Most people would be offended if you called them a white nationalist or a leading racist, but Paul Gottfried doesn't mind. Really.

"I couldn't care less," he says.

At 71, Gottfried, white-bearded and thin of hair, is a retired humanities professor from Pennsylvania's Elizabethtown College and an occasional columnist for a slew of rightwing outlets like The American Conservative. He's also the founder of the H.L. Mencken Club, a group that calls itself "an organization for independent-minded intellectuals and academics of the Right."

The Southern Poverty Law Center callsit something else entirely. On the group's annual "Hate Map," the Mencken Club is depicted as a white nationalist organization based in Brooklyn, one of 38 hate groups active in New York state.

"They are essentially advocating for a country which is either completely inhabited by whites or dominated by whites," says Mark Potok, a senior researcher at the SPLC. "They are, in effect, a kinder, gentler Klan."

In truth, there might be better adjectives to describe the Mencken Club: Archaic. Dusty. Overwhelmingly geriatric.

The club's activities seem to begin and end with precisely one thing: holding an annual conference, where mostly aging male guests talk about the Crucial Issues as they see them. Are too many black and brown people coming to America? Is the GOP slipping too far to the left? And will "noisy feminists" (Gottfried's term) ever be shut up? Photos from 2009 show beaming attendees posing with the guest of honor, the partially fossilized Pat Buchanan.

The tone is less frothing Klansmen than palpable yearning for a time when the social order was intact and white men stood in their proper, God-given place atop the pyramid. The 1830s, say.

Also, somewhat crucially for New York: The club isn't actually based in Brooklyn. It appears its only tie to the borough is James Kalb, a retired attorney and former club treasurer, who used his office address to register the Menckens as a nonprofit.

The club meets yearly at airport hotels near Baltimore. It takes its name from journalist and gadfly H.L. Mencken, who was colossally famous in his day as "the sage of Baltimore," a satirist and wit known as a noncomformist and casual racist.

In 1930, Mencken called Jewish people "the most unpleasant race ever heard of" (though his views on Judaism seemed to evolve with time). He wrote of the "negro" as a "low-caste man" who will "remain inert and inefficient until fifty generations of him have lived in civilization. And even then, the superior white race will be fifty generations ahead of him."

The club that celebrates Mencken still sings this tune today, however politely. "We try to bring up issues that sort of push the envelope," says E. Christian Kopff, an associate professor of classics at the University of Colorado.

The group has a "strong commitment to preserving the traditions of the West," he says. "Every time you say something good about the West or Europe or America's European heritage, someone calls it racist. No one's saying China or India doesn't have a great culture, but we have ours and it's worth preserving."

Yet the notion that American culture is mostly "European" is the sort of thing that frequently gets the club into hot water. Board member Richard B. Spencer, founder of AlternativeRight.com, has been known to wax on about things like the need to strengthen the right wing's "historical Anglo-American majority" as the "indigenous ruling class of this country."

But just how racist does a conference have to be to qualify as a "hate group"? That question has had the Menckens and the SPLC bickering for years.

"I've been attacking them for the better part of 20 years," Gottfried explains. "Their political correctness makes impossible any exercise of academic or intellectual freedom."

Yet Potok says Gottfried is merely trying to mask the club's truer stripes. "I think these people richly deserve the description we've given them," he says. "I'm a little surprised to hear them disputing the notion that they're white nationalists."

Other watchdogs don't quite agree. "We don't call them a hate group," says Marilyn Mayo, co-director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism. "But I would definitely say it attracts a number of white supremacists to their conferences."

Still, the gatherings often seem not much different than the nightly railing on Fox News, with its hand-wringing over immigration, the welfare state, feminists, and the creeping scourge of political correctness. What's interesting is how closely the club resembles the rest of the GOP.

In his columns for Lancaster Online, a small Pennsylvania news site, Gottfried likes to castigate the "mainstream media" for "celebrating gayness and calling for the public humiliation of those who disagree." Facsimiles of these lines can be heard in stump speeches of half the Republican members of Congress.

And though Mencken attendees hate being lumped in with the rest of the GOP, they really, really dislike being labeled "extremists." "It seems they paint with a very broad brush," says Kalb about the SPLC.

Yet Potok argues that even aging, somewhat addled racists can present a danger. "We're no longer going to be a country dominated by Protestant white people. At this point it's too late. One of my own worries is that people like this will be driven to the very extreme when they realize once and for all that there's no way they can win."

But, he adds quickly, "I'm not saying Paul Gottfried's going to go out and start murdering cops. I think that's very unlikely."

"They're not out there promoting a violent agenda," says Mayo. "But it's still a concern, because of the fact that they are racists and they are people who have some kind of legitimacy in the world based on their position" as academics.

The fact that Gottfried is Jewish, she says, doesn't make the group less racist. "This group in particular tends not to be anti-Semitic. But they're still very problematic."

Whatever the case, Potok says the whole argument may soon be moot. After all, the notion of an "Anglo-American ruling class" returning to its former might is absurd—ask any demographer.

"At the end of the day," he says, "they're losing."

amerlan@villagevoice.com

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
15 comments
choro73851
choro73851

The Mencken Club stands for the idea that nations, our own included, have distinct identities, and that once lost, might never be regained.  There is no reason why America should be some sort of monster magnet to attract a worldwide diaspora, even for ethno-religious groups (Muslims, for example) that do not have our best interests at heart.  The Voice sees voicing such concerns as a "problem."  I don't.    

cmoon
cmoon

I.m not American or , indeed, an intellectual; but as an ordinary Brit it seems to me that the article is clearly a hate mantra against elderly White men.....so that's ok then?

kraut
kraut

This "Club" and its views represent the kind of "Ku Kluxery" that H. L. savaged during his entire journalistic career.  In my opinion, the fact that they hijacked his name for their "Club" is an insult to H. L.'s memory.  Mencken was an iconoclast of the first order.  He was the neighborhood "smart ass" who poked fun at anything that represented the kind of "tin pot" values held by the vast majority of Americans.  He was an autodidact  who had very little regard for college professors and other "intellectual" vermin.  He admired men and women of ability whether they were authors, printers or bricklayers.  He was once accused of not supporting anything.  His reply was the he was vastly in favor of common sense, common decency and common courtesy and that this made him forever ineligible for public office in the US.  I have a feeling that this would also make him ineligible for membership in this "Club".

As to the author's characterization of Mencken as a "casual racist", the jury is still out on this matter.  The cited quotes are accurate.  However, Mencken's views and actions regarding Jews and African-Americans were complex and contradictory.  For example, he promoted African-American writers when he was editor of The Smart Set and The American Mercury.  He entertained African-Americans in his home in Baltimore at a time when Jim Crow was alive and well in the US and parts of Maryland.  He provided encouragement to many of the African-American writers who were part of the Harlem Renaissance.  As to Jews, most of his closest friends and associates were Jewish including Alfred Knopf, his publisher, and George Jean Nathan, his co-editor on the Smart Set and The American Mercury. Many of his friends in Baltimore were Jewish.   In the 1930's when the NAZI's were persecuting the Jews, he suggested that the US open its doors as widely as possible to allow them to emigrate.  Unfortunately, the anti-semites in the US and Congress did not share his views.  Hardly the actions of a "casual racist".  Nonetheless, quotes like those cited in this article do paint a negative picture which the casual observer could characterize as racist.

scipio_zama
scipio_zama

"The tone is less frothing Klansmen than palpable yearning for a time when the social order was intact and white men stood in their proper, God-given place atop the pyramid. The 1830s, say."

Yea, and.. In a country founded by whites, shouldn't the creators and also the majority be at the top of the power structure? Your argument is equal to saying that the japanese should allow non-japanese, or  israelis should allow non- jewish ,non-israelis into their power structure and if they don't they are racist bigot nazis. How about samsung starts to willingly disenfranchise themselves and destroying their identity by allowing apple executives within their power structure? How about the muslim power structure starts allowing catholics?

Your argument, like all anti-white arguments, cannot hold any air except for between your and anti-whites ears.

racial demographics from 1790-1990

http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0056/tab01.pdf



dude17
dude17

Very weak article, intern I suppose? Thank you regardless, for making me aware of what likes like a very thoughtful organization with a lot of fascinating spoken material to digest.

David
David

Stage One: deny multiculturalism will lead to genocide/racial cleansing. Stage Two: celebrate the success of genocide/racial cleansing achieved by adoption of multiculturalism.

j.press456
j.press456

In YOUR OPINION that's "racist".

You're just saying that because they are White.

Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-White.

cybergrace
cybergrace

Thanks for educating us, rkeefe57, about the irony (hypocrisy?) of quoting the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as an expert on racism. Besides their organizational inability to take leadership from Black people they also infuriatingly classify separatist Black organizations as hate groups! That's right, the SPLC categorizes Black people who have logically concluded that Amerikkka is never going to deal seriously with police brutality, the prison injustice system, poverty, public health and therefore want to organize Black institutions as racists!

Black people and all oppressed minorities have the right to self-determination, including separation. The SPLC should stop trying to tell Black people what to do and listen and take leadership from grassroots Black organizations. 

beerframeguy
beerframeguy

Let me get this straight: (1) The writer of the story makes it pretty clear that she doesn't think these guys are a dangerous threat, or even take them very seriously. (2) Several sources quoted in the story clearly don't take them very seriously either. (3) They're not actually based in Brooklyn.

So why did the Voice publish this story? There's no there there.

dfmfacebook
dfmfacebook

There is no "Elizabethtown University" in Pennsylvania. There is an Elizabethtown College, though.

rkeefe57
rkeefe57

"They are essentially advocating for a country which is either completely inhabited by whites or dominated by whites," says Mark Potok, a senior researcher at the SPLC. "

 Speaking of being completely inhabited by whites, ironically, NOT ONE of the SPLC's top executives is a minority. 

 In fact, despite being located LITERALLY in the back yard of Dr. King's own Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery,  the SPLC has NEVER hired a person of color to a highly paid position of authority in its entire 42 year history.

http://wp.me/pCLYZ-i3

Even the SPLC's laughably named "Teaching Tolerance" program, which purports to promote diversity in the K-12 classroom, has been led by "whites only" for 21 of its 22 years. The only African American to helm TT was a mid-level manager who was allowed to serve in an interim capacity for a few months until her white successor could be hired.

If these are your "experts" on white supremacy they sure have enough hands-on experience.

scipio_zama
scipio_zama

@David stage three-Avoid the chaos as long as possible then flee the scene, and find a new country and repeat stage one.

scipio_zama
scipio_zama

@rkeefe57

"Speaking of being completely inhabited by whites, ironically, NOT ONE of the SPLC's top executives is a minority. "

youre not supposed to notice that....

scipio_zama
scipio_zama

 @Anna_Merlan_Voice come on anna, get your shit straight . Using splc as a source=loss of credibility,so does including non existent universities. Whats next, an article on the mating habits of unicorns?

 
Loading...