For three nights last month, Pullman police drove past Steven Kale’s house, shining their spotlights into bushes and shadows, just in case.
Kale, an associate professor of history at Washington State University, had found a swastika stuck in an envelope propped against his campus office door just hours after he had revealed in WSU’s student newspaper that he is Jewish.
“At the time, I thought our house could be vandalized,” said Kale, who also has received, along with other faculty members in the history department, e-mail messages from a Holocaust revisionist who maintains a Web site on WSU’s computer system. The messages challenge well-researched facts about the Holocaust.
Bill Wassmuth knows firsthand about the fear Kale and his family experienced. The executive director of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment spoke Monday night at a forum kicking off a series of activities to fight discrimination and hate crimes.
The series, called “Not in our Universities/Not in our Communities: Community Dialogue,” is sponsored by an alliance of people from WSU, the University of Idaho and the cities of Pullman and Moscow, Idaho.
WSU Provost Gretchen Bataille and UI Associate Provost Dene Thomas also spoke at the forum.
Wassmuth, himself a victim of hate crimes when he lived in Coeur d’Alene, said community members must be willing to share responsibility for intolerance.
“What can we do? We must come together to address the issue. It is not a black problem, a Jewish problem or a gay problem,” he said. “It is a community problem, and we must address it as a community.
“And we must individually and collectively speak out in opposition to acts of hate. Silence in the face of prejudice and bigotry is interpreted as approval.”
Wassmuth’s visit comes on the heels of swastika postings not only at Kale’s office but also at WSU’s Wilson Hall, directed at gays, interracial couples and Hispanics. The word “Adios!” was written on a neo-Nazi leaflet posted at the entrance to the Chicano-Latino Student Center.
Authorities don’t know who is responsible for the postings.
Community vigils in Pullman and Moscow were held last month to protest the messages. At the Pullman vigil, Mayor Mitch Chandler and WSU President Sam Smith echoed a zero-tolerance theme expressed by many other speakers.
“If we do not stand together as a group, we can’t collectively say, ‘Not in our town,”’ Smith said. The “not in our town” slogan was used recently in Billings, Mont., when that city was the target of hate crimes.
In another show of community tolerance, pictures of menorahs are being displayed at businesses, homes and university buildings throughout Pullman and Moscow.
Kale says he believes the recent hate messages were fueled, in part, by Holocaust revisionist ideas posted on a Web site called the “Student Revisionists’ Resource Site.”
An essay on the site says, “There were no gas chambers and no attempt by the Germans to exterminate Jewry, expulsion being very different from extermination.”
The “Student Revisionists’ Resource Site” says it is edited and maintained by Lawrence Pauling, an apparent pseudonym for a WSU student.
In December, Kale was interviewed by a Daily Evergreen reporter about the Web site and the e-mail he and others in the history department had received.
“After the interview, I informed the reporter that I was Jewish in order to drive home the point that these e-mailings were not simply a matter of free speech but constituted the presence of anti-Semitism in the community directed at a specific individual who was Jewish and therefore had reason to feel threatened,” Kale said.
The story ran in the Daily Evergreen the morning of Dec. 5. The swastika was placed on Kale’s office door later that day.
WSU’s policies governing use of the university computer system are under review by the Faculty Affairs Committee.
John Crane, chairman of the committee, said the new policy will provide for greater accountability of computer users and bring the university more in line with the state’s laws.
“This is not to stifle free speech,” Crane said.
Wassmuth said Pullman and Moscow must continue the vigils, forums and dialogue.
“The response needs to be thoughtful and strong,” he said. “Unless intolerance is addressed seriously, it will continue.”
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WEEKEND CONFERENCE A racial justice conference sponsored by the YWCA of WSU is scheduled Friday and Saturday at Pullman High School and Washington State University. The conference will explore racism in families, schools and colleges, community groups, government and social service agencies. For information, call (509) 335-3916.