“I’m just here to let you know this man is anti-Semitic and a holocaust denier sponsored by hate groups,” Alex Budd told the group of about 35 people who came and went at the Ashland Public Library on Sunday to hear author Christopher Bollyn, who travels the country selling materials he wrote blaming Jews for the 9/11 attacks, which killed about 400 Jews in the World Trade Center alone.
Bollyn’s warm-up speaker, Keith Michael Erickson of Ashland, also known as Biome, who has run for Ashland council and mayor on an anti-Semitic platform, spoke of what he called a “Jewry” conspiracy.
During his talk Budd interrupted to speak out about the anti-Semitism being propagated. He was booed and shouted at by some in attendance and eventually asked to leave by library security. Later others in the crowd also spoke out and left the talk as well.
“Perpetuating the idea that any one group is responsible for the suffering in the world, it’s dangerous," Budd said. "It creates an immediate attitude of suspicion and it gets people killed.”
Printed materials on a table with Bollyn’s work included a pamphlet referring to the “alleged Holocaust,” referring to the mass murder of European Jews and other groups by Nazi Germans before and during World War II.
“If you don’t respond to fabrication, you’re giving him a stage and a platform,” said Jyl Klein Riendeau, who stood outside the library with protest signs denouncing hate and anti-Semitism. “When you have a bully and you are able to get away you have to help others get away too.”
Her son Ezra, 17, attended the talk in order to stream it live so others could hear and see what would be said. “A guy came to my work with flyers about (the talk). I told him I would be joining the Isareli army when I graduate high school. He called me 'a dirty kike.' That’s the N word to Jews.”
Three Ashland police officers assembled outside the library in case of any violent outbreaks. They left before the talk ended.
Meanwhile across town the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission held an alternate event welcoming all for the purpose of “peace and love.” The idea, said organizers, was not to give energy to the voices of anti-Semitics but instead focus on a conversation about the rise of hate speech and actions across the country.
“The struggle is completely linked to racism, xenophobia, homophobia,” said Temple Emek Shalom Rabi Joshua Boettiger at the peace event at the Ashland Community Center. “Anti-Semitism is deeply connected to these other issues.”
Boettiger says he worries anti-Semitism is on the rise and such talks by people like Bollyn give it a platform.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation backs him up. Jews in the United States are annually subject to the most hate crimes of any religious group, despite constituting about 2 percent of the American population.
“We all have our work cut out for us,” said Boettiger. “I like the spirit of coming together and linking to others in the community.”
Bollyn is on a tour promoting his writing and opinions. He was in Ashland on Sunday and Medford on Saturday. He recently wrapped up a California tour. “I was kicked out of a venue in Santa Cruz and had to go down to the beach and speak to the people who stuck around,” he said.
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.