It was a surreal mix that converged on Phoenix Symphony Hall on a recent Sunday to support, denounce, or take advantage of a "Night to Honor Israel" rally sponsored by Christians United for Israel, a group founded by television end-times Bible thumper John Hagee, who is based in San Antonio and has raised millions for Israel because he believes it holds a special role in the return of Jesus Christ to Earth.
Hagee's group is generally backed by conservative Jews and Christians who're big defenders of Israel's right to exist. And that draws the ire of Chuck Carlson's organization We Hold These Truths, which former New Times journalist and current Village Voice editor Tony Ortega wrote about in the 2003 cover story "Peace-monger". At that time, Carlson's group was demonstrating at fundamentalist churches, arguing that they should take a stand on ending the Iraq war.
The group's branched out since to tackle anyone who supports Christian-Zionism. That is, those Christians who believe Israel was biblically awarded to the Jews. For Carlson, Hagee is the perfect example of what he sees as the "racism" of Christian-Zionism.
"Basically, he takes a racist view of the Palestinians in Israel," Carlson chirped, wearing a tan fedora over a white mane. "He says the Israelis have their rights on account of their race. And then [he and his supporters] find a way to sort out bits and pieces from Old Testament Biblical verses that they think supports that. And they weave that into a religion."
Carlson seems genuinely enraged by the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza and genuinely outraged by the actions of Israel. However, he paled when I asked him about his remarks before neo-Nazi and other anti-Semitic institutions. Specifically, on March 21, he spoke before a local spaghetti night of the white-supremacist group Nationalist Coalition. I know because there are videos online of Carlson addressing the organization.
And Carlson also spoke before a 2004 conference of the Institute for Historical Review in Sacramento. Founded in 1978 by anti-Semitic godfather Willis Carto, the IHR is described by the Anti-Defamation League as "the world's single most important outlet for Holocaust-denial propaganda."
Carlson didn't deny speaking in front of such groups but insisted the Sacramento conference wasn't sponsored by IHR. (IHR has a page on its Web site claiming the conference as its own, with a photo of Carlson as one of the lecturers.) He also stated that his speaking before some questionable organizations doesn't mean he agrees with them.
"I didn't deny any Holocaust," said Carlson. "I was there speaking about my issue, Christian-Zionism."
But what about the neo-Nazi groups? Doesn't Carlson think people are bothered by that?
"I don't know anybody it bothers but you," he chuckled. "You're the only one it's ever bothered."
When I stated that might be because people don't know about it, he said, "What am I supposed to do, wear a badge?"
Of course, I'm not suggesting Carlson is a neo-Nazi, but his message sure does seem to appeal to them. Particularly with passages like this in his handouts:
"We believe the worldly riches offered by World Zionism are false and do not come from God because the teaching of Zionism is anathema to the words of Jesus Christ."
Nor would I insinuate that Pastor John Hagee is all sweetness and light. Hagee has voiced his support for a preemptive Israeli nuclear strike against Iran. The preacher also believes Arab and Russian forces will invade Israel and be struck down by Yahweh — and it all will precipitate the Second Coming.
In other words, he's a crackpot. A crackpot with a lot of followers.
Carlson was one of only about 25 people from his faction present at Phoenix Symphony Hall, where attendees were forced to pass through a gantlet of photos of dead children. One of the sign-holders told me he came from Texas to protest the Hagee event.
I should note that the Messianic Jews were there to support the event and were not part of Carlson's group. Rabbi Harlan Picker of Phoenix's Beth Yachad House of Unity told me they were about understanding between gentiles and Jews, and that his congregation was mixed with members of both faiths.
As for the trio demonstrating in favor of John Demjanjuk with signs such as "Free John" and "Free Demjanjuk Now," they were led by a tall cat in a bush hat named John Lyon and they said they were not members of We Hold These Truths or any organization, for that matter.
According to a March report in the New York Times, Demjanjuk is now in Germany, "where he is accused of being an accessory in the murder of 29,000 Jews while working as a guard at the Sobibór death camp in eastern Poland."