The Southern Poverty Law Center says that Obama's rise to power energized racial extremists (it estimates that the number of active hate groups nationwide rose from 888 in 2007 to 926 the following year). One of the engines driving this surge is Stormfront, which Mark Potok, the director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project, calls "without question the most important white-nationalist website in the world." The site has added around 80 members a day over the past two years and now claims to have more than 160,000. "One hundred and twenty thousand people used Stormfront in the first 24 hours after Obama was elected," Black says. "The site crashed."
Last August, Black defeated his opponent for the county committee seata middle-aged, Cuban-American community activistby a vote of 167 to 121. His campaign materials made no mention of his family history or his affiliation with Stormfront. The committee chairman learned of Black's background after the election, then refused to seat him, justifying the decision on the grounds that Black hadn't signed a loyalty oath pledging to avoid conduct that might harm the party's reputation. "The biggest support I got during that time was from older Cuban men," Black says. They evidently weren't aware of his position on immigrationhe wants to ban it, except for Europeans. Does Black think he would have won if he'd been open about his background? "There are all kinds of statements I could have made that wouldn't have been beneficial," he says. Even if the party is refusing to seat him, Derek Black already talks like a politician.
The night after our first meeting, the chairman of the Republican Executive Committee of Palm Beach County calls to order the hundred or so Republicans who have assembled in the auditorium of a West Palm Beach municipal building. In the back of the room, wearing his black hat, Derek Black sits quietly with a group of supporters. At the December meeting, outraged by the committee's refusal to seat him, he'd spoken out of order; he was shouted down and, he says, "stormed out" of the room. This will be his first appearance before the committee since then. After some agenda items are coveredhenceforth Lobster Fest will be Rib Fest, let's start using the Internet rather than direct mailthe floor is opened to two-minute speeches. Eventually Black, his head bowed, approaches the microphone.
As Black removes his hat and rests it on the podium, the room goes quiet. "It's good to be back," he says, blushing, and begins reading from prepared remarks. Black's prospects for claiming his seat appear to be deadhe has no base of support in the party, and thus far no legal representationbut he's attempting to revive them by presenting himself as a reasonable, articulate, staunchly conservative, and above all wholesome candidate. He seems about as threatening as a Model UN debater.