Members of the NPA, a neo-Nazi organization, Edmund Crump (L) and Roger Gerber (R), who spoke at Reed in 1965. Thanks in part to strong leadership by Mark Loeb ’65, the strongly opposed crowd gave the two a civil reception.
Reed Community

When the NPA Came to Reed

Former music prof recalls how Reed responded to a neo-Nazi group in 1965.

By Prof. Mark DeVoto [music 1964–68] | October 10, 2017

The tragic confrontations in Charlottesville—a college town—are an ominous reminder to all of us that public expressions of racism and anti-Semitism are increasing in America, and that these must and will be resisted. Yet even in our tolerant society today, one can't count on demonstrations and counter-demonstrations to remain peaceable and orderly. I was already disturbed last spring when I read about an incident at Middlebury College, where a controversial visiting speaker was mobbed and manhandled, but it brought to mind a rich memory of Reed College in the spring of 1965. It was during my first year of teaching; I was fresh out of graduate school, married and already with a family, and very wet behind the ears as a college instructor.

The Reed College Quest had announced a forthcoming meeting in the Chapel in Eliot Hall where representatives of a neo-Nazi organization called the National Party of America, whose headquarters were in Oregon, would make speeches. One of the NPA spokesmen had been quoted in the Quest as looking forward to presenting their case before an assembly of students at a well-known hotbed of (presumably communist) radicals. I at once felt very uneasy about this, but determined to show up at the event, already wondering whether my life or liberty might be at risk in case of an outbreak of violence, or whether, at the very least, as a member of the Reed faculty I might be called upon to help maintain order.

The Chapel was packed with students when I arrived. A scattering of faculty were there too. Mark Loeb ’65, (who was then a junior and chairman of the Reed College Public Affairs Board and would go on to become senior rabbi at Beth El Congregation in Maryland) was at the door. I had brought a yarmulke with me and I took it out of my pocket and put it on. Mark laughed, and said that it probably wouldn’t be necessary. A few minutes later, the National Party of America arrived, about eight men, all wearing silver shirts and black boots, and took up standing positions in the outside aisles. Mark went up to the lectern on stage and hushed the murmuring audience, and politely introduced the NPA’s second-in-command, Mr. Roger Gerber, whose scalp was shaved. Gerber spoke in direct and assured tones for about fifteen minutes, uttering various inflammatory ultra-right-wing slogans, and assuring everyone that a vast conspiracy, masterminded overwhelmingly by Negroes (he didn’t use the N-word) and a Jewish cabal, was at the heart of all of America’s current woes. The audience occasionally reacted with chuckles of amusement to Gerber’s assertions, but I remember he said something like this: “You can see us here, wearing silver shirts and black boots, and you can think of us as bigots; well, after I get through speaking to you, you’ll be opposed to the Jewish conspiracy that’s corrupting America — in which case you’ll be bigots — or you’ll be opposed to us, in which case you’ll be bigots.” This syllogistic twist brought a gale of laughter, cheers, and applause.

Gerber then introduced his commander-in-chief, Edmund Crump, nominal president of the NPA. Crump was shorter, had a full head of hair, and was a much less assured speaker, but he occasionally shouted, especially because, as he put it, the right-wing movement in the recent national presidential election had failed so ignominiously because it ran under the banner of  “a department-store Jew named Barry Goldwater.” Again the audience roared with laughter. I don’t remember much else that Crump said, other than echoing Gerber’s prejudices and platitudes. There were no exhortations or incitements to direct action. He did say that one of the NPA followers was Jewish, but was apostasizing from his religion, and would be welcomed into the organization.

When Crump finished, Mark Loeb again took the platform to invite questions from the audience, and I was bowled over by Mark’s coolly authoritative manner. With a wave of his hand, he said, “Okay, if any of you have those have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife questions, forget it. We all know what we’re here for, and you can ask sensible and serious questions,” pointing out that the NPA had come to Reed in good faith to speak to a campus that they knew was likely to be hostile. A few questions followed from the audience. One student, Fred Winyard, an Asian-American whom I knew from his perfect Californian speech, stood up and put on an imitation Japanese gritted-teeth accent, and said, “Obviously I have a personal interest in what your party has outlined for the future of America, so I ask: do you intend to give anybody the benefit of a doubt?” This got the most explosive laugh of the evening. One of the few faculty present, Pierre Weisz of the French department, stood up and asked an anxious question, which I think was about the Holocaust, but didn’t get much of an answer; at least the NPA didn’t deny that the Holocaust had happened. After a few more minutes, a seventy-ish man in the front of the audience stood up and spoke. “My name is Benjamin,” he said. “I’m president of another right-wing organization right here in Oregon. I’ve been watching and listening to what’s happened here tonight. I just want to say that if the National Party of America can come to this college and speak to an audience that obviously is overwhelmingly opposed politically to everything the Party stands for, and still get a fair hearing as they have tonight, then [here Mr. Benjamin’s voice rose in crescendo] there’s hope for America yet!” He sat down amid roars of applause.

The meeting adjourned in murmurs of approval and everyone filed out peaceably and without further incident. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more pride in sitting in a college audience. I never forgot the remarkable gift for unruffled leadership that Mark Loeb demonstrated at the occasion. During the next two years, when he delayed finishing his thesis as an English major but participated heavily in Reed College affairs, including singlehandedly running dining services when Mary McCabe went on vacation, I became convinced that Mark could easily have taken over the presidency of Reed from Dick Sullivan, who had resigned to become director of a national organization. In 1968 Mark was a seminary student in New York, and eventually rounded out a distinguished career as a rabbi in Baltimore; he died in 2009.

Tags: Reed History