Call it a clever twist of fate, a shrewd power play, or simply comeuppance for one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in America.
Its new president is a black man — a California pastor and activist — with one goal in mind.
“Change it, reverse it, and ultimately destroy it,” James Hart Stern told CNN in an interview Friday.
Stern says the former president of the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement, Jeff Schoep, turned the group over to him amid infighting by the group’s core members, and to escape the threat of a lawsuit filed against NSM for its alleged role in the violent 2017 clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The NSM and Schoep, along with more than 20 other organizations and individuals including convicted murderer James Alex Fields, are being sued civilly by victims who were injured at Charlottesville.
The lawsuit says, “The violence, suffering, and emotional distress that occurred in Charlottesville was a direct, intended, and foreseeable result of Defendants’ unlawful conspiracy.”
Schoep claims he was “deceived” by Stern. In an open letter to NSM members, which he also sent to CNN, he admits to the “paper appointment” of Stern as president. But he claims Stern “convinced me that in order to protect our membership from the ongoing lawsuit, I should sign over NSM’s presidency to him.”
‘It’s completely bizarre’
One of Stern’s first acts as president was to ask a judge in the Virginia lawsuit to issue a summary judgment finding NSM liable for conspiring to commit violence in Charlottesville. In his letter to NSM members, Schoep maintained his and the group’s innocence, blaming counterprotesters for the violence, and vowing to wrest control of the group from Stern “in a court of law.” The presiding judge on the case has yet to issue a ruling.