The story of preacher and activist James Stern, as told by Katie Mettler for The Washington Post, initially resembles that of Ron Stallworth (author of Black Klansman) or musician Daryl Davis (featured in the documentary Accidental Courtesy).
That isn’t a bad thing. There is an immediate appeal to stories of people who outwit their would-be oppressors.
Stern’s method differed significantly because, as Mettler writes, his “do-gooder credentials were accompanied by a history of criminal opportunism.”
The story of Stern engaging with Jeff Schoep, former leader of the National Socialist Movement, remains fascinating, but there is a bittersweet quality to its resolution, at least for readers who care more about redemption than vengeance.
Mettler’s feature of nearly 4,800 words is part of a Post series on “those who commit acts of hatred, those who are targets of attacks, and those who investigate and prosecute them.”
The story is, sadly, hampered by its scant attention the role of faith in Stern’s life.
A photograph by Philip Cheung shows him preaching at Quinn African Methodist Episcopal Church in Moreno Valley, Calif., but the story makes no reference to what was said in that sermon. Another photo shows Stern praying with three board members he appointed to oversee the National Socialist Movement after he convinced Schoep to sign over the control of that group. What was said? The story says nothing more about it.
This is the one segment in which Mettler touches on how Stern’s faith prompted him to show compassion toward an elderly Edgar Ray Killen, when they both were serving time at the Mississippi State Penitentiary: