Special to the JTA Documentary on American Nazis Raises Issues and Concerns
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Special to the JTA Documentary on American Nazis Raises Issues and Concerns

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A 58-minute documentary on activities of American Nazis in California, which the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) has offered for showing by its 270 station affiliates on Oct. 22, has evoked refusals among a number of stations and concern among Jewish community relations agencies on how to handle the documentary.

“The California Reich” focuses on the psychologies and lifestyles of some working class members of the National Socialist White People’s Party in three California communities. The PBS office here, describing the documentary as a presentation of KCET, the public service station in Los Angeles, reported it had no narration, allowing the subjects to speak for themselves.

A spokesman for WNET (Channel 13), the PBS outlet for the New York City area, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that, out of concern for the “sensibilities” of Jewish viewers, it would not telecast “California Reich” on Oct. 22, Succoth eve, but would show the documentary sometime in November. The documentary will also be presented as a film at the Harold Clurman Theater in Manhattan, starting Oct. 18, in tandem with a stage production of Eugene lonesco’s “The Lesson.”


PBS president Lawrence K. Grossman was quoted as saying a substantial number of the 270 public TV affiliates had balked at showing the documentary. William J. McCarter, president of Chicago’s WTTW, called it “almost a recruitment film” and said he knew of 20 to 30 stations, in addition to WTTW, which had refused to book the program. A spokesperson at WHYY in Philadelphia said the documentary was not scheduled at the present and would not be telecast on WHYY on Oct.22. Jim Kayarkan, WHYY president and general manager, said the program does not give a “focus” on the Nazi situation in this country.

A spokesman at WLIW at Garden City, NY (Channel 21) told the JTA that the station had not yet received “at this time” notification from PBS of the availability of the program. WNYE (Channel 25), the New York City Board of Education TV station, said it was not planning to show the program “at the present time.” A spokesman for WNYC (Channel 31), the New York City municipal TV station, said a decision on telecasting the program was “open” but that it would not show the program on Oct. 22.

The documentary was made by two young college graduates, Walter F. Parkes, 24 and Keith Critchlow, 30. Parkes, of Beverly Hills, studied filmmaking at Stanford Graduate School, where he met Critchlow, a major in psychology at Yale University. After Parkes and Critchlow met at Stanford, they decided they wanted to make a film. Following reading about a Nazi Party demonstration in a local newspaper, they decided to try to film the everyday life and party activities of local members of the National Socialist White People’s Party.

The film covers meetings, ceremonies, a riot at San Francisco State University and scenes from the home lives of the Nazis. It is done without any commentary, allowing the Nazis to speak for themselves, according to the two young producers. The final version is framed by statements at the opening and close of the program, mode on camera. by Clete Roberts, an anchorman-reporter for public TV station KCET in Los Angeles.


In the opening statement, Roberts says the film “deals with a disturbing reality, the existence of an organized neo-Nazi movement in America today.” He adds that what is important about such groups is not their numbers, citing a claim by the National Socialist White People’s Party, “the strongest of the new Nazi groups,” of fewer than 2000 members nationwide in 1976 when the documentary was completed.

“What is important,” Roberts observes, “is the way such groups minor fears and prejudices present in the mainstream of American society. ” He then reports it took the two producers three months “to get inside the front door of a Nazi household and another eight months before cameras were permitted to roll.”

Commenting that the subjects tell their own story, Roberts says the result of that approach is “perhaps an even more eloquent testimony to the ever-present threat of racism, ignorance and hatred.” He calls the Nazis “a disturbing reflection of America today. Some may see them as pathetic misfits or inhuman monsters but more frightening, they are men, women and children who could live next door.”

In the closing statement, Roberts says it was “difficult to assess” whether American Nazi membership had grown or lessened in the two years since the documentary was completed. He remarked that not all Nazis parade in brown shirts and swastika arm bands.

Roberts then cites a study by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith in March 1978, declaring that the total American Nazi Party membership was no more than 1200 “but with several thousand more anonymously supporting the party. ” An ADL spokesman said the “several thousand more” was not an ADL figure. Roberts also notes the legal and street battles over the Chicago Nazis who sought to march in Skokie and did march in Chicago last July 9. He added, “after all the national media attention, legal battles and threats of violence, no more than 20 uniformed Nazis appeared that day in Chicago.”

The film attracted PBS attention when it was nominated for an Academy Award. Portions of it were shown on a CBS “Sixty Minutes” program on Feb. 20. One portion portrayed Alan Vincent, a party leader, who spent 20 years in various California reform schools and prisons and classified himself for the young producers as a victim of “loneliness.”

For Jewish community officials consulted by the JTA, the problem was one of deciding whether the film was anti-Semitic, which most of the newspapers reviewing the documentary the year it was completed, in 1976, suggested it basically was not, and whether, if a decision was made to approach PBS stations planning to show it, to develop a unified approach. One such approach, the JTA was told, would be to decide on whether the PBS stations should be asked to schedule discussions by community relations experts on the significance of the production after each telecast.

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