James Stern, the California pastor and activist who took over one of the country’s largest neo-Nazi groups with plans to destroy it, died before accomplishing his goal, his attorney said.
Stern died October 11, attorney Bob Ross told CNN. He was buried Tuesday in Inglewood, California, after a battle with cancer, according to his close friend, Arne List.
The former president of the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement turned the group over to Stern in January amid infighting between the group’s core members, the activist claimed.
NSM is known for its “violent anti-Jewish rhetoric” and racist views, the Southern Poverty Law Center says. It was among more than a dozen organizations and individuals sued by victims injured in the violent 2017 clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia.
NSM’s former president, Jeff Schoep, said he was “deceived” by Stern. In an open letter to NSM members, which he also sent to CNN, Schoep said Stern had convinced him “that in order to protect our membership from the ongoing lawsuit, I should sign over NSM’s presidency to him.”
Members of the group were “completely blindsided” by the change in leadership, a research analyst from the Southern Poverty Law Center told CNN earlier this year.
At the time of his death, Stern had a pending lawsuit against NSM members who he alleged were trying to retake control of the group.
Stern’s death will put the proceedings on hold until his estate can be settled, his attorney said.
“His vision, which we talked about many times, wasn’t to just take control of the website but to use it as a platform to re-educate racists about the truth of the Holocaust, the history of slavery,” List says.
Or as Stern put it, when he spoke to CNN in March: “Change it, reverse it and ultimately destroy it.”
‘It’s too important to let this end’
List said before Stern died, he left him with a task.
“There’s a lot of things coming your way,” List said Stern told him. “I’m looking for you to keep this going. It’s not going to die with me.”
When Stern took over the group, he told CNN he hoped NSM’s name, once associated with Holocaust denial, sits dormant on a corporate shelf long after he dies. But it was a fight he didn’t want to fight alone.
“I expect every minority, Jewish and black, which has been affected by it … to contact me and reach out so we can put our heads together and make sure that this is done productively,” he had said.
List said Stern spent a lot of time preparing certain people for roles in the movement he hoped would continue.
“The last really firm conversation that we had … at the hospital … he said, ‘Arne, I’m really counting on you. … You’re the one I’m choosing,'” List said Stern told him. “‘You’re the one I’m choosing.”
Stern’s work, his friend said, is “extremely profound and relevant” in today’s America.
“I don’t think everyone knows the magnitude of what James has accomplished,” List said. “It’s too important to let this end.”