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Town Hall Seattle: Civics Series

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Dec 19, 2019

Radio show host Derek Black grew up at the epicenter of white nationalism. His father founded Stormfront, the largest racist community on the Internet. His godfather, David Duke, was a KKK Grand Wizard. But even someone steeped in the culture of white nationalism found the space to question the prejudices behind his beliefs. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Eli Saslow joined us at Town Hall to tell the story of how the man who was considered the “leading light” of the burgeoning white nationalist movement confronted and disavowed everything he was taught to believe.

Saslow took the stage in conversation with KNKX journalist Simone Alicea to relate Derek’s story with great empathy and narrative verve. He offered insight from his book Rising Out of Hatred, recounting how Derek’s fellow student at New College of Florida discovered his white nationalist broadcast, and how the ensuing uproar overtook one of the most liberal colleges in the country. Some students protested Derek’s presence on campus, forcing him to reconcile for the first time with the ugliness of his beliefs. Other students found the courage to reach out to him, including an Orthodox Jew who invited Derek to attend weekly Shabbat dinners. It was because of those dinners—and the wide-ranging relationships formed at that table—that Derek started to confront the history of his worldview and reckon with the damage he had done. Saslow and Alicea explored Derek’s story as a study of America’s increasingly divided nature, and lend critical empathy to this inflection point in our country to help us better understand one another.

Eli Saslow is a Washington Post staff writer and author of Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting in 2014 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2013, 2016 and 2017.

Simone Alicea is a reporter and fill-in host at KNKX. Formerly, she covered breaking news at the Chicago Sun-Times. She has also spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.

Recorded live in the Forum by Town Hall Seattle on December 5, 2019.