Now It Can Be Told: Why I Pretended to Be a Neo-NaziHistorians/History
Editor's Note 1/16/06:A year ago, in a controversial decision, Fairleigh Dickinson University fired historian Jacques Pluss after it was revealed that he was a member of the National Socialist Movement. (The school insisted he was fired for missing classes.) The decision drew national headlines. A Neo-Nazi on the faculty of a bona fide university? News accounts indicated that Pluss, an adjunct for several years at the school, was a popular teacher. Students said he didn't bring his politics into the classroom. It didn't seem to add up. It didn't for a reason, says Mr. Pluss.
Throughout the course of my academic career, I came to hold in deep respect the scholarship of the French Deconstructionists, particularly Jacques Derrida and Michele Foucault (especially Foucault’s Archeology of Knowledge and his History of Madness). At the same time, my work – in teaching and in academic writing – has been heavily influenced by the notion of Geistesgeschichte, as articulated by one of the premier medievalists, Ernst Kantorowicz. All of those scholars stress, each in their own way, the need for the historian to “become” her or his subject in order to develop a relationship with it.
I have also been a life-long non-academic author, primarily of poetry. In that capacity, I developed a feel – yes, “feel” is about the only way I can put it – for the poets of the Romantic Era, particularly the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Byron, and the prose of Mary Shelley. Through reading them, in my own dolce styl nuovo, it slowly yet surely dawned upon me that any attempt to understand a group, a movement, or an individual psyche, would have to include becoming, as much as an individual can, the subject under study. These notions are fully articulated in my first novel, Jumping Fences. An Artfully Crafted Madness ( Ridgewood, NJ and Aarau, Switzerland: Aargau Books LLC, 2005). Jumping Fences is a disguised episodical autobiography focusing on my emotional, romantic and intellectual struggles from my teen years to 2003.
To move to the central point of this piece, why and how did I become a neo-Nazi (in fact, a rather prominent one) in February, 2005? In truth, I have never been a person of passionate political persuasion. Yet tyranny from either the right or the left has forever seemed anathema to me. And, after producing a novel centered upon highly personal, passionate and emotion material, I decided to shift gears and enter the political realm, for the purpose of gathering research to write a book on a political subject in which I could personally partake and which was “fringe” in the most essential aspect of the word. Those literary ruminations brought me to the National Socialist Movement, the most flashy neo-Nazi group I could find. Flashy, to be sure. Completely skewed in political and social outlook, no doubt. So, I downloaded an application form on February 14, 2005, and, after sending a $25.00 check and waiting about a week, my application was heartily accepted.
Accept me? Well, of all things, why not? I was hardly surprised. After all, not many academics holding doctorates applied. In fact, not many individuals with an education over the high school level applied. With me, the NSM performed a true set of kudos. They put me on their broadband radio station immediately. My weekly show, “White Viewpoint,” spewed venom against Jews, Blacks and Hispanics. All I needed to do was to keep harping on the same pedantic nonsense about Jewish world conspiracy, the “Browning” of America,” and the failure of our present leaders in Washington to stem the tide of illegal immigration from south of our national borders. If I could give the party line in an articulate manner, back up my reasoning with reference to actual current events, and quote from historical, examples, all the better!
What of my dismissal from the Metropolitan Campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University? In fact, the whole “dismissal” was very easily engineered. No, a member of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith did not stumble across my radio broadcasts. No, I surely did not spout Nazi propaganda in the classroom. No, I did not show up on campus in a brown-shirted Storm Trooper uniform. All I had to do was write a letter.
I think my audience will find the exact circumstances of my “outing” myself quite amusing. And, frankly, the whole departure from Fairleigh-Dickinson was an inevitability. You see, in late January, 2005, my school secretary informed me, on the sly, that no history adjuncts would be reappointed in September, 2005. Her reasoning was “financial cut backs.” Since, on top of my impending departure, I’d already held a tenured post (Associate Professor of History, William Paterson University of New Jersey, 1984-2000 [tenured 1988]) which I’d left in order to write and work with horses, I considered that the time was right to use myself as a human literary experiment. The letter itself, noting that I was a dangerous member of an international neo-Nazi group and also probably a member of the Irish Republican Army (nonsense, of course), was posted by me and mailed simply to “Editor, University Newspaper, Fairleigh-Dickinson University, 1000 River Road, Teaneck, NJ, USA.” What gave the whole affair a true “punch” was that the letter was posted from the Republic of Ireland (it was composed in Galway and posted in the village of Spital) while I was in that beautiful land on a Spring Break vacation with my grown daughter!
Apparently, the Monday morning following Spring Break (March 21, 2005), a completely panicked Faculty Cabinet met in secret session, my letter was read aloud by the President of the Cabinet, and it was decided that I be “removed from the classroom with pay” for the remainder of the term. I was notified of that action via a cell phone call from my School Director, Professor Faremarz Fatemi, at 5:30 pm that Monday, at my home. I was not told of any Faculty Cabinet Meeting. When asked why I was being “removed,” the Director’s only response was that “the decision had been made for the convenience of the University.” No reference was made to any political activities or organizations. I requested, and was not permitted, a hearing with the School Dean. Just ten days later, on March 31, 2005, a lengthy article appeared in the Equinox, citing excessive absences which never occurred. My political orientation as a neo-Nazi was surely described, but it was not cited as a reason for my removal. A number of statements made on my radio program, all anti-minority, were quoted, also. I discovered the true chronology of events through a student of mine who reported for the Equinox, had seen the letter, and had concurrently been informed of the actual situation through his therapist at the University Mental Health Clinic.
From there, a sensational Nazi-busting story was leaked (probably by student reporters) to the local press, the Internet, and so forth, and I was on my way to living the experiences I needed in order to gather live research for my forthcoming volume on the “wacky White Power Movement” in the United States, tentatively entitled “False Blizzard.” I resigned from the National Socialist Movement in early October, 2005.
The reaction of my (former) “colleagues” in the National Socialist Movement came in two phases. They corresponded to the two phases I employed in resigning from the group. First, at the end of the first week of October, 2005, I resigned from the National Socialist Movement via an email (which I didn’t have the stomach to keep) to the “Commander” of the NSM, Jeffrey Schoep of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I noted that if the NSM existed during the actual Third Reich Adolf Hitler would probably have purged most members. That comment raised the hair on their backs, I’m sure. But, publicity about my departure was kept under wraps. Clearly, the NSM did not want to make public the loss of one of their National Officers, who had been made a Lifetime Member in August 2005.
The second phase came about a week later, when I disclosed to a number of White Power message boards that I had, in fact, joined the group to research a new book. I told them I had “outed myself” without going into any detail. At that point, all Hell broke loose. I was vilified on the Internet via scurrilous attacks against my sanity, my military record – and its lack of availability to public scrutiny as per two Executive Orders (Executive Order 1975 and Executive Order 2000 in re: National Security) – and my academic credentials. I was threatened physically via early morning phone calls to my residence. Likewise, my fiancee was vilified and threatened. Frankly, I have little fear of any physical reprisals. Members of most White Power groups have neither the courage, the organizational skill, nor the desire to endanger themselves, to do anybody in my position any physical harm. Still. . . .
Finally, what were the reactions of my colleagues and my students? Well, the reactions of my colleagues were, essentially, monochromatic. It became clear to me very quickly after my “removal” from the classroom that I was completely unwelcome on campus. On three trips there after my outing myself, I received the complete silent treatment. I was simply treated as if I were not present. On one memorable occasion, a full-time colleague of mine from the History faculty actually moved to the other side of the hallway as I walked to the exit for the parking lot. I was completely persona non grata, and that was that.
In terms of my students, I saw none on my last trips to the campus. I do not believe this was in any way intentional, however. Two students phoned me at my home (yes, I was one of those types to give out my home number at exam time) with truly kind messages of support. One insisted she could not believe what was being said about the “dangerous neo-Nazi” professor. The other told me that “no matter what my politics were, it didn’t matter to him. I was still one of his best teachers.” Frankly, he made me tear. Then, there were the others – maybe between half a dozen and a dozen – who made negative statements about me for the student newspaper or an Internet source. They said things like “he seemed like an unbiased teacher, but as I look back at things. . . .” Those comments hurt. Yet, for the sake of the success of my book research, they had to be accepted with as much humor as I could muster.
Did I reveal the truth to any of my students? Did I attempt to take my shying colleagues into my confidence? No. Absolutely not. Revealing my research to others would have meant intellectualizing it to myself. I would have lifted my psyche from its necessary emotional context. As much as was possible, I had to assume the role. I had to become, as much as my very being allowed me, the subject of my study. In the final analysis, you see, no volume could make live Ernst Kantorowicz’s idea of Geistesgeschichte without fully partaking the “spirit of the era,” even if that meant forcing myself to wear a neo-Nazi facade until I came to understand, in the core of my poetic sense, the neo-Nazis as the fraudulent thugs my mere intellect told me they were.
In conclusion, if there is any lesson I hope to impart to the historical community, it is that we historians will never grasp history as a felt and sensed discipline without an attempt to live a historical era as the British Romantic Poets lived the joy, and the torment, motivating and rising from their verse.