August 28, 1997
However, the apparent victory for sanity may be illusory.
The incident casts a sharp light on the fevered subculture of conspiracy theorists, which is growing luxuriantly on the Internet and now is apparently seeking a foothold in academia.
On Aug. 18, the trustees of the South Orange County Community College District approved $5,000 to fly in four guest panelists to participate in a Sept. 26-28 seminar on who was behind the murder of Kennedy in November 1963. Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo was to be the host.
Casting a tiebreaking vote to hold the seminar was Steven T. Frogue, president of the board of trustees. His vote was not entirely disinterested, since he was to teach the seminar.
Frogue is a high school history teacher who was allegedly transferred from one classroom to another, according to the Los Angelees Times, presumably for remarks that offended Jewish students and parents. He has been a persistent foe of the Anti-Defamation League and its regional director, Joyce Greenspan.
In a newspaper interview last fall, Frogue labeled the ADL "a group of spies," and he declared that "Lee Harvey Oswald [Kennedy's assassin] worked for the ADL...I believe the ADL was behind it."
For the seminar, which the college advertised as a "high-quality community education" offering, Frogue invited an eclectic mix of "experts." The one who received the most attention was Michael Collins Piper of Washington, D.C., author of "Final Judgment: The Missing Link in the JFK Assassination Conspiracy."
Piper posits that the Mossad plotted the assassination. The reason, he asserts in his book, is that then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Kennedy "were involved in a heated dispute over Kennedy's refusal to support Israel in its drive to build a nuclear weapon. Other authors have documented that this dispute, as much as anything, caused Ben-Gurion to resign."
The ADL's Greenspan, speaking at the college district board meeting, described Piper as a regular contributor to Spotlight, a notoriously anti-Semitic weekly, and as a Holocaust denier.
Both Michael Hirschfeld, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, and Uri Palti, Israel's deputy consul general in Los Angeles, had a one-word evaluation of Piper's theory: "nonsense."
Other slated panelists were:
* Sherman Skolnick, a self-described "traditional Jew" from Chicago who has been propounding a link between "rogue Mossad agents," the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the apparent suicide of White House counsel Vincent Foster.
Skolnick, also an occasional Spotlight contributor, denied later that he had agreed to speak at the seminar.
* Talk-show host Dave Emory, who contends that top Nazis, who had fled Germany after its defeat, played a leading role in Kennedy's assassination. Emory and Piper frequently tangle at JFK conspiracy seminars around the country.
* John Judge, who adheres to the views of the late New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (hero of the Oliver Stone film "JFK") that the Kennedy assassination was the work of a cabal of homosexuals and the military-industrial complex.
Serious researchers of the Kennedy era reacted with incredulity and amusement when told of the "panel of experts." One such analyst, Chip Berlet, said: "You couldn't find...more embarrassing conspiracists in America. Even among conspiracy theorists, these people represent the outer limit."
Various faculty members at Saddleback College immediately protested the planned seminar. The general public took notice after the Los Angeles Times published a front-page report three days after the board meeting.
Within hours, the story was picked up by wire services and radio talk-show hosts, and phone calls from some 200 angry protesters deluged the college district offices. A considerable number of supportive messages were also logged by the ADL.
In the midst of the furor, Frogue announced that he was canceling the seminar, but that he would hold it at some future date away from the college and without its financial support.
Robert Lombardi, chancellor of the college district, described the public reaction as "pretty intense and somewhat surprising."
He had earlier defended holding the seminar on the basis of First Amendment free-speech rights and the college district's prerogative to offer courses appealing to "special interests." For instance, Lombardi said, "we also offer a course on California wines."
The American Civil Liberties Union, which frequently intervenes in perceived free-speech violations, did not receive any calls regarding the seminar and does not plan any action, a spokeswoman said.
Despite the seminar's cancellation, Jewish defense agencies reacted more with concern than satisfaction.
The ADL's Greenspan, who was the point person in opposing the seminar, said that while she appreciated the general community's reaction, she was bothered that the college board "still doesn't see this racist seminar as their problem."
She also warned that if and when the seminar is given under private auspices, it will lack public scrutiny and "bring the crazies out of the woodwork."
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and an expert on racist and hate propaganda in cyberspace, added another perspective.
"The Mossad conspiracy theory may be laughable to us, but I can guarantee that, in a short time, it will become part of the folklore of hundreds of web sites on the Internet," he said.
"For the Frogues and Pipers, the seminar cancellation is only a temporary setback. They got what they wanted by getting into the mainstream press. They don't need to prove that Israelis had a hand in assassinating JFK; they just have to plant the seed of suspicion that it might have been that way."
In assessing the role of the college district in authorizing the seminar, Cooper said: "The situation somewhat parallels the growing practice of the mainstream press to descend into tabloid journalism. What we're getting here is a form of tabloid academia."