WHEN MOST people think of neo-Nazis, they invariably envision a blond-stubbled skinhead tattooed with swastikas and clad in a flight jacket and Doc Martens. But reality doesn't always live up to the stereotype, judging from the middle-aged and conservatively dressed turnout Monday night at a lecture by leading Holocaust denier David Irving. In fact, some anti-fascist protesters at the event looked more suspicious than the lecture goers. But neo-Nazi groups haven't given up their habit of duping ordinary folks into advancing their cause.
James K. Egly, interim pastor of the Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church at Southeast 28th Avenue and Stephens Street, can attest to that. Registering under the benign-sounding name of "Pacific Northwest Historical Society," neo-Nazi organizers reserved for Irving a convenient pulpit from which to spout his revisionist poppycock to a crowd of 50 to 75 supporters, among them Portland lawyer Michael Clinton, who sponsored Irving's 1992 Portland lecture. Irving, who has been banned from Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Austria, argues that Hitler never ordered the extermination of 6 million Jews and that there is no documented evidence that gas chambers were used at Auschwitz.
"We got suckered into it," Egly says. "The first we knew of the character of the group was when the police called [Monday] afternoon.... We feel we were victims as much as anybody else."
Misleading people into listening to Irving's revisionist history couched in scholarly language isn't a new tactic among neo-Nazi groups. When Irving toured Portland two years ago, Oregonian columnist Phil Stanford was duped into defending him in two separate columns. "Irving is not a neo-Nazi sympathizer," Stanford wrote in October 1992 in response to a story in Willamette Week ("Hitler's Prick," NewsThins, WW, Oct. 22, 1992). 'He is a British historian who has published a number of highly respected works on World War II--and along the
[Continued in next panel]
October 11, 1994
way has said some pretty upsetting things about the Holocaust." Stanford later apologized in print for his error.
Jonathan Mozzochi, executive director of the Coalition for Human Dignity, says neo-Nazis prey on the gullible to swell their ranks. "Holocaust denial banks on trying to recruit folks to the idea that there is some kind of debate around the Holocaust," he says. "There isn't."
But there is little chance that anyone could have attended Monday night's lecture without catching on that Irving stands accused of sympathizing with Nazis. A group of about 125 protesters chanted, marched with anti-Nazi placards and hurled epithets at all who crossed the church's doorstep for the invitation-only event. At least 18 police officers spent the evening patrolling the church grounds to keep the peace, although they weren't wearing riot gear as they did for Irving's last visit.
Although the majority of protesters were from such mainstream groups as Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, the Coalition for Human Dignity, the Urban League and the Jewish Federation of Portland, a group of about 20 anti-racist skinheads drew the most attention. These young protesters taunted lecture goers, cursing and spitting on them, but had little success in angering the mainly middle-aged invitation holders. In fact, one protester was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct for spitting on Irving. Lecture organizer and local neo-Nazi leader Derek Stenzel, whose criminal background, protesters said, includes a racially motivated assault on an African-American in 1992, was also arrested for a probation violation. Portland police spokesman C. W. Jensen could not find out whether the offense was racially motivated but did confirm that Stenzel was on probation for assault.
Those inside and outside the church were no doubt preaching to the converted but protesters argued that the demonstration was nevertheless vital.
"We believe they see Oregon as a test market," says Steve Wasserstrom, chairman of the religious studies department at Reed College. "We do not believe you can have a neo-Nazi rally in Southeast Portland and allow it to operate with impunity."
It is instructive to see the extent to which the local newspaper reporters, while reporting faithfully what they see with their own eyes, also uncriticically adopt at face value the Coalition for Human Dignity's press-release evaluations of the various organisations involved ("neo-Nazi"), no doubt to spice up the story. For the use made by the ADL-funded Nizkor Website of this press story, see the Cesspit.
© Focal Point 1998 write to David Irving