LOS ANGELES (Oct. 21)
In an unusual plea bargain with federal prosecutors, a skinhead leader who planned to launch a race war through deadly attacks on black and Jewish targets has agreed to a counseling program at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Christopher Fisher, 20, leader of a group calling itself the Fourth Reich Skinheads, pleaded guilty in federal court to charges that could land him in prison for 10 years.
Fisher and two juveniles were arrested three months ago by the FBI, which had infiltrated the group, in a widely publicized sweep of white supremacists in Southern California.
The raids also netted six other people, identified as members of the White Aryan Resistance and the Church of the Creator, both virulent white supremacist groups.
At the time of the arrests, investigators charged that Fisher’s plans for a race war included murdering Rodney King, blowing up a leading African American church and machinegunning its congregation, and sending letter bombs to prominent Jews in Orange County, south of Los Angeles.
Fisher has admitted vandalizing Temple Beth David, also in Orange County, last January.
The novel idea of including the Wiesenthal Center educational component as part of the plea agreement came from federal prosecutor Marc Greenberg.
"If we don’t do something to address (Fisher’s violent racism), 10 years from now he will emerge (from prison) with the same view, maybe even more hardened," said Greenberg. "Hopefully, this will give him a dose of reality," the prosecutor said.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, welcomed Greenberg’s suggestion and said his staff would work out a program for Fisher to include a visit to the center’s new Museum of Tolerance and face-to-face discussions with Holocaust survivors.
"Through such a program, we can confront him with the consequences of hatred," said Hier.
OTHER JEWISH GROUPS OFFER ADVICE
Hier, as well as spokespersons for other local Jewish defense organizations, said he could not recall any instance in which such a re-education effort was made part of the official court proceedings.
David Lehrer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that his organization has worked with worried parents whose sons had joined hate groups, and that ADL’s "World of Difference" program had been adopted by many schools to defuse ethnic tensions and teach respect for differences.
Barbara Creme of the American Jewish Committee, in a conversation with JTA, questioned whether the proposed Wiesenthal Center program could effect basic changes in Fisher’s attitude.
She cited AJCommittee’s own "Hands Across the Campus" program as one that taught youngsters the underlying reasons for cultural and individual differences.
In his court appearance, Fisher pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and exploding a pipe bomb at a private home. Prosecution and defense attorneys agreed that a 10-year sentence in federal prison would be "appropriate," but U.S. District Judge William Byrne Jr. may decide on a different punishment.
Under questioning by Byrne, Fisher said that he and his confederates had discussed "problems with race relations." Asked to explain the problems, Fisher responded: "Sometimes whites were picked on because of the color of their skin."