White supremacist defends ‘truth’ as FBI looks for any ties to Roof Web site’s founder fears chilling effect on free speech

Dylann Storm Roof, 21. (CANNON DETENTION CENTER/PROVIDED)

Facing the FBI’s questions about any ties between his group and Dylann Roof, a prominent white supremacist has called for donations to fend off what he called an attack against a “First Amendment right to tell the truth” about race.

Don Black of West Palm Beach, Fla., founder of the Stormfront.org discussion board, said Wednesday during an interview that the government has targeted him because Roof lashed out violently after hearing that truth.

Going after associates of such an “insane guy,” Black said, could have a chilling effect on free speech.

The comments put Black’s website on a list of so-called “hate groups,” including another organization with ties to the Charleston area, that have been suspected of possibly influencing Roof before police said the 21-year-old white man fatally shot nine black people June 17 at the downtown Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

It’s likely that Roof had posted on Black’s site that, with 40,000 average daily visitors, is considered one of the largest forums for white supremacists, Black said. But Black added that Roof’s name was never used in any postings or any direct communications with him.

Black said he agreed with many of the beliefs of white supremacy that Roof apparently expressed in an online manifesto.

The creed’s author blamed most of the nation’s crime on black people, and Black said statistics back that up.

“It’s just true. The (crime) numbers can be shocking to some people,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean somebody should go out and shoot up a church. ... I can’t imagine doing anything like that. And it certainly doesn’t benefit the cause which he claims to espouse.”

Dot Scott, president of the Charleston chapter of the NAACP, said Wednesday that a host of groups like Black’s could be part of the problem that contributes to racially motivated crimes. But other sources, such as the national media and the Confederate battle flag, also could be to blame, she said.

“There’s a vast number of folks who believe like (Roof). There are so many places he can get feed for that belief,” she said. “So it’s hard to say who we can blame. I think there’s so many people to blame.”

Like Black, many white supremacist leaders have distanced themselves from Roof as the Department of Justice ramps up an inquiry that could lead to hate crime allegations against the suspect in federal court. Roof already has been indicted on 13 state charges.

The groups have included the Council of Conservative Citizens, whose website was mentioned in the manifesto as the origin of some of Roof’s beliefs. The diatribe also mentioned the Northwest Front, whose members seek to create a sovereign enclave of white people in the Pacific Northwest.

Kyle Rogers of Summerville, who oversees the council’s website, told The Post and Courier late last month that the FBI had looked into a suspected tie between him and Roof. But on Wednesday, Rogers denied knowledge of any such probe and said no council officials have been served subpoenas for information.

“I have no idea what the FBI is investigating,” he said.

The FBI and the Charleston Police Department have declined to publicly acknowledged any specifics of their investigations.

But as part of its probe, FBI agents recently visited Black’s Florida home, he said, only because of his website’s role as a go-to source of discussion for people who fall in line with his beliefs. It was his first visit from the FBI since two decades ago, when he said he was a potential victim of a package bomb plot, so it caught his attention.

“The concern is not that they’re trying to find information about Dylann Roof. That’s a legitimate law enforcement concern,” he said. “But the idea that he might have associates online expressing the same beliefs doesn’t mean much. ... Those people can feel intimidated for telling the truth.”

A former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Black said during his online radio show this week that he and participants in his forums have acted within the law and that their constitutional right to express their opinions was being targeted by the federal authorities’ “unprecedented” siege.

Critics are trying to shut down groups like his by suggesting that “telling the truth about the racial reality of crime is illegal because it might cause somebody to become so outraged ... he might go out and commit murder,” Black said. “But it’s still the truth, right?”

Black’s 20-year-old website calls itself “the voice of the new, embattled white minority” and says its readers are “white nationalists who support true diversity and a homeland for all peoples.”

Portions of the site can be viewed only by members who contribute money to Black’s cause. Black’s appeal for what he called the Stormfront Legal Defense Fund was posted there recently and later obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“Stormfront’s existence is threatened now more than ever in its history,” he wrote, according to the center. “This isn’t some fundraising hyperbole on my part.”

Roof’s apparent manifesto, posted on LastRhodesian.net, did not mention Black’s group, but the writer said he was inspired by information from Rogers’ Council of Conservative Citizens, which he found through a Google search.

Rogers has said that any attempts to tie him to Roof would be heinous, outrageous and libelous.

Black also deflected suspicion that his site could have moved Roof to act murderously. He instead blamed entertainment media, including evening news shows, that have become “increasingly gruesome.”

“He apparently did visit a lot of sites,” Black said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re linked to him and to blame for what he did. It doesn’t make any sense from any logical perspective.”

But Scott, the local NAACP, said her fears of racially motivated violence are more prominent than ever.

Workers at the chapter’s Columbus Street office had been getting persistent “foul” telephone calls from people mad about an effort to remove the Confederate battle flag from grounds of the S.C. Statehouse. The calls grew more frequent last week and culminated with a voicemail message from a man threatening “to blow your (expletive) heads off.”

When NAACP officials saw a white man “perusing” the area in an SUV before a meeting earlier this week, they called the police. Two officers stood outside the door until the meeting was over.

“It’s out there,” Scott said. “There are more Dylanns out there.”

Jennifer Berry Hawes contributed to this report. Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.