On the third weekend of April, Art Jones went to Washington.
Jones, a southwest-side salesman who is chairman of a group called the America First Committee, drove to the capital to observe the first anniversary of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. One year before, President Clinton had joined Ted Koppel, author Elie Wiesel, and Israeli president Chaim Herzog in dedicating the austere brick structure. “The Holocaust reminds us foremost that knowledge divorced from values can only serve to deepen the human nightmare,” said Clinton, “that a head without a heart is not humanity.”
Jones has no use for such rhetoric. Joining members of the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust in greeting tourists and school groups at the museum, Jones was dressed in a gray shirt, a navy blue tie, and a black garrison hat. His chest brimmed with campaign ribbons. The gray shirt is the uniform of the America First Committee’s “defense corps,” and is to be distinguished–says Jones–from the brown shirt worn by Hitler’s original storm troopers, the SA. “I consider my committee a white patriotic nationalist organization,” he says. “We’re social nationalists as opposed to National Socialists.”
Jones and his associates carried signs. “We don’t buy the Holocaust lie,” read one placard. “Holocaust survivors–a list of swindlers,” said another, playing on Schindler’s List. The signs enormously offended the tourists, but Jones was unperturbed by their shouts. “Jews can be very irrational,” he says. “I just maintained military discipline, but they continued to yell and scream and give me the finger. And they grabbed at their crotches. Tell me, why do Jews always grab at their crotches?”
It’s not easy being a bigot in the United States today. The Holocaust Museum opened to acclaim. Steven Spielberg won prestige and a sizable box office with Schindler’s List. On the 50th anniversary of D-Day, the triumph of American good over Nazi evil was retold in every medium.
Yet white supremacists like Art Jones persist. Some neo-Nazis resort to violence, but though Jones has had his share of altercations and gets blustery with ease, he’s basically a propagandist. He puts out a newspaper, maintains a hot line, participates in demonstrations, and appears on TV talk shows. “I’d be a fool if I didn’t take every opportunity to get my ideas before the people,” he says.
Art Jones is 46 years old. He’s a sandy-haired, bespectacled man who usually dresses in a sport coat and tie and removes the glasses before he goes on television. He’s loquacious, with a tendency to bore in on a topic and work it endlessly. Michael Sandberg, midwest civil rights director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), puts it differently: “Jones is a blowhard, really, loose-tongued and indiscreet.”
For a living Jones sells unspecified home-improvement items for a company he’d prefer not to name. “It’s a well-paying job,” he says, “and I don’t want to lose it.” On the side he peddles health insurance. “Whenever I make a sale on one of my items, I turn around and ask, ‘Say, how’s your health insurance?’ Often I make two sales in one.” Many of his customers are blacks in the projects, and when he’s talking business he keeps his politics to himself.
Jones believes in what he calls “revolutionary pan-Aryanism,” a creed whose premise is the desirability of overarching white power. “It’s an international white movement,” explains Jones. “Our aim is to establish a white-run world. The world would be better off with the white man in charge of everything. There’d be light where there is now darkness, knowledge where there is ignorance, law where there is anarchy, food where there is famine.” At the point where you get the idea, Jones still goes on and on.
Jones’s goal is political power by constitutional means. “The white race has got to do something, and fast,” he says, “because unfortunately we’re facing extinction if we sit back and do nothing.” If politics fails the white power movement, he hints that matters could get rough: “If we can’t get anywhere through the ballot box, we’ll have to resort to the cartridge box.”
Jones believes society suffers mightily from the presence of its darker and hook-nosed elements. He says the average black person has an IQ 15 to 20 points below that of an average white person and is seven times as likely to have retarded offspring. “There are also certain differences in the central nervous system and the endocrine system that make blacks prone to violence,” he adds. “They learn basically by rote because they aren’t too hot with abstract memory.” Blacks are superior in athletics, Jones acknowledges, especially in running.
“Homosexuals are a sign of the decay of our society,” he says. “They are creatures from a different world who are to be pitied, especially in this time of AIDS.” Jones concedes that “intellectually” Asians are advantaged. “But culturally they are primitive. They’re dog eaters, after all.”
This is not to ignore Jews. “As a group,” he says, “Jews are the most dangerous, subversive, treacherous, sick-minded people on the face of the earth, overall. They’re communists and con artists. They’re the biggest slumlords in the city of Chicago, the biggest pornographers in the country. They put trash on television. As commodities brokers they rip off the gentle farmers, who make a pittance while the Jews make a killing. The man who sold us on Vietnam–Kissinger–is a Jew, and he ought to be shot. To my mind the conduct of the Jews has earned them the deepest hole in hell.”
Jones is particularly offended by makers of consumer goods who post a symbol, usually a “u” in a circle or in parentheses, on their products to indicate they are officially kosher. To earn a symbol, Jones contends, a company has to employ a rabbi to bless its output, thereby hiking the price of the merchandise. “That’s a religious tax,” he argues.
Lots of companies do employ rabbis to ensure that their goods are produced according to Jewish law, says Rabbi Yosef Wikler, editor of Kashrus, a magazine on kosher practices published in Brooklyn. Wikler says manufacturers indulge in overkill. Food products such as catsup require rabbinical review, he says, but items like tinfoil, paper cups, and bottled water don’t; companies are simply tagging on the symbol “to give them one-upmanship over the other company in the marketplace.” Yet to employ a rabbi-inspector adds very little to the retail price. “You’re talking maybe one penny on a can of tuna,” says Wikler. “Is that highway robbery?”
Jones thinks so: “When I tell people about the religious tax, it’s the easiest way to win converts.”
Jones draws his information about rabbi inspectors directly from Wikler’s magazine. He is remarkably well-read, especially on Jewish subjects, relying on periodicals and on a 2,000-volume home library that contains any number of works on the Holocaust.
The Holocaust never took place, Jones has concluded, and it stuns him that the public seems to think it did. “I’m impressed by the bullshit gullible people will swallow,” he says. As proof he cites inconsistencies in accounts of the period. Take Elie Wiesel’s Night, his recollection of life at Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a child. “Now Wiesel writes that on one night in the dead of winter he ran 42 miles. That’s impossible! Yet Wiesel said he did it.” (In Night, Wiesel describes a forced march. The next morning a commandant announced the prisoners had covered 42 miles.) Jones concluded there were no gas chambers. As to where all those millions of Jews, political dissidents, gypsies, and homosexuals evaporated to, Jones says, “A lot of them just changed names. Other people migrated to Australia or they came to this country, and many died fighting in the Red army on the eastern front.”
He blames the Soviets for murdering millions in purges of their own. “But all I hear are six million Jews, six million Jews, six million Jews.”
The future for Jews, blacks, and gays will not be rosy once Art Jones rules the world. “With the Jews I would be merciful,” he says. “They’ve got their synagogues, their stars of David–it would be nothing to scoop them up and throw them out of the country. With blacks, realistically, you couldn’t do that because there are too many of them. You should give them part of the country and say, ‘It’s your turf, your territory–run it like you’d like.’ We could deal with sympathetic black leaders like Farrakhan and work out the whole thing. Homosexuals would be rounded up and isolated from the rest of the country, in camps or in some remote region of Alaska. They couldn’t be allowed to circulate.”
The America First Committee, the vehicle for Jones’s activities, takes its name from a short-lived group established by General Robert E. Wood, then chairman of Sears, Roebuck & Company, and R. Douglas Stuart, a scion of the Quaker Oats founding family, to oppose U.S. entry into World War II. The original America First Committee acquired a bigoted tinge from the beliefs of Charles Lindbergh, its most celebrated spokesman. Lindbergh considered the war in Europe a spat among like-minded white nations, while the real danger to western civilization lay in Asia. Rather than fight among themselves, Lindbergh said Germany, France, and Britain should unite to build “a western wall of race and arms which can hold back either a Ghenghis Khan or the infiltration of inferior blood.” In an address in Des Moines in 1940, Lindbergh rued the persecution of Jews in Germany, but criticized Jewish organizations for sounding a drumbeat for entry into the war. If America entered the conflict, Jews “would be among the first to feel its consequences. Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows it cannot stand war and devastation.”
Jones is certain Lindbergh would have been pleased if Germany had defeated the Allies. “The worst thing that would have happened if Germany had won is that I’d be speaking German now and eating sauerbraten instead of hamburger,” he says. “At least the white race would prevail on this continent.”
The present-day America First Committee functions from a cramped apartment in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood that Jones shares with his wife, Patricia, a professional tutor. Jones refuses to say how many members the committee has, but all its activities seem to involve him. When you call the committee, you hear his voice on the line execrating racial minorities and hailing “white Christian patriots.” Staying timely, a message putting down D-Day is followed by another commenting on O.J. Simpson. What most troubles Jones about the Simpson case is neither murder nor wife abuse but miscegenation.
Having no children, and no hobby besides Nintendo, Jones feels free to go off on weekend excursions whenever he pleases. This spring, for instance, he picketed in Washington and traveled to Appleton, Wisconsin, for a dinner honoring Senator Joseph McCarthy. “I just happen to think Joe McCarthy was one of the great patriots of all time,” Jones says. These trips can be perilous–last July at a rally in Pennsylvania a skinhead busted Jones in the head with a bottle.
He edits the War Eagle, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 10,000. The publisher is John McLaughlin, a farmer from Champaign who is a little more temperate in his views than Jones. “I’m prowhite,” says McLaughlin, “but it remains to be seen if the white race is superior. You can pick out some real scummy white people.” Recently, McLaughlin made use of a mailing list that had belonged to David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand dragon and onetime candidate for governor of Louisiana, to distribute 50,000 copies of a newsletter edited by Jones. “And I’ve been talking to some skinheads in Missouri about putting together a special skinhead edition,” McLaughlin says.
The Eagle carries articles written by Jones that are scholarly in appearance down to the source notes, but whose contents mirror the headlines: “The Non-White Face of Crime” and “Martin Luther King: Traitor and Hypocrite.” The pages are enlivened by drawings of fierce, big-lipped blacks and sinister Jews. In the Eagle you can find listings of other white-power groups, not to mention “America’s only pro-White law firm,” all seemingly based out of post office boxes in sparsely populated areas of the country. You can find out how to order not only Hitler’s Mein Kampf but also Michael, a novel by Hitler’s information minister, Joseph Goebbels, that not even Jones has read.
A highlight of the latest edition is Jones’s review of Schindler’s List. Jones acknowledges Spielberg’s cinematic skills, but he tells me, “I didn’t think I was going to see something so hackneyed and cliched. The only thing Spielberg didn’t show was a lampshade made of human skin. At some parts I felt like laughing, but I couldn’t, because I was surrounded by Jews.”
The review locates a wealth of Holocaust bromides–from a rabbi getting his sidelocks cut by Nazi henchmen to Dr. Josef Mengele making his infamous selections at Auschwitz. “To make this movie, Spielberg must have read every tale of woe and misfortune spun by the so-called ‘survivors’ of the mythical ‘Holocaust,'” Jones writes. He was particularly offended by the most affecting image in the movie–a young boy hiding out half-submerged in the excrement of a latrine. The scene reflects “the Jewish obsession with human waste that appears over and over again in their ‘Holocaust’ literature,” Jones states. He calls Schindler a traitor to Germany and dismisses the movie as “a fine piece of Jewish hate propaganda.”
Jones’s romance with white supremacy began when he was a boy. Playing soldiers in his neighborhood of Beloit, Wisconsin, he was taken with the Nazis, the characters most kids took as the villains. “The Nazis looked so cool and sharp and spit-shined,” Jones recalls enthusiastically. He began to collect German war memorabilia from friends whose fathers, like his own, had served in World War II–swastika armbands, Mauser rifles, hand grenades. In high school he looked up material on the John Birch Society at the local library.
Jones held various jobs–factory worker, busboy, door-to-door magazine salesman–before being drafted in 1969. When he shipped out to Vietnam he took along his copy of Mein Kampf. An infantryman and a mortar man in the central highlands, he studied the book–by now underlined, with certain passages starred–during the quiet moments between firefights.
“I took a trip back into Hitler’s world,” Jones says. “I could see what had taken place in Germany in the 20s was taking place in America in the 60s. Hitler had this keen insight into human nature, into the psyche of the masses. He saw the weakness of the average person, as opposed to the superiority some individuals have over everyone else. I saw that what he was saying about the decline of morals and the proper respect you should show your cultural and ethnic heritage was absolutely true.” To this day Jones wholly admires everything about Hitler, from his talent as an artist to his plans to rebuild Germany. If the fuehrer had a shortcoming, says Jones, “it’s that he was too kind–he let the British escape at Dunkirk.”
A civilian again, Jones enrolled at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, where he joined the Young Republicans but then was drawn to other organizations. Though the Klan interested him briefly, he was repulsed by “crude and vulgar remarks made about blacks feeling up white girls.” When he happened upon White Power, the newspaper of the Virginia-based National Socialist White People’s Party (NSWPP), he was sufficiently taken by the organization George Lincoln Rockwell had founded in 1958 to join up.
Jones’s convictions troubled his divorced parents. Lillian Jones, an evangelical Sunday school teacher, opposed her son on religious grounds. “My mom’s church says not to mess with the people of the Book, the Jews,” says Jones. He describes his father, a factory worker, as “apolitical–all he wanted to do was hunt and fish and trap.” And yet his son’s behavior got to him. After dropping out of college, Art Jones returned to Beloit, took a factory job, and founded a local NSWPP unit. One day he was leading a party demonstration when Art Jones Sr., having a drink in a nearby tavern, was so offended by the sight of Nazis walking by that he bounded into the street with his fists cocked. The sight of his son leading the way stunned him. “Dad, don’t push me,” Art told his father. “I don’t want to fight you.” Art Jones Sr. walked away in tears.
(“He got into that Nazi mess in college,” says Art Sr., now retired in Alabama. “It ain’t worth a damn. I fought those goose-stepping rascals during World War II. Everybody can have their beliefs, but I don’t believe like he does.” Lillian Jones, who remains in Beloit, says of her son, “He was brought up in the church, but he kind of got away from it. He shouldn’t have. I’m praying for him all the time, that he will change.”)
Blacks protested Jones’s demonstration in Beloit, and Jones’s union steward told him to clean out his locker. He moved to Milwaukee, where he worked in a foundry and then for an electronics company. In time, though, he became a full-time organizer for the NSWPP, a position bankrolled by weekly collections from “the comrades”–as Jones describes his party associates. In 1976 he ran as the NSWPP candidate for mayor of Milwaukee and placed third in a field of seven. Afterward, he mounted an antibusing campaign on behalf of two women running for the school board who were defeated.
In 1977 Jones migrated to Chicago to open an NSWPP branch in Cicero. It was a period when neo-Nazism was becoming equated with Chicago: in a notorious legal battle, Frank Collin, head of the rival National Socialist Party of America, was jockeying to win the right to march in Skokie. Jones couldn’t stomach Collin once he’d learned the man was half-Jewish–his father, Max Simon Cohn, had survived Dachau. Jones says, “I come from a very strong solid white line on both sides. My dad, when he’s wanted to get under my skin, has hinted around that there may be some Indian blood in the family. But he’s just kidding.”
Jones takes pride in the fact that although Collin called off his march after winning the right to make it, the NSWPP–called the Cicero Nazis–actually did show up in Skokie. “We got in our white power van and drove out there,” he recalls. “We stood on the main street and sold White Power. Some people were supportive–it’s not a totally Jewish town, you know.” Later, producers of a made-for-TV movie on Collin and Skokie approached the NSWPP for Nazi paraphernalia. Jones was good enough to offer what he had for above-market prices.
The Collin years invigorated Jones. “It was a dangerous time,” he remembers. “You had those nutcakes in the JDL [the Jewish Defense League] planting bombs. But it gave you a sense of mission. You felt you were part of history, part of a revolutionary movement that the average Joe shied away from, if not out of physical fear then out of fear for his pocketbook.”
Soon the NSWPP split internally over Iran and the Ayatollah Khomeini. Jones says commander Matt Koehl felt the party should support the ayatollah because he was an enemy of Israel. “But the ayatollah was just a big asshole,” says Jones, “and every patriotic American, no matter his color, hated his guts.” Koehl also wanted to shelve party demonstrations for three years, says Jones, “because we weren’t enlisting high-quality people anymore, but street thugs with a uniform fetish.” Jones, who was convinced that the street displays built up the party organization, decided in 1979 to take a breather from white power politics and return to Beloit.
Within a year his wife-to-be, Patricia, persuaded Jones to return to Chicago and help Collin’s successor, Mike Allen, rejuvenate the National Socialists. Jones didn’t like Allen, and he was put off by the filth at Rockwell Hall, the party’s 71st Street offices (“One night I was upstairs, and here comes this big-ass cockroach, yea big”), and he soon left to form the America First Committee with a National Socialist cohort named Richard Wendorf, who’s since left Chicago. The committee laid down ten guiding principles, the most significant of which states, “The Natural Law governing all Human Life is based on the maintenance of Racial Integrity and genetic heredity.”
After a year in Oak Park, the committee set up headquarters in a two-story building in Brighton Park. The committee was based there three years, until the landlord, troubled by his tenants’ activities, canceled their lease. Since then Jones has operated the committee out of his apartment, but the loss of a real headquarters continues to rile him: “Ours was the last headquarters of a right-wing group in the city of Chicago. Farrakhan has a headquarters. The queers have their places and bookstores all over the place. But not us.”
In 1984 Jones ran for Congress in the Republican primary. He ran for 13th Ward alderman three years later and in 1988 was a Republican candidate for mayor, although GOP operatives knocked him off the ticket for filing faulty petitions. The city missed some novel ideas. As mayor he would have introduced a “matching funds ordinance” requiring Chicago’s Jews to contribute a dollar to municipal coffers for every dollar they gave to Israel. And a “neighborhood amendment” permitting any neighborhood where a majority of the residents so petitioned to ban black migration. The last time Jones campaigned for Congress, 1992, he called for ditching affirmative action, testing doctors annually for competence, and awarding a public aid bonus to “all new-born children of legitimate origin whose parents are American citizens and [are] gainfully employed.”
To support himself, Jones has held sales jobs, mostly for insurance companies. For five years he sold insurance, doing well enough to earn an agent of the year award in 1985 for a unit selling high-risk health policies. His boss, Jerry, was Jewish, and Jones kept his Nazi affiliation hidden until the day Jerry retired. “Why, Art?” he wondered. “Why the Nazis?” Jones answered with a discourse on Zionism and communist Jews.
“Jerry and I parted friends,” says Jones. “He was married to a Catholic woman, and he had a son who was retarded. If he walked in this place today, I’d say, ‘Hey, Jerry, sit down.’ He was a fair and decent human being, even though he was a Jew.”
My conversations with Art Jones took place at T.J. Michael’s restaurant, a coffee shop at 59th and Kedzie where we’d occupy a booth and talk for a couple of hours. In time we’d notice whoever occupied the next booth craning to study us. Jones appeared unruffled by the attention.
At the end of our first talk he asked me a question.
“I was wondering,” he began tentatively, giving my face an especially long look, “what’s your ethnic background?” When I confirmed what he suspected, that I was Jewish, he said we could continue our dialogue so long as I’d be fair in my reporting. I said I’d try.
Some weeks later we were at the end of another long conversation. I was finishing a piece of blueberry pie–for some reason Jones always made me hungry for pie–when I asked him what I should do?
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” I said, “Jews are inherently inferior, vicious, mean, and scheming.”
“So?” he said.
“I’m Jewish,” I reiterated.
“On both sides?” he inquired.
Afraid so, I said.
Jones nodded soberly.
“How do I get out of the hereditary bind I’m in?” I wanted to know. “How can I redeem myself?”
“Pray to whatever God you believe in to save you from what’s coming,” he said. “You don’t want to be a Jew or a black when we come to power. This thing could bust wide open. There could be a lot of violence and death.”
But I’m Jewish, I reminded him, coded irretrievably to my fate.
“I am capable of making a distinction on the basis of individuals,” he said. “But even though I might like you personally–and I do–if it came to a question of making an exception for you, I wouldn’t, because what if everybody had his own favorite Jew or favorite black? Like Goebbels said, if everyone had a favorite Jew, we wouldn’t get rid of anyone. If you’re lucky you’ll get kicked out of the country. If you’re not lucky you’ll end up dead. But you’ll pay in hell, anyway.”
So there’s no recourse for me?
“Your solution lies in working with your own people to reform them, to stop them from what they have done in country after country. Your best bet is to get hold of all those fallen Jews, to make them sit up and fly right. But it’s almost impossible. It’s like getting Dracula not to suck blood. But personally, again, I have nothing against you. I hope you live to be a gray-haired old man–in Israel.”
In recent years neo-Nazis have been prosecuted for violent behavior in Germany, and so too have white supremacists in this country. Ten members of the Order, a clandestine group based in the western states, were sentenced to lengthy prison terms after being convicted of criminal racketeering in Seattle in 1985, and two years later two Order members were convicted in the killing of Alan Berg, a Denver talk show host. According to the ADL, from mid-1990 to mid-’93 neo-Nazi skinheads killed at least 22 people across the country, compared to 6 over the previous three years. Last August a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi named Jonathan Haynes shot to death a Wilmette plastic surgeon for giving patients “fake Aryan beauty.” This spring Judge Earl Strayhorn found Haynes guilty and sentenced him to death. Now Haynes faces murder charges in the shooting of a prominent San Francisco hairdresser. The alleged motive was the same.
Jones is a gentler sort. He says he’s been in his share of street brawls, “but lately I’ve been the victim. I don’t want you to paint me as a cream puff, but my personal approach is to deal through legal channels to take the country back.” Jones says of Haynes, “He’s a nut, and I don’t support what he did.” He believes skinheads are “undisciplined,” but he concedes his misgivings may relate to his being of an older generation.
The ADL’s Michael Sandberg thinks the danger in Jones is that his verbiage may give license: “Skinheads who are 17 look to the older generation to give them an ideology, and propagandists like Jones furnish it.” Says John McLaughlin, Jones’s most committed follower: “We have a lot of people, particularly young people, who are alienated by what’s happening in this country and are looking for answers. Art’s a Johnny Appleseed, trying to educate them.”
To gain a rostrum, white hate groups have turned increasingly to television. Tom Metzger, a California TV repairman who leads a group called the White Aryan Resistance, has become familiar to millions of viewers. While Art Jones isn’t at that level, he loves the exposure game.
Jones says that in 1989, when David Duke, then a Louisiana state representative, addressed the convention of the Populist Party at Chicago’s Bismarck Hotel, he was brought in to handle security. After Duke spoke, Channel Two reporter Mike Kirsch asked whether he knew of Jones’s party affiliations, and Duke replied that he’d never met Jones nor had any connection with him or his organization. Then, Jones says, “I gave Kirsch a shove, and as he was walking out I grabbed for his tie. I went into a tirade of hatred against the media, and I got the loudest round of applause from those people who were looking on.” A mention of the incident showed up in the Tribune and in Kirsch’s report.
To white supremacists a talk show constitutes a higher kingdom than spot news, with the Valhalla arguably Geraldo. Geraldo used to feature white-power activists with great regularity; in 1989 a neo-Nazi skinhead guest broke host Geraldo Rivera’s nose. “We’ve been living in politically correct times, and people are afraid to mention the wrong word, to say ‘girl’ instead of woman,” says Bill Lancaster, a Geraldo producer who mounts programs on racism. “So when people are channel surfing and all of a sudden they hit a show and somebody’s saying, ‘you nigger bastard’ or ‘you Jew kike,’ they’ll stop and they’ll watch. They [such shows] are guaranteed numbers, or they used to be.”
During the summer of 1992 Lancaster learned that several white supremacist groups intended to rally in Janesville, Wisconsin, at the behest of Klan leader Ken Petersen (who has since denounced the Klan). “Usually when these guys get together, you’re talking about 35 people at a rally, but they were expecting more than that and we wanted to check it out,” says Lancaster. Rivera himself traveled to Janesville to report, and Jones, contacted in advance about an interview, remembers thinking, “If Geraldo Rivera wants me on his show, who am I to deny the great man?”
He didn’t. But after taping an interview with Jones in Janesville, Rivera slipped past a police line onto Petersen’s property. According to Lancaster, John McLaughlin approached Rivera, who’s of Jewish and Hispanic descent, and said, “You’re a Jew and a spic and you’re not welcome here.” McLaughlin says Rivera was pressing him for an interview and it angered him and “I did call him names.” He also tossed a cup of melted ice at Rivera and knocked away his microphone. A scuffle ensued. “They were both swinging at each other and rolling around on the ground,” recalls Lancaster. “The Janesville police jumped in and separated them. They promptly arrested Geraldo, which is the most asinine thing. They hauled him off to jail, and we stopped filming.”
When Rivera arrived at the jail, Jones was already there; he’d been charged with hitting a pregnant woman at a rally earlier in the day. Spotting Rivera, Jones expected a second interview, “but to my astonishment they put him in the cell next to me.” Jones says Rivera, apparently not realizing the identity of his jail mate, moaned, “I got busted for fighting a fucking Nazi. Boy, my wife is really going to give it to me.” Back on the streets, Rivera talked tough about his encounter with McLaughlin. “He came and violated my space,” he told the New York Post. “I just wasn’t going to let this racist punk get away with it.”
Perry Folts, then the Rock County district attorney, decided not to prosecute Rivera. “We reviewed the videotapes, and we thought his behavior was either self-defense or that he’d had adequate provocation,” says Folts. McLaughlin was charged with disorderly conduct and Jones with battery, and after both men missed court appearances warrants were issued for their arrest, warrants that are still outstanding. “I didn’t see any sense in going further,” remarks Jones, who denies ever hitting the pregnant woman. “This is just a kosher kangaroo court.”
The episode wore out Jones’s welcome with Geraldo. But he found another talk show home. He says he became an “unofficial adviser” to the Jerry Springer Show, hosted in Chicago by the former mayor of Cincinnati. His job, he says, was to round up panelists who’d make sparks fly by denouncing other panelists, such as teenagers into drugs and teen transvestites. Jones himself appeared on a program that focused on whites who act like blacks, and vice versa. “I said the worst aspects of black culture rub off on whites when we are forced to live with them,” Jones recalls.
In May 1993 Jones was back on a show devoted to racial extremists. Other guests were Tom Metzger, his son John, and Michael McGee, a former Milwaukee alderman and commander of that city’s Black Panther Militia. Recently the Metzgers had achieved a kind of martyred star status among supremacists–first a civil court returned a $12.5 million verdict against them for inciting Portland skinheads to kill an Ethiopian immigrant, and then a misdemeanor court in Los Angeles found them guilty of participating in a cross burning. But on this particular Springer program they were merely bystanders.
McGee set the tone by advocating sniper attacks and assassinations if whites didn’t make reparations to blacks for enslaving them. “The black people are getting more primitive, more and more violent, more and more ignorant,” Jones declared. When a black member of the studio audience asked how Jones explained a Jeffrey Dahmer, Jones took umbrage: “For every Jeffrey Dahmer we produce, you produce 10,000 rapists, murderers, robbers, thugs, dope addicts, pimps, and whores. Now that’s a fact. Those are the crime statistics of the FBI.” McGee responded, “I do not take insults, and so if you sit here and continue to insult and you use that word about whores, we’ll start a war right now.”
Indeed, McGee jumped Jones there on the stage. During a 20-minute break, Springer got everyone to agree to behave, and the taping resumed. Jones shook McGee’s hand in a gesture of peace. Much to Jones’s displeasure the police never charged McGee, and last September Jones sued McGee, Springer, and Springer’s executive producer and syndication company for $2 million in damages. “I doubt I’ll ever be on the Jerry Springer Show again,” Jones figures.
“I’m not sure we’d go to him again,” says Springer. “You kind of learn your lessons.” Yet Springer goes to others, continuing to mount 20 programs a year with racists, sometimes with unfortunate consequences: in April five Nazi skinheads who’d just appeared on Springer spray-painted racial epithets on the rest room walls of a 95th Street Wendy’s and attacked two employees.
Springer, whose Jewish parents fled Germany for England before the war, justifies these programs as enlightening. “We need to be aware that these groups exist,” he says. “They are most dangerous when we ignore them. What destroys them is the light, and what TV is great at is throwing light, in exposing evil in the world. These groups can’t stand the exposure. If we had had TV in the 1940s, there’s no way we’d have had the Holocaust we did. The civil rights movement thrived when the cameras opened up on Bull Connor. That’s not to say there won’t be evil, like in Bosnia, but with television at least the world’s paying attention.”
Bill Lancaster says Geraldo airs programs with racists to serve the public’s right to know, not to popularize the abhorrent. “If these groups [of racists] are on the rise, yes, TV may have had some part in it,” he says, “but there’s no way it can all be credited to an appearance on a talk show. In tough economic times these people need scapegoats, and they find them in other racial groups.”
Oprah Winfrey used to feature racists. In 1987 she faced off against a sampling of the population of Forsyth County, Georgia, a locale where no black person had dared live in 72 years; and a year later a skinhead called her “a monkey” on the air. Souring on these programs, Winfrey soon dropped them (though she has since performed with reformed hate group members). “At first Oprah thought she was making people aware of these groups, but she learned she was empowering them,” says her spokesman Colleen Raleigh. “Oprah will no longer provide a forum for hatred.” Similarly, the ADL refuses to share the stage with white racists. To do so, says Michael Sandberg, implies that there is a respectable alternative to tolerance, “and there just isn’t one.”
Lancaster says the profusion of TV talk shows has diminished the number of hate group programs Geraldo airs. “Because talk shows are so ubiquitous, they aren’t being watched so much anymore,” he says, and now he demands a “news hook.” “Racism has no effect on our numbers,” Springer reports, “not like sex does. You put on naked people, and the ratings go up.”
Jones retains some bitterness toward Springer: “I basically built his ratings, but the only compensation I ever got was one time they paid for my parking.” Yet hope springs eternal. “I got a call from the Montel Williams Show the other day,” says Jones. “They wanted young people in their 20s to respond to Schindler’s List. I found the people, but they didn’t want to travel to New York.”
Jones has gotten into television himself. He’s excited that a segment featuring him is part of the college TV course Dealing With Diversity that is being aired on PBS stations. And Jones recently filmed four videos–on South Africa, the Holocaust, non-white crime, and his neighborhood amendment–that he’s forwarded to cable access stations around the country. He expects a liberal airing.
On the surface Jones may seem to be moderating. A Pat Buchanan for President sticker graces the bumper of his small blue car. But no one should think Jones is trimming his racial ideas. “I wonder about everyone’s interest in someone like Michael Jordan switching from basketball to baseball,” he tells me one afternoon at T.J. Michael’s as I dig into some banana cream pie. “He’s just a big tall dumb nigger. If I was as tall as he was, I’d be a basketball star, too. Say, is that pie good?”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Kathy Richland.