Tue, 4 Sep 2007

Curious Tale of a Clown … and Clowns

— SjG @ 5:40 pm

Sarah was kind enough to send me this link: Clowns Kicked KKK Asses, which really made my day. You see, it’s not just the great story of neo-Nazi idiots being mocked and overwhelmed, but it’s a story that has a bit of personal history. You see, I know their leader.

Back in 1986, I was in Marburg, Germany as part of the Pomona College study abroad program. As a college radical, a leftist and activist, I was apprehensive to find that Alex Linder, right-wing columnist for the student paper, would be on the program at the same time.

It was around that time that “diversity” was becoming a hot topic on campus, and “politically correct” was not a phrase in the common parlance, but was still used by activists to chasten one another. Pomona College was, in many ways, the kind of institution for “elite liberals” that the Right loves to attack: in theory, everything was open to academic scrutiny, but go too far off the beaten path, and there would be howling*. Still, philosophy professors could write articles about our debt to Christian Society and Marxists could write blistering attacks on US crimes in Central America, all in the same student paper.

Now, Alex had always had a talent for putting his literary foot in his mouth. In those latter days of the Reagan years, the voices of the Right were Wally George and his rival/crony Morton Downey Jr, whose combative styles were an inspiration to Alex. He tried to write in-your-face political columns for the student paper, attacking affirmative action, for example, and would offend everyone with his unique style of insulting and blunt language, punctuated with as many abstruse words as he could mix in. He could start with a valid question (e.g., if discrimination is bad, then why is reversing this discrimination not bad?), but would blunder around until it sure looked like he was suggesting that only WASPs were capable of being educated.

So, in Marburg, I had some trepidation about being stuck in a small group with Alex. At first, he and I kept on civil, guarded terms. But as the weeks wore on, we discovered we had a fair amount in common. We both love esoteric words. We both collected quotations. His tended towards Mencken, while mine towards Lu Xun (I’d just had a course in Chinese Literature in translation), but he still surprised me. One of his favorites was Steinbeck: “It was a morning like other mornings and yet perfect among mornings.” He had a sense of humor. He was an entertaining guy to be around.

We both liked arguing philosophical issues. In person, Alex wasn’t the bullying, insulting caricature that his articles would suggest. He was articulate, and thought about things. We both came into the semester regarding the other as an inflexible ideologue, I think, but found that, in discussion, we could respect one another’s points (if not conclusions). In fact, we still rarely agreed, but I became convinced that the more extreme positions he put forth in his student paper articles were less rabid opinions than poorly expressed ideas. Needless to say, I was wrong.

In any case, over the semester, Alex and I became friends. We’d play chess quite a bit, and he’d almost always beat me. Being a semester abroad, and in Germany, we did a lot of drinking, and this was one place I could best Alex. Scrawny kid that I was, I could handle two beers — one more than he. Alex was often at his most amusing when drunk — but, in retrospect, also at his scariest.

In Berlin, that May, after drinking plenty of Hefeweizen mit ein schuß grün, we were staggering back along the KuDam, when Alex lurched into a police officer who was investigating the scene (a motorcycle had crashed into a sidewalk display case). Alex launched into a tirade about how the polizei should show more respect — after all, we won the war, etc. Mumbling excuses for him, I dragged him off before the officers decided to dispense some justice.

That fall, back on campus, I defended Alex and even his writing to many of my friends. They thought I was crazy. I thought he was just trying to stir things up, and perhaps a bit clumsy with his use of language. At least one article had the school administration distancing themselves from his opinions**. He was the most popular Public Enemy in the student paper — they even dedicated an April Fools issue to lampooning him.

Alex graduated a year ahead of me. We wrote sporadically, but fell out of touch sometime in the year after my graduation. Last I had heard, he went to intern at American Spectator, where he felt ill used by the proto-neo-cons. Years later, I saw his name associated with the Vanguard News Network and their slogan “Just right. No Jews.” I contemplated writing him, but decided that there was really no purpose to it. I did make a point of admitting to some friends of how wrong I’d been.

So. How could I avoid a smile upon reading this news?

* Eventually, I’ll post some stories here of my own run-ins with authority and the ruthless defense of the image of diversity.
** Then again, before I was able to graduate, I was chastised for similar sins.

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