By Ken Stone
Tom Metzger, one of the nation’s most notorious white supremacists and anti-Semites, has died, according to a post on his White Aryan Resistance website. He was 82.
The post said: “Thomas Linton Metzger, born April 9th, 1938 in Warsaw, Indiana, passed away in Hemet, California, on November 4th, 2020.”
The death of Metzger — who lived in Fallbrook for 40 years, where he worked as a TV repairman — also was noted in a paid death notice Tuesday in The San Diego Union-Tribune.Ironically appearing next to an ad for Jewish burial spaces, the U-T “Life Tribute” ran only four sentences and didn’t mention his runs for Congress, leadership of the Ku Klux Klan and legal battles.
His website repeated info from the death notice:
“He is survived by Mary Arnold, six children – Carolyn, Dorraine, John, Lynn, Rebecca, Laurie along with nine grandchildren and one great- grandchild. Tom served in the U.S. Army as a PFC-E1 from 1956 to 1959 and then moved to Southern California to work in the electronics industry. Tom lived in Fallbrook, California for over 40 years working as the local TV repairman until he retired and moved to his hometown in Indiana before returning to California. The family will be having a private gathering.”
On Thursday, Riverside County confirmed his death and said the cause was Parkinson’s disease.
Nick Martin, editor of The Informant, which covers hate and extremism in America, tweeted: “If David Duke is America’s best-known white supremacist in the past 40 or so years, then Tom Metzger was arguably No. 2. His influence on organized racism in the US was large, and he even had sway with a number of young neo-Nazis in recent years.”
In 1990, an Oregon jury ordered Metzger to pay $5 million in punitive damages after skinheads he incited pleaded guilty in 1989 to criminal charges in the racially motivated killing of Mulugeta Seraw, a 27-year-old Ethiopian.
Metzger’s son, John, was told to pay $1 million — part of a $12.5 million judgment. The 30th anniversary of the Portland verdict was one week before Metzger died.
“The jury also awarded $3 million in punitive damages against the white supremacist group (WAR) and $2.5 million in compensatory damages under a rule that authorizes a plaintiff to collect the money from any defendant who can pay it,” said The New York Times.
Jim “Mac” McElroy, a San Diego lawyer, helped the Southern Poverty Law Center team in Portland pro bono during the trial and later joined their board, becoming board chair for several years.
“My primary job was to collect the verdict since I’m a San Diego civil rights lawyer and Metzger lived in Fallbrook,” he said via email. “Obviously Metzger and WAR and John did not have $12.5 million, but I got everything I could.”First, McElroy sold his house in Fallbrook, which he owned outright.
“I sold it to a nice Latinx family, which I thought was poetic justice. It was a huge fight, of course. Metzger tried to transfer it to his wife and I had to get that thrown out. He also tried to declare bankruptcy.”
Metzger had homestead exemption, McElroy said, so he got some money from the sale but not as much as he wanted (that went up on appeal).
“Then I attached his P.O. box, which was a rather novel strategy,” he said. “A court ordered him to turn over the keys to a receiver and we got half of every dollar sent to him by his supporters.”
When his final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was exhausted, he said, he safely started distributing the money to Seraw’s family in Ethiopia.
“So I flew there and met his son [Henock], who was living in difficult circumstances (his mom made $20 a month working six days a week for the local bus company) and I got him into a private boarding school so he would be well fed and get a good education, with his mom’s approval of course,” McElroy said. “I had collected maybe $100,000 at this time and continued to collect for 20 years after the verdict.”
Perhaps $200,000 went to the family, he said.
“What Metzger didn’t know was that I was so smitten with Mulugeta’s young son that I brought him to San Diego for a summer vacation and then at the end of the summer, with his mother’s permission, put him in school here,” he said. “I was getting a lot of death threats at the time as a result of my collection efforts, so we kept it under wraps.”
Henock learned to surf and snowboard and graduated from Torrey Pines High School and then UC Santa Barbara.
“In essence, he ended up pursuing the dream of his murdered father — to get a good education in the United States,” he said. “Just before he turned 16, his mom very graciously allowed me to adopt him so he could continue to go to school here and pursue his dream to become a pilot.”
Henock is now a captain for a major airline flying 777/778s all over the world, he added.
“His mom and I are dear friends. She just sent me a FB message of congrats from Addis Ababa when Trump lost because she knew my feelings about that!” McElroy said.
Metzger in 1980 won a three-man Democratic Party primary for Congress in San Diego’s 43rd District, leading the party to disavow his candidacy and endorse his opponent, Republican Clair Burgener. Metzger lost by 87% to 13% in the heavily Republican district.
Donald Harrison was press secretary for Burgener’s campaign.
He said Burgener was so popular that no well-known Democrat bothered to run in the Democratic primary.
“At the last minute, Metzger, who then was known as a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, threw his hat into the ring, and won the Democratic party nomination, much to the party’s embarrassment,” said Harrison, now editor and co-publisher of San Diego Jewish World.
He said he developed a “Hatfield and McCoy” media strategy in that 1980 race, “whereby we would get Republicans and Democrats who were known to be political rivals, or whose philosophies were diametrically opposed, to hold joint news conferences in Burgener’s behalf.”
They told the media that they may not agree on many issues, but on “this we certainly agree: San Diego must not send a Ku Klux Klansman to Congress. Tom Metzger’s politics are too extreme and beyond the pale.”
Harrison said Metzger tried to play down his right-wing extremism, pretending that he had moderated his views.
“We showed a documentary in which Metzger appeared mouthing hateful, racist slogans,” he said via email. “Metzger showed up, wearing a mask as if the screening were a Halloween party. But his effort to make a big joke of it backfired, because when the news media saw him talking hatefully on film, they demanded afterwards to know whether he still believed those racist views or whether he would renounce them.”Metzger was unwilling to outright repudiate the views he expressed in the documentary, helping doom his candidacy.
“Burgener probably would have won the election anyway, but the point of the campaign was to put San Diego solidly on record against racism and anti-Semitism.”
Ourcampaigns.com also noted his June 1982 run for the U.S. Senate out of California and his November 2010 race for a seat in Congress from Indiana. In that 2010 race, he received 10 votes as an Independent, losing to Republican Marlin A. Stutzman.
“Tom Metzger was personally responsible for spreading more hatred and misery than many people will likely ever realize,” said San Diego-based journalist Brooke Binkowski, who calls out racism via her truthorfiction.com fact-checking site and Twitter feed.
“Having spent much of my youth in a town that was absolutely rotten with white supremacists who worshiped Metzger and White Aryan Resistance — La Mesa, California — I can tell you that his influence was wide and long lived. Now that he’s dead, I hope we can uproot his legacy, burn it to the ground, and salt the earth.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled Metzger’s ideology as neo-Nazi.
The center, an Alabama-based nonprofit that monitors hate groups, summarized his criminal history:
“Metzger was jailed in 1991 for 45 days of a six-month sentence (he was released early to attend to his dying wife) in Los Angeles County for unlawful assembly after attending a cross burning in 1982. He and his son, John, were jailed for five days in Toronto, Ontario, in 1992 for violating Canada’s immigration laws by entering the country ‘to promote race hatred.’ In 2009, Metzger’s home was searched in connection with the arrest of two brothers accused of carrying out a mail bomb attack that injured an Arizona diversity director.”
Simon Purdue, a Ph.D. candidate at Boston’s Northeastern University, also is a doctoral fellow with the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, based at the University of Oslo.
In a tweet Tuesday, Purdue said he’s spent the past three months reviewing Metzger’s newsletters and watching his TV appearances.
“All I can say is that 82 years was 82 too many,” he said. “He will not be missed.”
https://t.co/OuNjVfYwUw For the last three months I’ve spent almost every day going through Metzger’s newsletters, watching his various TV appearances and reading news articles about him, and all I can say is that 82 years was 82 too many. He will not be missed.
— Simon A. Purdue (@simonp_92) November 10, 2020
Purdue told Times of San Diego via email that Metzger was an “incredibly toxic individual” and an avowed national socialist.
“His anti-Semitism and racism were truly appalling,” he said. “Furthermore, his rhetoric directly inspired violence, including the death of Ethiopian immigrant Mulagetta Seraw in Portland in 1990.”
Tom Metzger and his son John sought to try to make Nazism relevant through use of TV media, publishing and street-organizing, and their groups (White Aryan Resistance and Aryan Youth Movement, respectively), he said, which “acted as a pretty terrifying union between skinhead street activism and the old guard of ideological Nazism.”
“The fact that Metzger was so politically relevant in Southern California during the 1980s and 1990s was pretty scary in itself, and I think it represented the first wave of the suburban backlash that ultimately ended in Trump’s election in 2016,” Purdue said. “He sadly [had] a disproportionately big impact on Southern Californian politics for a Nazi, so ultimately I think it’s good that he’s no longer around.”
Tammy Gillies, San Diego-based regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, told Times of San Diego: “A dark chapter of hate closes with the passing of Tom Metzger — a notorious figure who helped to poison the hearts and minds of others with his xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry. We can now relegate him to the dustbin of history and take a collective breath.”
Don Bauder, who tracked white-collar criminals for the U-T and the San Diego Reader, recalled writing a short piece in September 2013 for the Reader about a neo-Nazi group attempting to establish an all-White beachhead in tiny Leith, North Dakota.
The only tragedy here is that Tom Metzger didn't face more justice while he was alive. The feds investigated his ties to multiple bombings nationwide but were never able to bring a criminal case against him.
— Nick Martin (@nickmartin) November 10, 2020
“Leith was fighting the neo-Nazis,” Bauder said Tuesday. “The commander of the group proclaimed that the group intended to ‘plant the seeds of National Socialism in North Dakota.’ My Reader piece noted that some real estate in the town purchased by the white supremacist group had already been transferred to Metzger, then 75, and living in Indiana.”
Bauder says Metzger vehemently complained to the Reader, claiming the weekly had said he had gone bankrupt.
“We replied that we had not said he had gone bankrupt, but that his group, White Aryan Resistance, had gone bankrupt,” Bauder said. “He replied with a nasty piece blasting us, but because of inaccuracies in it, we took it down. Then he wrote back: ‘Real cute blocking my second response. I jus loves dat freedom of de press.’”
McElroy, the attorney who collected the Portland judgment, said Metzger died with nine grandchildren, “and by the time we got done with him he was broke and toothless and disgraced in the eyes of many of his racist colleagues.”
He didn’t feel the need to bash him in death.
“But I will say this. He was, for a time, one of the most dangerous racist leaders in this country,” McElroy said. “We prosecuted him using a somewhat novel legal theory along with some great facts and evidence that we were lucky to find — he was not guilty of the crime of murder because he did not swing the bat, but he was responsible civilly for the wrongful death of Mulugeta Seraw.”
As a result, he said, “we put him out of business and sent a strong message to other racist leaders that the same could happen to them if they encouraged their minions to engage in violence.”
Updated at 11:51 a.m. Nov. 12, 2020.
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