Pacifica Forum, a discussion group at the University of Oregon that has hosted a parade of Holocaust deniers and other far-right extremists, was recently named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And the forum is not happy about it. So unhappy, in fact, that it devoted two recent sessions to complaining about the SPLC.
But the sessions, titled “POVERTY PALACE: Deconstructing the Southern Poverty Law Center,” seemed more than anything else to affirm the SPLC’s designation. At the first session, for instance, Pacifica Forum presenter Dawn Coslow suggested that the Jews (who else?) might have given money to the SPLC to influence which organizations it lists as hate groups, according to two students who attended.
The second session began with Coslow asking Michael Williams of the Anti-Hate Task Force, who’s helped monitor the forum, if the SPLC had sent him there six years ago “to get” Pacifica Forum. “Well, that’s a real bullshit question, isn’t it?” Williams replied. (For the record, the SPLC has never enlisted Williams or anyone else to spy on Pacifica Forum.)
The meeting went downhill from there. In a column for the University of Oregon student newspaper, the Daily Emerald, Truman Capps described the session this way: “What began as a discussion devolved by the end of the meeting into members of the Pacifica Forum and its detractors exercising their right to free speech very loudly at one another. Notable highlights from the proceedings include a comparison of the Southern Poverty Law Center to the KGB and the declaration from those involved with the Forum that hate doesn’t incite violence, which the Forum’s opponents countered by declaring the Forum a ‘freak show’ and defined anti-Semitism as reading Holocaust denier literature ‘without puking.’ The dispute ended when [93-year-old forum founder Orval] Etter rose from his wheelchair, Dr. Strangelove style, and adjourned the meeting.”
Both sessions took place at the student union, where Pacifica Forum has been meeting thanks to a policy that allows retired professors such as Etter to reserve free space on campus for organizations they sponsor. Pacifica Forum had previously been forced to find new meeting places after former sponsors raised concerns about the group’s anti-Semitism.
Now, it looks like Pacifica Forum will once again be moving to a new home — this time, in a building on the outskirts of campus. Sam Dotters-Katz, student body president, said he persuaded Etter and Coslow to leave the student union after meeting with them last month at Etter’s retirement home in Eugene. “It [the student union] houses our institutions of tolerance, and it’s inappropriate to have this hate group meet there,” Dotters-Katz told Hatewatch. “We’re definitely pleased that they’re voluntarily leaving because that’s really the only way we could get them out.”
Meanwhile, as Pacifica Forum griped about being listed as a hate group, a former participant had his vanity license plate rescinded by the state of Oregon after residents pointed out its anti-Jewish message. The Mail Tribune reported that the license plate on James Marr’s pickup read “NO ZOG,” the second word of which stands for “Zionist Occupied Government” and is commonly used by neo-Nazi groups who assert that Jews control the government. Counter-protesters spotted the plate at an April 26 rally of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement in Phoenix, Ore., and complained to Oregon’s Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division. The division, which hadn’t been aware of ZOG’s meaning when it issued the license plate last September, last week sent a letter to Marr revoking the plate.
The Mail Tribune did not link Marr to Pacifica Forum, but a woman who answered the phone yesterday at Marr’s home in Springfield, Ore., confirmed that he was involved with the group. Although Marr hasn’t attended Pacifica Forum since around August of last year, as a participant he distinguished himself by bringing a desecrated menorah to a session and delivering a speech, compiled by another Pacifica Forum attendee, which vilified Martin Luther King Jr.