When anti-Semitic 'Patriots' gathered to celebrate their favorite magazine, Media Bypass, they were joined by an unlikely ally.
EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- When fifty people gathered in late May to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Media Bypass, the magazine darling of the antigovernment "Patriot" movement, the event was mostly business as usual in the world of extremism — with one notable exception.
Held in a small conference room at Evansville's Airport Marriott, the three-day "Convention & Expo" was hosted by Chris Temple and Paul Hall, the new owners of Media Bypass. Both Hall and Temple are well-known adherents of Christian Identity, a racist and anti-Semitic religion that teaches Jews are the result of a union between Eve and Satan.
The convention mirrored the editorial bent of their magazine. Speakers railed against Jews and the Internal Revenue Service, and elaborated conspiracy theories "explaining" the Sept. 11 and Oklahoma City terrorist attacks. Vendors peddled the David Duke Report and pamphlets promoting Christian Identity. Musical diversion was provided by a home-schooling family band called Heritage, performing tunes from the Revolutionary War and the "War Between the States."
But there was one surprise in store. Joining the extremists celebrating Media Bypass was John Krull, executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union (ICLU), the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Krull was warmly introduced by Temple, who formerly edited the Citizens Informer, the newsletter of the white-supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens. Temple told his fellow extremists that he, Krull and ICLU board member Mark Miller had developed a friendly relationship, meeting together frequently for more than a year. What brought them together, he said, were the threats to civil liberties represented by the USA Patriot Act, which many on the extremist right have blamed for a spate of arrests and raids on white-nationalist leaders in the past year.
Reciprocating Temple's warm sentiments, Krull said that their relationship reminded him of the old saw about "porcupines making love." He added, "the porcupines do assure me that the final effect is worth the effort."
Krull praised Media Bypass, which had recently published two of his essays about the Patriot Act, as "a powerful voice of freedom during this time of trouble." He then compared the magazine to his own organization. Media Bypass, Krull said, is "making the case for freedom and for our constitutional birthrights." That, he said, "has been the ACLU's job and I'm happy to say that it is also Media Bypass' job."
In the last year, Media Bypass has published stories by several leading anti-Semitic ideologues and even Kevin Alfred Strom, a neo-Nazi leader who fulminated in his story about Jews, blacks and how "the results of racial mixing" are "poverty, filth, social conflict and political malaise."
A common front?
Krull spoke eloquently about the way the ICLU does its job. While he emphasized common ground between his organization and the right-wing extremists in the room, he did not highlight their differences in his remarks to the gathering by repudiating the racist and anti-Semitic sentiments of other speakers and audience members.
Krull's address was sandwiched between two speakers far more familiar to this audience. Preceding Krull was Edgar Steele, the attorney who represented neo-Nazi Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler when he was sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Steele gave a fiery talk about how "Zionists control America" and persecute "politically incorrect, conservative Christians" like Duke, neo-Nazi leader Matt Hale and Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, whom Steele said was imprisoned for telling the truth about the "so-called Holocaust."
After Krull's speech, conspiracy theorist Pat Shannan fulminated against the Jewish cabal he claims was behind the 9/11 attacks. Shannan's evidence: "no towel-head in a cave" could possibly have pulled off such sophisticated attacks.
During the other speeches, Krull manned an ICLU display and chatted with participants who milled around the neighboring tables, inspecting Christian Identity and antigovernment audiotapes, videotapes, books and pamphlets.
On one side of the ICLU's table, Pat Shannan hawked his book, One in a Million: An IRS Travesty, which purportedly reveals how the Internal Revenue Service secretly spies on Americans. On the other side of Krull was the Union Christian Church, handing out pamphlets with titles like "Caucasian Culture" and "Our Southern Heritage: The Confederate Battle Flag."
In the afternoon, Krull moved back to the podium for a roundtable discussion with the most influential extremists in the room: Hall, Temple, Steele, Shannan, Clayton Douglas (publisher of the Free American, another "Patriot" magazine), outspoken Christian Identity "pastor" Eustace Mullins and Charles Key, a former Oklahoma state legislator who believes there was a government conspiracy behind the Oklahoma City bombing.
The panel brimmed with anti-Semitic and antigovernment conspiracy theories. Asked about the U.S. government's role in the 9/11 attacks, Douglas responded: "So who had to gain by 9/11? Israel. Who wants an office in our homeland security? Mossad," he said, referring to the Israeli security agency.
Mullins chimed in. "I do know that the only person who directly benefited from 9/11 is Larry Silverstein and Silverstein is not an Arab." (He is the developer who acquired the World Trade Center lease shortly before the attacks.) Key said he didn't care about 9/11, but he knew who to blame for Oklahoma City: "the U.S. government killed those babies in that nursery," he said, "just as sure as Janet Reno killed those babies at Waco."
A proposed coalition
Rather than take issue with these statements, Krull again sought common ground, expressing his view that "we need to have a fundamental debate in this country now about do we want to be an empire or do we want to be a republic."
The discussion turned to the need to build bridges between the left and the right to combat the erosion of civil liberties. "We need those who love liberty on the left and the right to join together," said Key.
Krull joked that the right-wing extremists shouldn't count on too much help from the left. "As someone who has now served as the leader of the ICLU for five years," he said, "I can tell you ... if you lock two ICLU members in a room for an hour they will emerge having formed three factions. These folks can't agree on anything." But he went on, more seriously, to endorse the idea of forming a "coalition" that would include "a lot of people, like the folks in this room, like my members."
It remains to be seen whether Krull's members will share his enthusiasm for such a coalition. But when he was interviewed by the Intelligence Report about his participation at the Media Bypass convention, Krull was unapologetic. "[H]ow in the heck do you think you will ever change these people's minds if you don't engage with them?" he asked.
Krull, who plans to step down from his ICLU post at the end of 2003, said he attended the conference for a simple reason: "I was invited, and basically we go out and talk to anyone who issues an invitation."
In Krull's view, communing with the far right is part of "what the ACLU has been trying to do, reach out to people who were not sensitive to our message in the past." (It is important to note that state chapters of the ACLU have a high degree of autonomy. Executive directors like Krull do not have to receive approval from the national office before deciding who to reach out to.)
Krull told the Intelligence Report that he was unaware of the long histories of racial activism on the part of many participants, including his friend Temple, and said that he had not read Media Bypass, despite his contributions to the magazine.
"I don't do background checks on people," he said. "That is what [U.S. Attorney General John] Ashcroft does." And he added, that is what the Intelligence Report does as well.
Was Krull offended by the anti-Semitic materials at the convention? "[T]here was some stuff that I probably found offensive," he said, "although in fairness some of the stuff I had on church/state separation they found offensive."
Did he worry that his participation lent legitimacy to the extremist views of Media Bypass? "No," Krull said, noting that while they came together in their opinions of the Patriot Act, he had disagreements with the other participants on "church/state issues" and "most of the other things that the ACLU stands for."