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Jewish Communal Leader on Trial in Washington for Clash with Nazis

February 10, 1960
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District of Columbia court authorities deferred action today on a case involving a neo-Nazi agitator and a respected Jewish communal leader to determine applicable laws.

The case involved disorderly conduct charges on which the arrest was based of Irving Berman, 48, of Falls Church, Va., who headed the Northern Virginia Israel Bond Drive, served as president of the Arlington-Fairfax Jewish Center, and as chairman of the local chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

Similar charges were lodged against J. V. Kenneth Morgan, 34, so-called “deputy commander,” of George Lincoln Rockwell’s “American Nazi party,” a group imitating Hitler’s “Brownshirts,” The two men were taken into custody on charges of “disorderly conduct” after a scuffle on a downtown Washington street corner. Mr. Berman said he had been shocked to see the neo-Nazis publicly distributing handbills that called for the gassing of American Jews.


The case became legally complicated today when the American Civil Liberties Union assigned two Jewish attorneys to defend the neo-Nazis on the basis of their “free speech” rights. The ACLU attorneys, David Shapiro and Lawrence Speiser, aided Morgan at the hearing today.

Rockwell’s neo-Nazi supporters indicated they were amused by the idea that Jewish attorneys were defending their deputy commander, Morgan, without fee. After the hearing, Rockwell confronted the attorneys, raised his hand in a Nazi salute and said “Sieg Heil.”

Mr. Berman said that defense of “free speech” in the distribution of tracts inciting to violence and murder of American Jewry was similar to defending the “right” to “raise a false cry of fire in a crowded theater.”

He said he felt that the ACLU defense of neo-Nazi agitation was a “distortion of the intent of the Founding Fathers of America, our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.” He added that “to urge putting innocent people into gas chambers is not a proper exercise of free speech.”


The neo-Nazi material, Mr. Berman declared, was “a definite danger” to people who have “a right to live in America without fear.” The police force, he said, existed for the protection of the public “and not to protect the spread of anti-Semtism.”

He called Rockwell’s material “garbage better fit for the sewer than for human consumption.” adding that he felt “provoked and insulted.” He testified that he took handbills from the hand of Rockwell, who was distributing them to passers-by and then he was “clipped from behind” by Morgan. Police did not arrest Rockwell but took Berman and Morgan into custody. They were released on payment of collateral pending trial.

Mr. Berman said he “saw red” when he realized the inflammatory nature of the material and termed his reaction “spontaneous.” The case was continued until February 18. A number of Protestant ministers appeared at the hearing seeking to show their support of Mr. Berman. Considerable interest in the case has developed in the national capital area.

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