Berkeley is not invulnerable to virulent racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic hate campaigns.
That was brought home to John Weil who, while walking his dog in his quiet southeast Berkeley hills neighborhood about 5 p.m. on Monday, picked up a rolled-up newspaper from the sidewalk and opened it to find page after page of hate-filled articles peppered with racial epithets demeaning Jews and people of color and advertisements promoting swastika-bearing jewelry.
“I was appalled when I realized these people were promoting hate,” Weil told the Daily Planet. “One might expect this in the backwoods of Ohio, but not in Berkeley.”
The newspaper and two accompanying tracts were tossed from a slow-moving automobile and found on sidewalks along Hillcrest and Chabot roads and Claremont Avenue in southeast Berkeley, and a short distance northwest of that neighborhood, on Halcyon Court and nearby portions of Woolsey, Prince and Webster streets. Isolated copies of the newspaper were reported on North Shattuck Avenue and at San Pablo and University avenues, Eighth and Addison streets, and Eighth and Allston Way according to police spokesperson Ed Galvan.
The paper distributed was a 28-page April 2006 edition of The Insurgent published by the White Aryan Resistance, associated with well-known white supremacist Tom Metzger, who calls himself “the voice of progressive racism.” (While an e-mail from Metzger said he would be available for a phone interview, he has not returned a call from the Daily Planet.)
The Insurgent tagline says: “The Newspaper for discriminating white people! Tolerance is suicide.” One article in the edition distributed blames Jews for Aryans “losing their culture, their treasure, their homeland and their incomparable gene-pool.” Another article claims that African Americans have low intelligence. Other pieces say immigrants take resources from whites and condemn government as useless.
Chip Berlet, senior researcher at Boston-based Political Research Associates, who specializes in analyzing right-wing movements, was not surprised that the paper was distributed in Berkeley. “Even in enclaves like Berkeley, people believe that people of color and immigrants steal jobs,” Berlet said in a phone interview, explaining that one motivation for the distribution is recruitment.
Teenage boys are among the most susceptible to this recruiting tactic, as they might see this kind of organization as an avenue for rebellion, he said.
Distribution such as this “is a common tactic employed over the last 10 years. It’s a weekly occurrence” taking place in various cities, he said.
While the distribution may be done in order to publicize the organization, that’s not a reason to ignore it, Berlet said, noting that the best reaction is exposing such organizations.
Amanda Bornstein, aide to south hills Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who is out of town for four weeks, said she got calls from concerned constituents and reported them to Berkeley police. Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district includes the Halcyon Court area, said he got calls as well and also reported them to police and the city manager.
Nancy Carleton is one of those who called Worthington. Co-chair of the Halcyon Neighborhood Association, Carleton said her well-organized neighborhood “will be tracking the issue to make sure that the hateful speech doesn’t turn into violence against neighbors.”
Noting the racial, religious and ethnic diversity of the neighborhood, Carleton said, “We have to look out for each other.”
In a phone interview Thursday morning City Manager Phil Kamlarz said he hadn’t yet seen the newspaper, but had discussed it with police. It sounds like “an ugly piece of information,” but protected by free speech and not something the city could stop from being disseminated, he said.
Similarly, Alan L. Schlosser, legal director for the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union, said as long as such a newspaper is distributed in conformance with local laws, its circulation becomes an issue of free speech.
“Even racist and highly offensive speech is protected by the Constitution,” Schlosser said, adding that the local distribution could be turned into a “teaching moment,” with “bad speech responded to by good speech—racist speech answered by anti-racist speech.”
One southeast hills resident who asked not to be identified was less upbeat: “This is dangerous to all of us,” she said. “It makes me ashamed. We have learned nothing. It might as well be 1933.”
The following Oakland-based organizations provide resources to fight bigotry: Ella Baker Center: 428-3939, www.ellabakercenter.org, Women of Color Resource Center: 444-2700, www.coloredgirls.org, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights: 465-1984, www.nnirr.org.