Freedom of speech and freedom of hate and prejudice are colliding on the airwaves here.
"Aryan Nations Hour"--a weekly stage for white supremacists--debuts Dec. 5 on tiny KZZI-AM (1510) on your radio dial. The Saturday morning call-in program will be closely aligned with Aryan Nations, a neo-Nazi group with headquarters in Hayden Lake, Ida., and plans to open an office in Salt Lake City or Ogden, where the bulk of the state's black population lives.
Richard Butler, now under indictment by the federal government for sedition, is the leader of Aryan Nations, which is founded on a "Christian Identity" doctrine holding that Jews are satanic and blacks and other minorities subhuman.
This is not a story of neo-Nazis storming--or even creeping--into Utah via the airwaves or other means. Despite recent disclosures of white-power extremists in the Utah State Militia, there is no evidence of Butler's group making visible gains in the state, according to knowledgeable sources. And KZZI, with its relatively weak signal and daytime-only broadcasts, is no ticket to mass exposure.
What the KZZI case does is pose questions about the concept of freedom of the airwaves by showing how easy it is--under the umbrella of the First Amendment--to broadcast poisonous racist propaganda that is not unlawful but that potentially could incite violence.
After all, "Aryan Nations Hour" is arriving shortly after two neo-Nazis were convicted in Denver of violating the civil rights of Jewish radio talk-show host Alan Berg by murdering him.
KZZI is a talk-radio smorgasbord whose call-in shows range from an hour hosted by a psychic to one hosted by the polygamy-preaching "prophet of the eighth dispensation." The execution is rudimentary, the diversity admirable.
Yet how does a racist "Aryan Nations Hour" get on the air? And what dangerous and inflammatory messages does it convey to those listeners who share or could be swayed by its philosophy?
When it comes to "Aryan Nations Hour" getting air time, credit KZZI co-owner and general manager Richard Hinton, 39, who openly denounces white supremacists while selling them a forum. Attribute the show's existence to Hinton's acknowledged dedication--"I'm a businessman"--to making a buck at almost any cost.
Many of the programs on KZZI are "brokered"--the time purchased by the persons producing them, who also can sell their own advertising. "Aryan Nations Hour" host Dwight McCarthy's rate is $100 per hour for the privilege of airing a weekly program on KZZI. That's $5,200 prepaid for a year--a small fortune to Hinton's struggling station.
The 37-year-old McCarthy's new talk program succeeds "Counter-Marxist Hour," a fringe rightist show--but not racist, by all accounts--that he's been buying and hosting on KZZI since July. The new show will have the same time slot and host, but a different title and message.
Media furor over the new program has already begun, putting formerly obscure KZZI on the map and heaping publicity on Hinton, McCarthy and now also Neil Davis, who has been a salaried KZZI talk-show host and advertising salesman. A Jew, Davis is outspokenly at odds with McCarthy and Hinton over "Aryan Nations Hour."
McCarthy "preaches (that) Hitler was a great man, the Holocaust was a hoax, racism is good and the satanic Mongoloid Jews must be separated out of the Aryan nation republic," said Davis, a gray-bearded, balding man who has spent more than half of his 50 years working in radio. "I don't want this message on the air. It plants the seeds of potential violence. It steps on the graves of people who were killed."
Agreeing is the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which has written members of Congress about KZZI, speculating that broadcast deregulation "has opened its door too wide for the bigots and racists."
Those bigots and racists--not four-letter words--are the true broadcast obscenities.
Davis said he felt "used" by McCarthy because he was the one who introduced McCarthy to talk radio, first by having him as a guest on the station where Davis previously worked and then by suggesting that he contact Hinton about buying time for his own show. "Dwight always talked about counter-Marxism, but never racism," Davis said about McCarthy.
Ironically, it appears now that McCarthy will outlast Davis on KZZI. Last week, Hinton ousted Davis from his thrice-weekly afternoon drive-time slot and offered him less exposure--a weekly hour on Sunday and another on Saturday following "Aryan Nations Hour," the very show Davis opposes.
Hinton claims that his only reason for wanting to move Davis was that Davis often neglected to play scheduled commercials. Not so, replies Davis, hinting that the real reason for his demotion may be that he attacked neo-Nazis on the air.
"I will not accept his offer," Davis said. "I'm gone."
So is Conrad Hunsaker. The hour following "Aryan Nations Hour" on Saturdays is open only because Hunsaker, a local automobile sales manager, withdrew his own brokered talk program titled "Auto Spotlight" from that time slot after hearing about "Aryan Nations Hour." Hunsaker is Jewish.
"I felt very, very strongly, based on my Jewish beliefs, that the Aryan philosophy was wrong," said Hunsaker, adding also that his employer, Butterfield Ford, opposed him continuing to buy time on KZZI. "I won't return," he said.
Is KZZI really a sheep in wolf's clothing, as Hinton suggests? It has also given a forum to gay rights supporters and has a talk-show host who is black. "This is not a racist station," Hinton said.
KZZI occupies several rooms on the second floor of a small building on the south edge of the city that also houses a construction company and a paint contractor. The modest site--set against magnificent snowcapped mountains in the wintry distance--is somehow appropriate for a station barely surviving in a 45-station market.
KZZI is so small that Hinton, who owns the station with his wife, says he has to do his own typing and janitorial work.
In his cramped office, Hinton, a big man with blond hair, thick brows and a red mustache, said McCarthy told him two weeks ago that he wanted to "come out of the closet, change the name of his program and devote it to the religious aspects" of the Aryan Nations. "I asked him if he was gonna advocate violence, and he said no."
McCarthy was out of town and could not be contacted. On a recent "Counter-Marxist Hour," though, he did denounce the "lawlessness" of a related neo-Nazi group called the Order, whose roster includes the two men convicted in the Alan Berg case. "I despise the Order and what they did," the low-key McCarthy said, later adding: "I'm not gonna preach revolution and death and destruction."
McCarthy said he believed that the Aryan movement can gain power and achieve its goal of racial separation through the election process. Elected Aryan officials presumably would then enact laws mandating segregation. And if America's minorities would not willingly relocate to their assigned "homelands?" Three guesses.
Aryan Nations leader Butler himself was McCarthy's guest on a recent "Counter-Marxist Hour" and is expected to have a role in "Aryan Nations Hour."
"I'm well aware of what the Aryan Nations stands for," Hinton said. "I know what happened in Colorado, and I know that Rev. Butler is under indictment on sedition charges. But until Dwight does something on the air that's illegal, he has a right to broadcast."
The American Civil Liberties Union agrees, said Robyn Blumner, the group's Utah director. Moreover, the Federal Communications Commission has held in related cases--such as one involving KTTL-FM in Dodge City, Kan., several years ago--that it cannot act in such matters unless violence is advocated on the air in such a way as to create a clear and present danger.
The operators of the 100,000-watt KTTL were Charles and Nellie Babbs, whose adherence to the white supremacist tenets of the shadowy Posse Comitatus organization led them to air hate programming urging listeners to "run a sword through" Jews.
Did freedom of speech in this case infringe upon the public good?
Not according to the FCC, which found that the Posse Comitatus broadcasts on KTTL did not disqualify the Babbses from holding a station license. The station ultimately went black only because they decided on their own to bow out.
As did the Babbses, Hinton evokes the First Amendment, saying he is protecting McCarthy's freedom of speech, even though he seems at least as dedicated to protecting his own freedom of profit. Besides, he is not required to sell air time to McCarthy or anyone else.
"No matter how extreme this man is, he has a binding contract with me and he is protected by the Constitution," Hinton said. "If I dropped him, he could have legal recourse."
How could the broadcast contract be binding if McCarthy is doing a different show than the one ("Counter-Marxist Hour") for which he originally purchased time?
Hinton backed off. "Whether I win the suit is immaterial," he said. "I'm a small businessman and being sued would cost me more money than I can afford even if I win."
Is there anyone to whom Hinton would not sell time?
"Right off the top of my head, I say no," he replied, "as long as they are not going to violate state or federal regulations."
Hinton said that since announcing the change to "Aryan Nations Hour," McCarthy has received calls from across the nation offering support. Hinton shook his head, sadly. "That's an indication of a disease in this country--racism," he said.
A disease Hinton is feeding on KZZI--and then exploiting.
Hinton admitted he relished the attention KZZI is receiving over "Aryan Nations Hour." He's spent hours on the phone being interviewed, the story has been a hot item on local TV and even the British Broadcasting Corp. has covered KZZI.
"There's no denying it," Hinton said. "I could not ever in my life have purchased this publicity. We got zilch when we introduced Ross Lebaron," the self-proclaimed "prophet of eighth dispensation."
"It's a fly-by-night radio station, but the media hype has got them all pumped up and they love it," said auto man Hunsaker. "Hinton needs to pump some blood into this station or it will die."
While complaining that TV is blowing the story out of proportion, Hinton is doing what he can to see that it stays overblown. That included having McCarthy as a guest talking about the controversy for three hours on Hinton's own KZZI talk show.
Democracy comes at a steep price, it seems, and as long as freedom of speech exists, there will be those who try to exploit it.
"If someone wants to buy some commercials against all this, I'll sell 'em," Hinton shouted down the stairs as his interviewer was leaving. "I can be had for a price. Tell them I'll even sell the station. Tell them you met the true prostitute of the world."