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J. Stevens

Aug 23, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/23/97

L.A. Times, 8/22/97

Saddleback's JFK Conspiracy Seminar Spiked

KIMBERLY BROWER, Special to The Times

MISSION VIEJO--After receiving more than 200 angry calls from
the public, the South Orange County Community College
District on Thursday canceled a controversial seminar that
claims a conspiracy was behind the assassination of President John
F. Kennedy.
The district's Board of Trustees had approved $5,000 to bring in
four speakers--including one panelist who accuses the Israeli
intelligence agency, Mossad, of masterminding Kennedy's murder
in 1963. The action has been strongly criticized by some faculty
members and the Anti-Defamation League.
The public outcry after The Times ran a story about the course was
"pretty intense and somewhat surprising," said Chancellor Robert A.
Lombardi. "Certainly none of us wanted to be offensive or troublesome
to any group."
Amid the furor, Steven J. Frogue, the seminar's instructor and the
chairman of the district's board, decided Thursday to move the forum
off the Saddleback College campus, where it had been scheduled for
Sept. 26-28. The seminar was a nonacademic credit offering through
the community education department. Frogue plans to hold it
somewhere else in the future, without district involvement.
Meanwhile, one of the planned speakers, Chicago author Sherman
Skolnick, faxed a letter to Saddleback College President Ned Doffoney
on Thursday denying he had agreed to participate in a seminar
"attempting to blame the murder of President Kennedy on Jews" and
accusing Frogue of "slandering and blackening my name."
Frogue declined to comment Thursday about the dispute over the
seminar he had proposed to the Board of Trustees, which supported
him by a 4-3 vote last Monday.
One trustee who voted for the seminar, John Williams, said
Thursday he stands by his vote. "We've had requests to have public
speakers before, some of them very controversial," he said. "This is an
issue of the 1st Amendment."
But critics saw the issue differently.
Among its objections, the ADL said Skolnick is a member of the
advisory board of the Spotlight, which the ADL called "the most
anti-Semitic publication in America."
In his fax, Skolnick said, "I am a traditional Jew," and denied
he serves on Spotlight's advisory board, although he acknowledged, "I
allowed Spotlight to print my stories. . . . "
Some within the campus community and outside maintained a
college is a bastion of free thinking where controversial seminars
should be conducted.
However, a district spokeswoman said the overwhelming majority of
phone calls to the district were critical of allowing individuals with
extreme views to participate in a seminar sanctioned by the district.
Lombardi defended the course even after it was canceled.
"I would argue on the side of free speech," he said. "Obviously,
Supreme Court has made many telling decisions in support of that
view. In the largest realm of ideas, I think it's terribly important to
allow differences of opinions to be voiced."
Lombardi said when he brought the public outcry to the attention of
Frogue and other board members, Frogue offered to move the course
off campus. The chancellor said cancellation does not require the
board's vote.
Frogue, a high school history teacher who in interviews has said he
believes the ADL was involved in the Kennedy assassination, indicated
he would not accept pay for the course. But that did nothing to placate
Joyce Greenspan, regional director of the Orange County and Long
Beach chapters of the ADL, said she remained troubled that Frogue
still plans to hold the seminar.
"What happens with theorists, hatemongers and crackpots, if they
can't get credibility, which is what the college would give them, is
find another venue to bring their message of right-wing extremism,"
she said Thursday.
The speaker list Frogue submitted to the board included
Washington author Michael Collins Piper, who asserts the Kennedy
assassination was engineered by the CIA, in cahoots with organized
crime, and with profound involvement of the Mossad.
The Mossad, Piper argues, held a grudge against Kennedy
because of a dispute the president had with former Israeli Prime
Minister David Ben-Gurion over Israel's drive to build nuclear weapons.
Also on the speakers list were talk show host Dave Emory, who
contends renegade Nazis who fled Germany after World War II played
a leading role in the assassination, and John Judge, who supports the
conspiracy theories held by the late New Orleans district attorney, Jim
The ADL also objected to Piper, whom the group says denies that
the Holocaust occurred.
After the seminar was canceled, Piper, author of "Final Judgment:
The Missing Link in the JFK Assassination Conspiracy," lashed out at
the ADL.
"The Anti-Defamation League has not heard the last of 'Final
Judgment,' " he said. "The door has been kicked open. There is now
going to be a lot of debate about this book. . . . It's sad because we
really don't have freedom of speech in America."
In response to The Times story about the course, some in the
community said they were angry enough to protest at Frogue's
"I'm a free thinker and believe all points should be expressed, but
I think this pales beyond a reasonable view," said Park Wilson, 52, a
San Clemente screenwriter who had vowed to picket the seminar. "If
you live in Orange County, it would blow your mind what kids already
believe. Half the kids believe the Holocaust did not ever happen."
In Dallas, where the local papers ran a wire account of The Times
story, Larry Hamilton, 46, who for years has sold hot dogs at the
infamous grassy knoll, said he believes in a conspiracy, as do most of
the people who come to Dealey Plaza.
"I believe the federal government did it," said Hamilton, who was a
seventh-grader in Dallas when the assassination occurred. "But that
course out there in California sounds real crazy to me. Where do they
come up with that stuff?"
At the Saddleback campus, some board members, students and
professors defended the right of the college to provide a forum for
unpopular, unconventional views.
"I'm not offended by it at all," said Danny Ward, 19, of Dana
"I think they should explore alternative [assassination theories]
because it's such a big issue. If you are offended by the class, don't
take it."
Tom Nussbaum, chancellor of the 71-district California Community
Colleges, which does not have curriculum jurisdiction over local
colleges, said the conflict pointed out an enduring dilemma for
"Throughout history there have been what might appear to be
extreme views that eventually were proven," Nussbaum said, stressing
that he does not subscribe to the seminar's theories. "I'm not saying
that's the case here, but part of what the academic community does is
allow for some new and some different topics to be presented."
Marcia Milchiker, a trustee who had opposed the seminar, said she
felt "betrayed" by Frogue, who had attended her son's bar mitzvah
three years ago along with other board members.
"He said it was the most meaningful experience in his whole life,"
she said.
But after learning from the ADL the controversial nature of the
speakers, she decided, "I don't want hatemongers speaking at the
college. I absolutely believe in free speech, but that does not apply to
people who want to overthrow the government or speak nonsense or
Saddleback President Doffoney said he was not aware of the
controversial backgrounds of the speakers until critics raised them
Monday night.
Said Doffoney, "I am reluctant to say we're not going to have any
speaker even if I disagree with them. But I would have liked to see
balancing viewpoints."

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