The Nazi on the Bestseller List
German media giant Bertelsmann, still feverishly trying to make people forget that it once marketed Hitler to the masses, is now selling a Vermont professor's regurgitation of the ideas of America's foremost living Hitler admirer, William Pierce, author of the Turner Diaries.
Unable to find a publisher for his 420-page labor of love, University of Vermont education professor Robert S. Griffin is peddling The Fame of a Dead Man's Deeds: An Up-Close Portrait of White Nationalist William Pierce for $8 per download on MightyWords.com, where it has the immediate potential to reach millions of people.
The Web site is owned jointly, through a subsidiary, by Bertelsmann and Barnes & Noble. And Griffin's e-book has zoomed to No. 1 on the MightyWords bestseller list.
Griffin, in an interview with the Voice, insists he's no mere publicist for Pierce, an ex-physicist whom Jewish activists consider America's most intellectualand most dangerousanti-Semite and racist.
Scholars of hate will find the book fascinating and revealing for its unvarnished, detailed rendering of Pierce's explanation of his life and views. Griffin spent weeks in conversation with Pierce at his remote National Alliance bunker in the West Virginia mountains and even traveled with him to Germany, where Pierce spoke to white-supremacist groups.
"I am simply a conduit," says Griffin. "If you want to see what he says, where he comes from, here it is. Do I agree with him? No."
It's the first extensive portrayal of Pierce that claims to present him without the labels of "racist" and "anti-Semite." Griffin describes his approach as "cultural anthropology."
It's easy to see why mainstream publishers would shy away from the book. Griffin presents Pierce as a smart guy who, through extensive reading, developed the idea that Jews are the planet's natural villains and people of color are inherently stupid. But it's just as easy to argue that Pierce was a guy who, long before he started reading, hated Jews and blacks and then used his quick mind to marshal the heavily biased material that supported his deeply ingrained prejudices and fears. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Pierce claims he grew up in a Southern household in the 1930s and '40s in which a relative kept a black servant who was virtually a slave.
According to Griffin's book, Pierce readily admits that even before he turned away from a physics professorship and toward full-time racism, he assumed Jews were Communists and loathed as inherently unlovable the "dusky" offspring of an interracial couple who he says were his friends. No wonder he latched onto Mein Kampf, which he read and reread. And then he started to absorb other racist tracts and such books as Bolshevism From Moses to Lenin.
So which came first? Pierce's prejudices or his elaborate rationalizations for his prejudices? "I realize that I have a turn of mind that leads me to exaggerate and oversimplify things for the sake of better understanding, and I know there are dangers in that," Pierce tells Griffin. "But I think that tendency in me helps me get to the essence of things."
Griffin listens to Pierce give rave reviews for such obscure authors as Savitri Devi, who revered Hitler as another Vishnu. Then, Griffin gives the reader exhaustive background on the authors who inspired Pierce. In a kernel Griffin dug up from the 1958 book The Lightning and the Sun, Devi argued that Hitler was "inspired by the inner vision of a healthy, beautiful, and peaceful world, a real earthly paradise reflecting cosmic perfection."
The professor leaves readers to draw their own conclusions from such passages and from Pierce's self-appraisal that Hitler "understood things pretty much the same way I did."
Judging from customer "reviews" on MightyWords, others connect the dots the same way. Readers laud Griffin for allowing Pierce to tell the "truth" to the American people.
That's why Griffin's readable book is fine for people who are familiar with hatemongers' elaborate rationalizations but may be a problem for the masses, says Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Weisenthal Center.
Cooper, who's based in Los Angeles, says he skimmed what he thinks was an early version of Griffin's book. "It certainly offered some insight into the mind of Dr. Pierce," he says of Griffin's book. "But it was missing a greater sense of perspective. For someone just walking into this cold, there's something missing. There's a lack of critical analysis."
Cooper led a highly publicized campaign in 1999 to block Bertelsmann, Amazon.com, and other publishers from hawking Hitler's Mein Kampf in Germany, where it's illegal to do so. The same year, The Nation and other papers revealed that Bertelsmann was vastly understating its role as the main propaganda house during the Third Reich. But Bertelsmann has mounted a major public-relations campaign to try to overcome its past. Cooper notes that he has participated in a European seminar with Bertelsmann on the issue of hate speech conveyed through Internet publishing.
Bertelsmann needed to spruce up its image because it has taken over Random House, the biggest U.S. publisher. In cahoots with Barnes & Noble, Bertelsmann is trying to capture the nascent electronic publishing market as well. And the p.r. campaign has mollified its critics so well that the company's foundation was honored last year by the Anti-Defamation League.
For Pierce's purposes, of course, the banning of Mein Kampf in Germany simply reinforces his theory that Jews control the media. He wasn't well known until after the April 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Soon afterward, it was revealed that bomber Tim McVeigh was one of Pierce's most ardent followers. McVeigh had hawked Pierce's apocalyptic novel, the Turner Diaries, replete with a white revolt against evil Jews and their "Negro" lackeys, a story some say provided the model for the attack.
Pierce, on his recent radio broadcasts and in Web musings, has praised Griffin's book, sneering at the print-publishing houses that rejected it as supposedly dominated by Jews. Griffin himself, having suffered through a series of rejection slips from publishers, carries somewhat of a grudge against Pierce's criticsnot to mention a point of view that is sympathetic at least to Pierce's intellect.
"I'm not defending him," Griffin says. "But I think it's possible to have two points of view on, for instance, interracial marriage. Someone who's not comfortable with it? I think they have a right to be heard. You don't need to read my book to call Pierce a white supremacist. But it becomes qualified, becomes layered. It's not that easy. I think a reasonable person could come out with a negative view of Pierce."
Griffin insists his book is not a biography, but a "relatively unfiltered look" at Pierce and his ideas. Sounding a little freaked out and defensive when a reporter tracked him down to question him about the book, Griffin argues readers shouldn't make up their mind about his "portrait" of the 67-year-old Pierce until they've made "a careful reading" of every word of the tome.
He has a point. Griffin does sprinkle in some perspective on Pierce, but in the process, Pierce's racial theories and love of hate get a lengthy hearing. The notion of filters and the question of censorship will be hotly debated if the book starts spreading among the general populace.
And it could spread just as easily as it was published.
To sell it on the Web, Griffin says, all he had to do was upload it to MightyWords.com, where it was beamed around the world, unedited but nicely packaged and heavily promoted on a high-class site. "I didn't even deal with a human being," marveled Griffin, who set his own price and gets half of the sales for each copy downloaded.
That lack of process worries people like Cooper. "As Americans," says Rabbi Cooper, "we're brought up not to be afraid of ideas. But in this case, it's not the thoughts that concern us, it's the promotion, the packaging."
At regular publishing houses, he points out, "someone's involved in the processlike editors."
And even though most words on the Web on any subject are unreadable rubbish, Pierce's words have a track record of influencing people. Asked whether Jewish lobbyists will take action against the bestselling book, Cooper demurs. "The fact that it's on a vanity press speaks volumes," he says. "I'm sure Pierce is number one because he told his friends to buy it. Let's take a look and see where it is in four weeks."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.