In Portland, a jury has agreed that the best way to remove the venom from Tom Metzger is to make him a pauper.
In San Diego County, Metzger has long been known as the television repairman from Sunbeam Road who moonlights as a hot-eyed white supremacist.
If Metzger is so dangerous, why hasn’t there been more violence locally because of him? If his presence or his ideological excrement encourages acolytes to kill, why no deaths here?
I offer two reasons: One, that Metzger has sought a semi-respectable face in his own back yard, starting with his capture in 1980 of the Democratic nomination for Congress.
The second reason is a former San Diego police sergeant named Ernest Trumper.
It was on a chilly Saturday in March, 1980, that Metzger and 50 of his Ku Klux Klan followers staged their last and biggest public rally in San Diego County: in John Landes Park in a racially mixed neighborhood of Oceanside.
The Klansmen arrived in hockey masks, black football helmets and black T-shirts, armed with bats, chains, guns and Doberman pinschers.
For days before the rally, Metzger had distributed flyers: “Greensboro was the beginning of a new era of commitment.” A reference to the fatal shooting of five anti-Klan marchers in Greensboro, N.C.
When the Klansmen arrived at John Landes Park, they were quickly surrounded by 200 hecklers, including the Revolutionary Socialist League from Los Angeles.
Hecklers taunted the Klan to attack. Some threw down boxing gloves.
For an hour, the two sides shouted insults. Klan dogs snarled and strained at their leashes. The Oceanside police stayed out of sight, 100 yards away.
Indeed, the only person separating the encircled Klansmen and their adversaries was Ernest Trumper, dressed in plainclothes and sunglasses, his badge pinned to his shirt.
He said nothing and made no overt attempt to keep the sides separate. He stood at parade rest, gazing at the horizon, like a man waiting for a bus.
He is only of medium height and unimposing build, but something about his presence laid down an invisible barrier that none of the combatants would cross.
After an hour of shrieking, the anger on both sides declined. Many of the hecklers drifted away.
Then Metzger started to march his grotesque troops back to their vans. A brick was thrown (by whom, it was never clear) and the battle was on:
A Klan dog shot dead by police, a newspaper reporter (me) bitten by a police dog, one heckler cracked on the head, several more beaten, Metzger knocked down and bloodied.
Still, it could have been much worse had the incendiary spark come when passions were at their peak and the Klansmen were still encircled. Except for the presence of Trumper, I see no reason that the violence didn’t break out earlier.
In the years since, Trumper got mauled in a civil suit filed by Doug Seymour, an informant hired to spy on Metzger. He took an early retirement.
The full story of his days as a cop is probably a mixed one. But, on a gray day in March, he prevented people from killing each other.
Maybe Trumper’s bravery that day (compared to the passivity of the Oceanside police) provides a moral about the need to stand up to hatred and violence in our midst.
Maybe that’s what the jury in Portland had in mind, too.
A Dog of a Video
If it matters.
* Advertisement in the mail: “Yes, the Videotape Everyone Asked Us to Make Is Done!!!”
From the Canine Cryobank in Escondido. The video is on artificial insemination of dogs.
I don’t remember asking.
* San Diegans for United Safe Neighborhoods just moved into a new office attached to the district office of Councilman John Hartley in Normal Heights.
A couple of nights later, a thief broke into the neighborhood group’s office and stole the telephone and answering machine.