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Fat Steve's Archives

| Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Perils of Pretending to be a Nazi

        Originally here.

Sham neo-Nazi finds himself between a Reich and a hard place

Thursday, January 19, 2006

        Jacques Pluss has accomplished the impossible.  He has managed to get himself hated by everyone.

        Nazis, socialists, lefties, righties, academics, nonacademics -- if they have any feeling about Pluss, those feelings are negative.

        I may be the only person in America who appreciates what he has done.  And what he has done is to single-handedly expose the myth of academic freedom in America.

        Pluss did this with an unprecedented -- some would say nutty -- piece of guerrilla theater that just came to light the other day.  At this time last year, Pluss was a quiet and otherwise unremarkable part- time history teacher at the Fairleigh Dickinson University campus in Teaneck.  Then in March, the student newspaper received a mysterious letter postmarked from a small village in Ireland.  The letter alleged that Pluss was a member of a neo-Nazi group in America and was also, among other things, an Irish Republican Army member who was being investigated concerning a recent drive-by killing in Belfast.

        The neo-Nazis and the IRA generally don't move in the same circles, so that should have tipped off the college kids that something about the letter was a bit fishy.  But then a bit of investigation turned up the curious fact that Pluss had been holding forth on an Internet radio station hosted by the National Socialist Movement.

        Before long, Pluss was summarily booted from his teaching post and told not to show up on campus again.  Fairleigh Dickinson officials said the firing had nothing to do with his politics.  The dismissal was, they said, the result of some absences that had, coincidentally enough, come to their attention at the same time they learned of his tendency to march around in a brown shirt wearing black boots.

        Having gotten that bit of legalese out of the way, they then went on to denounce Pluss for his political views.  "It's not politics; it's hate mongering," a dean by the name of John Snyder told the Bergen Record.  "It's just hatred directed at the very students he taught."

        When I phoned Pluss at the time, he protested the hypocrisy of the FDU faculty.  Murderous leftist movements of all types are welcome on campuses all over America, he told me, but their right-wing equivalents are repressed.  Back when he was a professor at William Paterson University some years ago, Pluss told me, a fellow professor had a huge hammer-and-sickle banner on her office wall.  Che Guevara's a big hit among college kids these days, and Chairman Mao's not far behind, he noted.

        I agreed with Pluss on that point.  But when he launched into a spiel about the subtle but overlooked charms of that Austrian politician formerly known as Adolf Schickelgruber, I began to think he was a few Stukas short of a squadron, if you know what I mean.

        It now turns out Pluss is not a Nazi; he's just a post-modernist.  The other day, Pluss posted an article on the History News Network Web site (http://hnn.us/) titled "Now It Can Be Told: Why I Pretended to Be a Neo-Nazi."  The episode, he writes, was inspired by the great French deconstructionists Jacques Derrida and Michele Foucault, who had insisted on "the need for the historian to 'become' her or his subject."

        When I phoned him yesterday, the 52-year-old Pluss said his experience, which he expects to turn into a book, has brought him even more hatred from the academics who had hated him already.

        "I had thought there would at least have been some more academically and intellectually oriented responses," said Pluss, whose Ph.D.  in medieval history is from the highly respected University of Chicago.

        Meanwhile, the storm-trooper wannabes he had befriended want to do to him what Hitler did to the Danzig Corridor.  They've been phoning him with death threats, he said.

        "They're a real bunch of misfits," Pluss said.

        But they're good material for a historian.  And Pluss said he couldn't have gotten that material without immersing himself in the movement.

        "The theory behind my actions came from legitimate scholarship," Pluss said.  "I thought to myself, 'Let's do a method-acting approach to the study of history and see how it works.' I chose the Nazis because they were absolutely the most obnoxious, whacky group I could find." 

        The academics were a close second, however.

        Pluss wanted to test their reactions as well, which is why he mailed off that nutty letter when he was vacationing in Ireland.  The FDU officials took the bait.  So much for academic freedom.  Pluss was not only booted from the campus but shunned by all of his former colleagues.

        "I knew them to be a bunch of jerks," he told me.  "If they wanted to dump me for my political views, why can't they just come out and say it?"

        Pluss plans to write up the whole experience in the form of a historical novel.  That gave me an idea.  I had just read "A Million Little Pieces," that bogus memoir of drug rehab by James Frey that became a million seller.  If hanging out with a bunch of bored druggies makes for a best seller, how about hanging out with a wacky bunch of nutty neo-Nazis?

        "I've got just one more question," I said to Pluss before he had to go.  "Have you had your people contact Oprah?"

Paul Mulshine is a Star-Ledger columnist.  He may be reached at pmulshine@starledger.com.
        End of Archived Material

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