2 Candidates Deny Racist Links
There’s no question that two candidates running for the Claremont school board this fall have associated with white supremacists in the past. One even admits to suiting up as a neo-Nazi in his youth.
But the issue buzzing through the east Los Angeles County suburb dwells more in the present tense: Have Pastor John Hale McGee and Richard W. Bunck truly renounced their ties to hatemongers? Or are they just saying so to get a toehold in office?
Under attack by opponents and the local newspaper, the pair have tried to minimize their right-wing involvement. McGee, a 64-year-old Baptist minister, said he has mingled with Nazis and skinheads only to bring them to Christ. And Bunck, a 54-year-old electrical contractor, says he is one such convert.
Both have gone on their weekly local cable access show to defend themselves and renounce violence. Said Bunck: “I’m not a racist. I’m not a bigot. I’m not a hater.”
Interviews and police files obtained by The Times show that both men had recent associations with hate groups.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says McGee’s small Apple Valley congregation is among those preaching a White Identity doctrine like the kind espoused by Buford O. Furrow Jr., the man who allegedly shot up the North Valley Jewish Community Center.
And an expert with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in West Los Angeles says the pastor, who is a dead ringer for Santa Claus, once helped organize and then attended an “Aryan Fest.”
“Hale McGee is a racist,” said T.J. Leyden, the Wiesenthal Center consultant and a nationally recognized expert on white supremacist groups. “He talked the talk. He walked the walk.”
Tom Metzger, perhaps the country’s best-known white supremacist, said McGee is denying his past--and present.
“Most of his best friends are Nazis,” said Metzger, head of White Aryan Resistance in Fallbrook, near San Diego. Metzger added that he’s known McGee for years and scoffed at the notion that the pastor is trying to save skinheads from themselves.
“The problem with a lot of right-wing racial types who want public office is they lie about their views,” he said.
That possibility has turned what would normally be a yawner of a school board election into the talk of sidewalk cafes throughout a town of 32,000 and the home to the Claremont Colleges. Even the mayor and city manager have openly worried about what would happen if McGee or Bunck were to win.
The speculation already has prompted three advertisers to drop their support of the pair’s weekly call-in political talk show, Citizen’s Forum, which airs on Claremont’s Insight Cablevision channel.
Such has been the price of challenging the city’s establishment, Bunck and McGee say. Talk of white power, they add, is designed to distract from the real issues leading to the Nov. 2 election in which five candidates are seeking two board seats.
“I’m interested in schools because too many kids are smoking drugs and they took away the lockers,” said McGee, who last year was the American Independent Party challenger to now-deceased Rep. George Brown.
Until the furor ignited, Bunck and McGee were best known as the town’s anti-taxers. Under the banner of the Claremont Assn. for Better Government, they led a successful drive in 1997 to stop a property assessment earmarked for local schools.
Then Bunck ran for City Council. A week before last spring’s election, the Claremont Courier revealed Bunck’s 1971 arrest in connection with disturbing the peace at a Nazi party rally in Monrovia. Charges were later dismissed.
At first, Bunck denied it was him. Then, on election eve, he reversed himself, conceding that he went to the rally but as an FBI informant. He lost badly.
Incriminating Booking Photo
Bunck now says there was no excuse for his Nazi involvement, which he chalks up to a youthful indiscretion. He was captured in a 1972 police booking photo showing him dressed in a Nazi uniform and standing below a swastika.
“I was involved in the National Socialist White People’s Party for about 10 months in 1972 and I was also involved in left-wing groups prior to that,” he said recently. “Hale got me to give up that group . . . and introduced me to Christianity and doing something more useful with myself.”
The photo was included in El Monte police files that tracked Bunck, McGee and others during the 1970s when the blue-collar San Gabriel Valley city was home to the National Socialist White People’s Party and the American National Socialist Party.
A 1974 intelligence report named McGee as the head of an extremist group known as the American Nationalist. An accompanying leaflet, which listed a Claremont address, describes the group as “foremost Christian Americans” opposed to “race mixing.”
In 1977, according to the file, McGee opened JHM Baptist Books, an El Monte reading room painted to resemble the American flag with one exception: A large Nazi swastika was on the wall. A flier from the store invited people to “Find out the truth about the Nazis and the Anti-Christ.”
Police stopped Bunck and McGee several times near the store that year, files show, but the most serious encounter came outside the county jail in Los Angeles in April 1977. McGee, Bunck and another man were arrested after officers said they found a loaded, 9-millimeter handgun and a National Socialist White People’s leaflet in the glove compartment of McGee’s Mercedes-Benz, as well as two shotguns and a citizens band radio in the trunk.
Charges were later dropped or dismissed, files show.
When confronted with the information, McGee said he was framed.
“The [police] put a bunch of Nazi literature in my car,” he said in a recent interview.
He also denied that the reading room carried Nazi literature. Any suggestion that it served as headquarters to Nazi groups, he added, is “total rubbish and lies.”
But McGee acknowledged that he allowed organizers of a 1992 Labor Day “Aryan Fest” to use the sign-installation business he owned then to plan the event. Although McGee claimed he wasn’t present for the meeting or the festival itself, the Baptist minister said the celebration, held near Barstow, was a “neat idea.”
“They brought in a band from Sweden: No Remorse,” he said.
However, Leyden, the Wiesenthal Center consultant, said McGee had more than a passing interest. Once an ardent Inland Empire skinhead before turning away from the white power movement, Leyden was chief organizer of the 1992 Aryan Fest. He said McGee was actively involved in the planning, even helping to get portable toilets for the event.
“He came to Aryan Fest,” Leyden recalled.
Scrutiny by Watchdog Group
Most recently, the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the nation’s foremost hate watchdogs, has identified McGee’s JHM Baptist Church in the San Bernardino County community of Apple Valley as a white Christian Identity Church.
The center said McGee’s church has advertised in a white-supremacy publication and, as recently as January, sent an e-mail out on a Web site belonging to the racist Nationalist Observer.
“This is the kind of church Buford Furrow and the Aryan Nations follow,” said center Director Joe Roy. White Identity Christians believe that Jews resulted from a mating between Eve and Satan, Roy added.
Both school board candidates adamantly deny that the church is anything of the sort. They say it is a regular Baptist congregation of about 20 members.
“I have never heard Hale McGee preach racial hatred,” said Bunck, a congregant who takes “great exception” to his church being called a hate group by the center.
So does McGee, who said he knew nothing about the advertisements cited as evidence by the center.
“I’m not a member of Aryan Nations nor the identity movement,” McGee said. He called Metzger a “slime person” who’s “never talked to me in 25 years” and said that, in fact, he’s become a victim of guilt by association, just because he’s tried to convert skinheads, Nazis and other white supremacists over the years.
“They don’t like me because I’m a Christian,” McGee said of the hate groups. “I’ve cost them a lot of members.”
Claremont Mayor Karen Rosenthal said Bunck and McGee are certainly “stirring things up” and are a distraction from the needs of the schools and city.
“What is their true agenda?” she asked. “I don’t believe anything they say.”
Rosenthal said the city received numerous demands to yank their cable show, but the 1st Amendment prevents any such action. “In Claremont there are a lot of different views and challengers,” she said. “I certainly won’t vote for them.”
School board incumbent Nat Lord, who is running for reelection, said this was not the kind of challenge he expected. “I haven’t seen them participate in any school-related activities. But they are certainly generating controversy,” he said. “I prefer the election focus on the schools.”