You know your career as a historian has hit a new low when you're hawking books out the back of a Phoenix diner better known for its hash browns than its literary events.
This is the best the infamous British Holocaust denier David Irving can do these days, reserving the back room at Jerry's Restaurant at 2323 E. Thomas Road in Phoenix. Irving was there Friday to speak to a collection of neo-Nazis, skinheads, right-wingers and the curious, most of whom had to sign up ahead of time and be vetted by Irving and his 24-year-old assistant Jaenelle.
The location of the event was a secret up till the last moment, but a group of local anarchists led by a brash urban warrior named "Ghost" had figured out that Jerry's was the place. They assembled about 15 souls to protest Irving's appearance at this eatery, which looks like it's right out of that long-dead TV show Alice, minus Vic Tayback as its chili-stained owner.
A friend of the anarchists tipped me off, and I arrived at the greasy spoon right around 7 p.m., just as the first phalanx of anarchists -- some wearing bandannas over their faces and carrying anti-fascist signs -- were barging into Jerry's, shouting slogans such as, "No Nazis!" They were immediately blocked by manager Bob Lowry, a patron, and Jerry's do-rag wearing cook. After a short scuffle with some pushing, the manager shut the door, and the anarchists moseyed over to the sidewalk to wait out the evening.
I asked Lowry, who seemed befuddled by the turn of events, if he knew what kind of meeting was transpiring on his premises.
"It's just a booksigning," he said, later adding, "They've never been here before."
Contrary to Lowry's statement, Irving's assistant Jaenelle told me Irving had been at Jerry's on previous book tours. As I sat outside the closed doors of the meeting, I overheard Jerry's employees discussing how many of the same people attending Irving's event were scheduled to meet there in the future, as they had done in the past. They mentioned Jesse Curnow's name. Curnow is the Arizona organizer for the neo-Nazi Nationalist Coalition.
Present at Irving's wing-ding were many of the usual suspects, among them, Curnow, J.T. Ready, Harry Hughes, and erstwhile Mexican flag burner Laine Lawless, whom I profiled in a 2007 cover story "Burn Baby Burn!" She was surprised to see me there, and later called to ask me that I not use her name in whatever I write. I thought about it, but I know others spotted her there and will likely make mention of it. Sorry, Laine.
Before finding out about the Irving event being at Jerry's, I knew Irving was going to be in town, as someone had sent me a posting by Anti-Racist Action Network announcing a campaign to oppose Irving's sub rosa American tour, calling it "The Show That Must Not Go On." They posted Irving's itinerary, showing he would be in Phoenix July 10, though not where. So I e-mailed Irving via his Web site, asking for an interview.
"I will be happy to see you, Stephen," Irving e-mailed in a reply I received July 9. "And we will arrange a time to meet by phone later today."
Alas, I never got that follow-up call, despite the polite tone of the e-mail. When I approached Irving in Jerry's back room, a small space crammed with about 30 bodies and two tables of books, DVDs and posters of Hitler that Irving was offering for sale, the septuagenarian anti-Semite was greatly annoyed by the anarchists outside, as well as by my presence.
"How did you find out where it was?" Irving wondered, his bushy eyebrows leaping about like huge, hairy caterpillars.
"The anarchists told me," I admitted.
"Well, you're on the wrong side then," he harrumphed.
I asked if I could stay and watch his address. I even offered to pay the $20 entrance fee, but Irving was adamant that I had to go. I complied, and went over to Jerry's counter, where I could drink coffee and observe those coming and going.
I later learned from an informant in the group that Irving lectured them on decoded German documents that he claimed proved only 1.74 million Jews died by Nazi hands during WWII, instead of the 6 million most scholars agree on. (As I left the back room, he had told me, by way of consolation, "You won't find this very interesting, it's about decoded documents.")
Seems Irving was up to his regular shtick of focusing on one tiny piece of evidence, while ignoring mountains of proof to the contrary. It's the sort of historical sleight of hand that convinces only true believers. No wonder he doesn't want anyone with a lick of sense eavesdropping on his pathetic farce.
While sipping my coffee, I sat next to his 24-year-old, assistant Jaenelle, a blonde, long-limbed vision whom the anarchists dubbed "Eva Braun." She confided that she met Irving when he was speaking to a similar crowd in Louisville, Kentucky last summer. Jaenelle has traveled with Irving in Europe, and she's been staying in London recently, where Irving has a home in Windsor.
She told me about the trials of the road trip, how she was sharing the driving with Irving in a car packed with books Irving aimed to sell. They had just come from Albuquerque, New Mexico, which she deemed an unsuccessful event, with few showing up. Next stop was Las Vegas, then they were on to the Left Coast.
"We always get a good crowd in Phoenix," she told me, with 30 or so people evidently being a "good crowd."
I asked why all the secrecy, and she indicated that they could not afford security for Irving's appearances, and that lefties everywhere seemed intent on shutting them down. In fact, Irving has been banned from entering various countries, such as Canada, Australia, Germany, and Austria, where he was imprisoned for thirteen months after being convicted of minimizing Nazi crimes during speeches he gave in Austria in 1989.
Irving has always been perceived as being soft on the Nazis in his books, and he's made numerous anti-Semitic statements over the years. But when scholar Deborah Lipstadt called him on his shoah-shirking ways in her 1994 book Denying the Holocaust, Irving sued her in England, where the libel laws place the burden of proof on the defendant. Despite this, Lipstadt emerged triumphant. The judge found in her favor, concluding that Irving was both an anti-Semite and a Holocaust-denier. To pay for the defense's legal bills, as is required under British libel law, Irving was fined a whopping two million pounds.
Some prankster let the air out of Harry's tire, at least it wasn't slashed
|Some prankster let the air out of Harry's tire, at least it wasn't slashed|
I don't agree with censorship of Irving, or of imprisoning him for his writings, no matter how odious. (This scoundrel even labeled Anne Frank's diary a fake, though that is a pernicious prevarication.) Yet, I might have had an ounce of respect for him if he'd let me sit in on his event. The cowardly way in which he operates -- going so far as to try and hide his face while I was taking a snapshot of him, indicates he recognizes on some level that what he's doing is shameful.
After Irving's initial remarks, there was a break where Irving's fans milled about, went to the restroom and got coffee before going back in for a Q & A session. I had a civilized chat with National Socialist Harry Hughes, who later in the evening discovered that one of his tires had been deflated on his truck. He was rightfully pissed about this, but fortunately for him, the tire wasn't slashed as he first thought. He later noted on his blog that if it had been his meeting, he would've let me stay. Too bad Irving chickened out on this point.
I asked Jaenelle if I could sit in on the Q & A part of it, but she told me no.
"He's very upset with me right now for speaking with you," she admitted, flustered.
After the Q & A session, Irving boxed up his books and carried them out the back door so as to avoid the anarchists out front. I snapped a couple of pics, though Irving tried to block me. Later Hughes sent me a shot of Irving and I speaking, with Laine Lawless right between us, as Irving was asking me to leave.
Activist Dennis Gilman was outside with the anarchists, and he snapped a photo of J.T., Harry and some heavily tattooed skinhead flipping the sieg heil. He's also put together a video of the event, which I'll post as soon as it's up.
Outside, I spoke with Chris Wingo and his pal Stan, a gay couple Jaenelle had allowed into the Q & A half of things when Wingo, who was there as a patron of the restaurant, expressed curiosity about hearing Irving.
Wingo said Irving had stated that "only a few thousand" perished at Auschwitz (according to the Nizkor Project, anywhere from 1.1 to 1.5 million died at Auschwitz from 1940 to 1945). Irving also spoke of Hitler's desire to relocate Jews to the island of Madagascar, and that it was really Heinrich Himmler who was responsible for the Jews killed during WWII. Irving has long attempted to whitewash Hitler's involvement in the Holocaust, claiming Hitler didn't know about the mass killings until late in the game.
Wingo was not in total agreement with the anarchists protesting Jerry's outside. (Wingo told me that Jerry's is known for catering to the gay community.) However, he said of some of the older attendees inside that, "If you're 60 years old and listening to this shit, get a life." Both Wingo and Stan noted that when they approached Irving to shake his hand, Irving was not eager to touch Stan, who is a Native American, and has copper-colored skin.
"You would've thought Irving was reaching for the hand of a leper," said Wingo.
As you might expect, the anarchists were not exactly torn up after hearing of Harry's deflated tire, or of the fact that Jerry's received so many calls complaining about the neo-Nazis and Irving that they had to take the phone off the hook.
"I think that's fucking great, personally," said Ghost about the deflated tire. "Honestly, I'm all about any kind of destruction of anything neo-Nazis own. I'm not gonna lie, I fucking hate 'em. I would not shed a tear if they were all to die right now."
"We don't all agree with that," said a protester named Haley.
"I'm speaking for myself," responded Ghost.
I asked Ghost about freedom of speech, and whether he believed in denying it to neo-Nazis.
"No one should give Nazis or any racists any sort of platform," he told me. "I believe in free speech. I know a lot of anarchists don't take that stance, but when it comes to an organized group that is built around genocide and oppression on the kind of large scale that they're trying to deny here tonight, when it's something that's built around those kinds of practices, not just words, that's when I think they should be shut down at the root."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The anarchists were at least correct to shine a light on this event, and to protest it. Otherwise, Irving and his admirers would have been able to congregate as if under a colossal rock. Considering the lies being peddled, they do not deserve the cloak of anonymity, even if they do retain the right of assembly.