strangers who become trusted friends.
Author Eli Saslow gives a full account of Derek Black’s experiences at New College of Florida in Sarasota. Black, the son of Don Black, founder of Stormfront, a large anti-Semitic, Holocaust denial website and godson to former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, devoted his young years to the white power movement. Using his radio show and other media, Black convinced countless numbers of white people that they were victims of the loss of white privilege or cultural genocide—a popular idea during the 2016 presidential campaign.
While he was at New College, Derek met Rose a Jewish girl, Juan, a Peruvian immigrant and Matthew, an Orthodox Jew. His racist attitudes were challenged as he got to know these students with various backgrounds. Then, when his white supremacist ideology was revealed to the student body, a furor broke out. While most students shunned Derek, Matthew refused to do so. As an observant Jew, Matthew had “already experienced enough shaming at New College to believe that exclusion only reinforced divides.”
Matthew invited Derek and a small group of diverse students to his home for weekly Shabbat dinners. This assemblage courageously and empathetically included Black in their lives. It was also at these dinners that Derek met Allison whom he grew to love and trust, and who loved and trusted him in return.
Allison’s challenge to Derek’s bigotry was a key factor in Derek’s eventual transformation. Derek shocked his family and white nationalist friends when he renounced white power and disavowed the racist ideology he had been taught since early childhood.
“Rising Out of Hatred” is a troubling book that explores the expansion of extremism in America. It is a timely, sobering, carefully reported story about how the United States has reached the current state of strident polarization. The book is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with the extended Black family, white nationalist leaders and the college students who led Derek away from his past. Derek Black’s redemption provides a glimmer of hope to the rest of us as he demonstrates that change is possible. This story of transformation is worthy of a wide audience.