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A Night at the Ritz: White Supremacists, a Knife Fight and a Holocaust Denier

In what may be the latest sign of simmering tensions in Florida between two prominent racist skinhead groups, two men suffered knife wounds this week during a speech by Holocaust denying historian David Irving at a luxury Palm Beach County hotel.

Irving spoke to about three dozen invited guests in a conference room he booked at the Ritz-Carlton hotel south of Palm Beach. During his talk on “decoding the Nazi message,” two men, Christopher Nachtman and John Kopko, stepped outside to argue and one of them pulled a knife, police say. A fight ensued. Furniture was broken and a carpet was bloodied. Both men were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment of knife wounds. No charges have been filed yet.

Irving is a longtime Holocaust revisionist. In 2000, he sued Emory University professor and Holocaust expert Deborah Lipstadt for libel in his homeland of Britain, after she accused of him of deliberate falsification. A London court declared Irving a pro-Nazi anti-Semite and “active Holocaust denier” and ordered him to pay all court costs. In 2006, he was imprisoned in Austria after pleading guilty to telling audiences that there were no gas chambers in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz. Irving subsequently backed off those claims. Earlier this year, he set up a website selling Nazi memorabilia. His visit to South Florida was the latest on a surreptitious speaking tour in the United States, in which Irving informs attendees of his venue at the last minute so as to thwart protestors.

Irving told Florida television station WPBF that Kopko initiated the attack, and that the fight had nothing to do with his lecture. He said his assistant witnessed the incident. “She said that she saw four people chasing one member of the audience out and beating him to the floor, and she said she thought they were going to kill him, but he pulled a knife from nowhere and stabbed one of these men repeatedly,” he told the TV station. “It was a personal feud, apparently, which goes back over the years, and I gained the impression, or so I was told, that three or four of these people had come in there with the intention of roughing him up,” he said. He doesn’t know Kopko personally, Irving added.

Postings on Stormfront, the leading white supremacist website, imply that Kopko, 43, is associated with Crew 38, the support group for the Confederate Hammerskins. A Stormfront poster using the screen name of “White Racialist” wrote after the incident, “John is a good man and a true soldier for the Cause, and has been for 20+ years … As for the lowly coward that pushed a knife into John’s BACK, no fate is too awful for you. You have to try a lot harder than that to kill Crew 38!”

Kopko was an official of the National Socialist White Workers Party in 1992 when he led a protest outside a West Palm Beach bookstore on the premise that the business sold pornographic material that promoted race mixing and homosexuality. That same year, he tried to get neo-Nazi publications placed in Palm Beach County libraries. A newspaper reported that he showed up at a meeting dressed like a Nazi storm trooper.

Nachtman, 31, is a former member of the once-prominent neo-Nazi group, National Alliance. He has used the screen name “Blutfahne” – German for “blood flag” – on Stormfront and VNN Forum. The latter is an online forum of Vanguard News Network, whose motto is, “No Jews. Just right.” He also posts under the screen name “Teutonic Legion” on Stormfront, and his avatar is the Volksfront logo. He has promoted Volksfront and Confederate Hammerskins events, and helped organize the February 2007 Volksfront Victory Achievement Conference in Missouri, where he spoke.

There have been numerous recent confrontations in central Florida that suggest a war is brewing between former longtime allies Volksfront and the Confederate Hammerskins. Michael Lawrence, one of the original founders of the Confederate Hammerskins in 1987, switched his allegiance to Volksfront in 2007, and became the group’s unofficial leader in Florida. Randal Krager, who co-founded Volksfront in 1994 while serving a prison sentence, moved from Portland, Oregon, to Florida with his wife and son to live next door to Lawrence.

Since Lawrence’s defection, his longtime friend and Confederate Hammerskins member, Richie Myers, has steadily gained power throughout the state as the group’s Orlando leader. Myers and his second-in-command, Coby Stonecypher, regularly associate with the Outlaws Motorcycle Club gang. Lawrence and Krager do not. A public indication of trouble brewing between Confederate Hammerskins and Volksfront appeared in a Stormfront posting advertising Volksfront’s annual Martyr’s Day event, to be held this year in Pensacola. The announcement said the gathering was “family friendly [by that we mean no drunks, no non-racial ‘clubs’, no deviate or degrading behavior].” Many readers took that as disapproval of outlaw motorcycle clubs attending recent white supremacist gatherings, which has happened at Confederate Hammerskins events.

A woman using the screen name of “Vidgis” hinted on Stormfront this week that the stabbing at Irving’s lecture reflected an escalation in tensions between the two skinhead groups. She wrote, “…the saddest part is how the various White Pride organizations are at war with one another. If we would turn that rage towards the real enemies, we’d be making real progress.”

Knifings and neo-Nazis aren’t the sorts of events or people that show up often in Manalapan, the affluent little coastal town where Irving spoke at the Ritz-Carlton. It has been home to the likes of famed criminal defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey, New Age musician Yanni and boxing promoter Don King. The 52-room oceanfront mansion of the widow of publishing heir Randolph Hearst fetched $22 million at a foreclosure auction last year. Monday’s fracas presumably was an atypical event at the Ritz-Carlton, whose website says it “has catered to the world’s most discerning guests,” and describes it as having “refined beauty” and a “graceful atmosphere.” The presidential suite runs a cool $3,000 per night. Hotel officials say the conference room where Irving spoke was reserved under the name of his book publisher in Great Britain, and they knew nothing about Irving.

Irving told local media that he was “deeply ashamed that this happened.”

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