A Jew finds himself at a neo-Nazi forum
A letter from Eugene
By JOSEPH A. LIEBERMAN
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It was a small announcement in the Dec. 11 calendar section of Eugene Weekly: “National Socialist Movement: An insider’s view of America’s radical right.” The venue was a meeting room in the student union of the University of Oregon campus, and the sponsor was Pacifica Forum, a free-speech group that meets weekly and is best known for its embrace of anti-Zionist speakers.
My somewhat naive assumption was that we’d be hearing from a former member of the NSM who had seen the error of his ways. That notion was quickly dispelled when speaker Jimmy Marr, dressed head to foot in full Scottish regalia, began reading a section from a book of Torah that detailed how the Jews became “the Chosen People.” His conclusion: “And what does that make the rest of us? Slaves to the Jews!”
Of the two dozen or so attendees, it soon became apparent that at least eight were NSM devotees scattered through the audience. The giveaway moment was when Marr, quiet-spoken until then, concluded his introduction by inviting everyone to join him in a “sieg heil” (hail victory). More than half a dozen arms were quickly raised to chests and thrust high—“Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil!”
A lone voice in the back called out, “I strongly object to this,” while the rest sat in stunned silence. Comprehension of the true nature of this forum was hindered by a sense of disbelief… “Is this a tasteless joke? Can this seriously be happening in 2009?”
The outward appearance of several NSM members was not encouraging. Marr, sporting a two-pronged beard, formal black jacket and tartan kilt, seemed attired for a meeting of Scottish Nationalists. One chap in front wore a Hitler haircut. Another fellow could have been a stand-in for Col. Klink on the old “Hogan’s Heroes” TV show, minus the monacle.
Normally, such posturing in our proudly eccentric Eugene would not elicit so much as a second glance, but beneath the costumed surface the message being conveyed was disturbing.
We were shown a half hour or so of video footage from a recent NSM demonstration against illegal immigration in Phoenix, Ariz. A couple dozen brown-shirted men marched along a downtown street, separated by a cordon of police from a group of anti-fascist protestors. At a staging area, various NSM speakers took turns spouting their doctrine and haranguing the opposition, calling them “scum,” among other epithets, which the protestors returned in kind.
One on-screen speaker after another screamed a litany of accusations against the Jewish population at large, blaming them for basically every world ill, including the illegal immigration of “inferior races”—go figure. At one point, the man at the mike pointed to an opposition figure and shrieked, “You are a Jew. A traitor Jew.”
The NSM’s style—no surprise here—was confrontational. Smugly aware that their venom-laced words, swastika-embellished American flags, and Nazi-era uniforms are designed to arouse animosity, they clearly thrive on the negative attention. This also serves to “justify” their self-view as victims. “We, the white race, are the vast minority now,” bemoaned Marr.
After the film came slides under the title, “NSM Fights Back.” These were photos of another rally at which police did not succeed in keeping the two sides apart. Men in neo-Nazi apparel were shown swinging fists into opponents’ faces. NSM audience members shared grins during this part of the presentation, clearly elated.
When Marr opened the meeting to questions, the first to speak was the man who’d protested at the earlier “sieg heils,” Billy Rojas, a former comparative religion teacher and founder of The Swastika Club of America, which traces the roots of that once positive symbol of luck back to its ancient Hindu origins. Rojas stated that his group is diametrically opposed to the NSM’s positions and to Nazism, which transformed the swastika into a symbol of malevolence.
Other questions were mild until one person challenged the NSM position of racial superiority by bringing in the science of genetics. Marr snapped back a quick one-liner and then applauded his own wit.
As for Marr’s charge regarding “the chosen people,” I myself had brought that up with Eugene Chabad Rabbi Asi Spiegel several years back, suggesting that it sounded a little arrogant.
Rabbi Spiegel, a friend and mentor on all things Jewish, shook his head. “That’s because the term is so misunderstood. Chosen? Chosen for what? It doesn’t mean higher, better or superior. It means chosen to keep the word of Torah, the law, the commandments, and to endure keeping faith in God no matter how persecuted, despised or ridiculed we become. This is not chosen like winning a lottery. This is chosen as an obligation and sometimes a burden we must carry on, no matter what.”
The NSM lecture or forum was filled with one fallacious insinuation after another. Unable to continue listening, I stood up. “Mr. Marr,” I said as civilly as I could, “I’m glad we live in a country where you’re free to express your views. I don’t think you’re a bad person, and I even understand some of the reasons you believe what you do, but everything—everything about what was presented here today—is just so wrong on every level. I cannot stand to remain another minute.”
Some will disagree with my characterization of Marr as not a bad person, but my words were an homage to Anne Frank’s, written in her diary while in hiding from Nazi persecution: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are truly good at heart.”
The problem comes when individuals gather in a collective that diminishes the better part of their humanity in favor of a group consciousness that exploits their fears and encourages their worst instincts. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts, and when that entity is devoted to malice toward others, their collective intent becomes sinister, pernicious and inevitably self-destructive. The members of NSM seem content to deliberately overlook how consistently fascism has been on the wrong side of history.
At what point, then, does free speech, an American right, cross over into hate speech designed to incite violence? Was the UO or even Pacifica Forum aware that this meeting would degenerate into “sieg heil” salutes? Could that have been predicted, and if so, would the UO still have legitimized the NSM by offering them this academic platform?
Outside the door, a half dozen campus security guards had gathered, but there were no protestors or opposition to be seen. Hardly anyone seemed to know of the event, or if they did, to think it worth attending. But ignoring evil—even a seemingly insignificant concentration of evil—will not make it go away.
Joseph A. Lieberman is author of “SCHOOL SHOOTINGS—What Every Parent and Educator Needs to Know to Protect Our Children” (Citadel Press).