Even in the curious, aging Yippie subculture that still inhabits the East Village, the current dust-up between legendary WBAI radio host Bob Fass and counterculture dude turned self-described anti-Nazi A.J. Weberman is bizarre.
Fass irked Weberman recently by allowing the defrocked activist lawyer Lynne Stewart on his show, after his original guest, the notorious drug kingpin Larry Davis, couldn’t make it because he’d been murdered in prison.
Weberman and Mordechai Levy, key members of a group called the Jewish Defense Organization, then embarked on a campaign of needling Fass for allowing Stewart—whom they call a supporter of terrorism—on his show.
Toss in the mystery over who broke the store window at the Yippie Café, where Weberman works, and stole a television set, which played slide shows from back in the day, and the Yippie underground is beside itself.
Some folks around the Village say the dispute might go all the way back to the 1972 Republican Convention in Miami.
“This thing has a history,” says Fass. “It’s a stupid, petty thing, but it’s really burning my ass.”
“It’s all a joke,” Weberman says. “I don’t know what Fass is so upset about. I like to call it ‘monkey warfare.’ “
The dispute is so twisted that even Aaron “the Pieman” Kay, the guy who used to lob pies at politicians, won’t talk about it. “I want no part of the feud,” he declares. “The only war I want to fight is the war against those who are anti-marijuana and anti-human-rights.”
David Peel, a Yippie folk singer who once wrote a song called “Fuck Big Brother,” says: “These people are getting older, and hunkering back and forth for power . . . It’s like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. They come together and feast on the madness.”
In the meantime, the Yippies are enjoying something of a resurgence. An animated (!) documentary about the Chicago 10 is playing in local theaters, and Steven Spielberg is slated to make his own film about the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention.
Meanwhile, pot activist and Ibogaine promoter Dana Beal and the folks at the Yippie Café are inching closer to opening a museum about the era, complete with lots of stuff about Abbie Hoffman and a Lenny Bruce Comedy Club.
Beal seemed irritated that the Voice was writing a story on the Fass-Weberman feud. He wanted to talk instead about medical marijuana and Ibogaine. “I’m a little mystified about how this is a story,” he says. “We’re engaging in navel-gazing, in picking lint from our belly buttons, instead of doing news stories.”
That view aside, let’s take a look at the players. First, there’s the 75-year-old Fass, who is known for his vast and priceless archive of interviews with counterculture heroes, which is said to include the largest stash of Abbie Hoffman interviews around.
“Fass is one of the most underrated cultural heroes of our time,” says longtime anti-war activist Mayer Vishner. “It’s one of those things where, when he dies, everybody will remember what a great guy he was.”
Weberman, who says he’s “about 64,” became known for hunting through Bob Dylan’s garbage and analyzing the rock singer’s lyrics in a relentless search for secret messages. Weberman can also boast that he’s been sued by Dylan, E. Howard Hunt, Paul Simon, and Bozo the Clown.
Levy runs the JDO, a group that attacks anyone it perceives as aiding terror or criticizing Israel. One of the JDO’s favorite targets is another activist lawyer, Stanley Cohen, who says the group once named him the world’s foremost “self-hating Jew.” Cohen has represented Hamas and Hezbollah members. He says the JDO published his home and work addresses and peppered him with crank calls.
“I don’t give a shit, frankly,” Cohen says. “I think basically they are an organization without a membership. It’s a handful of psychotics. The world has passed them by.”
The current dispute begins with Stewart, the lawyer now free on bail after being convicted of aiding terror as the counsel for the imprisoned terrorist, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman.
After Davis was killed, Fass opted to invite Stewart, who is despised by the JDO. During her trial, the JDO handed out flyers that accused her of being a terrorist. Someone left a voice message on her office phone assuring her that they were “watching the trial, and would make sure the right thing was done,” says Stewart assistant Pat Levasseur.
“Back in the day, you thought everyone who smoked pot was a progressive, but we’ve learned that’s not really true,” she adds.
Weberman obtained Fass’s e-mail list and began shooting harassing messages to the radio host and his friends, including an e-mail that said Fass—who is Jewish—planned to sit shiva for Davis, the notorious drug lord.
“I gave the address and phone number and said light refreshments would be served,” Weberman admits. “I actually got responses from people who thought it was a wonderful idea.”
Levy repeatedly called Fass’s show, which airs on Thursday nights after midnight.
Fass believes the dispute really began years ago when he refused to allow Weberman on his radio show to discuss his over-the-top theories about those secret messages in Dylan’s songs.
Naturally, Fass views the attacks as “harassment.” He points out that Weberman even accosted his wife in the street.
“He told her she was crazy, told her he was going to fuck me up,” Fass says. “It’s all pathology. I would get calls where people would give precisely the same rant, as though they were reading from a script.”
Despite the heated rhetoric, Fass refuses to call the police. “I do not like to ask for the help of the police, especially on speech crimes,” Fass says. “I’ve never seen a situation that’s been improved by the presence of the police.”
Weberman admits that he approached Fass’s wife on the street one day. “I said some nasty things to her, but it was a coincidence that we ran into each other,” he says. “On that, I must admit I was wrong.”
He also acknowledges calling Fass at home and declaring that he was a “pimp.”
Weberman also admits, over the years, to leaving manure on Fass’s property, stenciling “Zippy” on his van, and warning him to get insurance for his storefront.
Weberman claims that he wants peace. “I would like all of this to come to an end,” he says. “I’ve been fighting Fass for so long, it’s not really worth it.”
The dispute even sucked in counterculture hall-of-famer Paul Krassner, who lives all the way out in California. Krassner, whose books include One Hand Jerking and Pot Stories for the Soul, was particularly incensed at Weberman accosting Fass’s wife. “It’s just vicious, gratuitous hassling,” he says.
John Penley, an East Village activist, says the longstanding animosity sucks energy away from the movement.
“My hope is, the story will cause them to take a look at this craziness and drop it and get together,” Penley says. “All of these crazy internal feuds distract them from the real work. And everyone is getting old.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 1, 2008