HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (Feb. 24)
The administration of Hofstra University has reversed itself and ordered one of its students not to fly a Nazi flag from his dormitory window. But the student, 20-year-old sophomore David Kerr, was permitted to place a sign from his window advocating freedom of speech for Nazis during a visit Tuesday to the campus by Jewish Defense League leader Rabbi Meir Kahane.
A university spokesman, Gene Boneker, explained that university officials, whose initial decision last week not to force the removal of the flag was upheld by the school’s board of trustees, were moved to change their position because of indications that violence might erupt on the campus as a result of the involvement of people outside the university in the flag controversy.
Consequently, last Friday evening, the administration asked–not ordered–Kerr to remove the flag which he first flew on Sunday Feb, 13, and Kerr complied with the request. Over the weekend, however, Kerr indicated publicly that he would put it up once again on Tuesday when Rabbi Kahane was scheduled to speak. But on Monday night, the university’s president, Clifford Lord, met with Kerr in the student’s 11th floor dorm room and issued the directive forbidding him to fly the flag anymore.
Subsequently, permission to place a sign reading “Free Speech for Nazis” was granted. Kerr told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency during a phone interview yesterday that he kept it in his window until midnight Tuesday. “I didn’t want anybody to think that I was afraid or giving in to all the threats,” he said.
A number of major Jewish organizations had protested the school’s decision not to insist that the flag be removed, and on Monday, the Protestant and Catholic chaplains joined Hofstra’s Hillel director Rabbi Leon Wolf, in expressing concern to the administration over the situation. But Rabbi Kahane’s speaking engagement, which he reportedly used to tell about 1,000 people that “there is a quick and efficient method of dealing with David Kerrs,” had been scheduled before Kerr started flying the flag. Rabbi Kahane is said to have suggested indirectly that the method he referred to is a physical one.
OUTSIDERS SPARKED PROBLEMS
Boneker noted that the campus itself remained “very calm” at first, and though many people opposed what Kerr was doing, he added, they “laughed it off” with the attitude that it’s “one guy and he’s just a nut anyway.” But, Boneker said, the situation changed when “outsiders got involved.” Publicity aroused the emotions of people outside the university, he observed, and by the end of last week it was feared that campus peace and order was endangered.
On the one hand, representatives of a local motorcycle gang had offered their support to Kerr, Boneker said, and on the other, Kerr had received phone threats that were upsetting his roommate Richard Salvo, a sophomore who, Boneker says, does not agree with Kerr’s political views.
In addition, a bomb threat was made against the student newspaper “The Chronicle” which had published two advertisements placed by Kerr to recruit members for the National Socialist White People’s Party of Arlington, Va., with which Kerr has been associated for several years. The party was formerly the American Nazi Party.
ORDERS FROM ARLINGTON
Kerr said he had placed the ads in the paper on “orders from headquarters” in Arlington. It was his own idea to display the flag, which he said he hoped would reinforce the ads and encourage students who might be interested in joining the party to approach him. Kerr said he was converted to Nazi politics six years ago after reading an article by the late American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell. He was born a Protestant, but he no longer believes in “organized religion,” he said, though he does believe in God.
His parents “don’t like my politics,” according to Kerr, and his sister, two years his junior, is a liberal and also disagrees with him. Asked how his fellow students have reacted to the whole affair, he said that they are generally “just curious and they defend my right to free speech, but they don’t agree with my politics.”
The flag episode is now “over,” Hofstra spokesman Boneker said. “It sort of just died and we’re no longer concerned about it.” But the school’s Catholic chaplain, Father Robert Smith, asserted that “the question of principle”–namely, whether or not Nazis propagating their political views are protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment–has still not been resolved. That, he said, is “a matter for the courts.”