By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
He just won't go away.
Bill Baker has resurfaced as a frequent guest speaker at Muslim functions across North America despite articles in OC Weeklyin 2002 that outed the Laguna Hills resident as the former head of the neo-Nazi Populist Party and led to his ouster as a close associate to the Reverend Robert Schuller of Garden Grove's Crystal Cathedral.
Baker's appearances are causing consternation, public recrimination and bad feelings wherever he goes. He spoke amid protests on Jan. 3 at "Reviving the Islamic Spirit," a conference attended by more than 7,000 people in Toronto, Ontario. The Toronto Star reported that Canadian Jewish Congress-led protesters cited the OC Weekly series as the basis for their descriptions of Baker as a professional anti-Semite, self-promoter and huckster.
Though he was listed as "Dr. William Baker" in the conference program, Baker has no doctorate of any kind; officials of Oxford University in England disputed Baker's claim that he did graduate work there. Baker claimed to have attended another graduate program that turned out to have been a six-unit freshman field trip.
In 1984, Baker was national chairman of Costa Mesa-based Holocaust denier Willis Carto's Populist Party, whose platform called for the repeal of U.S. civil rights laws. Baker now states that, although he planned his party's national convention, he had no knowledge of its platform or ideology.
His topic in Toronto was "More in Common Than You Think," an attempt to gloss over deep historical and theological differences between Muslims and Christians. A similar talk at the Crystal Cathedral in 2002 left a group of moderate Christian pastors shaking their heads.
According to Toronto conference spokesman Jeewan Chanicka, Baker was recommended "as an individual working towards building bridges between the Muslim and Christian communities. His lectures . . . reflected nothing that could be considered racist or anti-Semitic. Because interfaith dialogue was a component of the conference, once we knew that he was nominated for the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, we thought that he would be a good candidate at such a forum."
Baker often boasts of a Nobel Peace Prize "nomination," but such nominations are essentially meaningless. Nobel rules allow anyone to nominate anyone—including oneself—simply by writing the Nobel committee in Oslo.
A similar appearance by Baker at a Muslim conference in Florida last year produced an angry exchange between the Jewish human rights organization the Anti-Defamation League and the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The latter organization published a letter from Baker claiming that "The so-called 'quotes' attributed to me [in OC Weekly] are pure, insulting, and outrageous lies."
Baker also spoke last October at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia as a guest of the Muslim Students Association (MSA). His appearance drew protests from both students and the Philadelphia Jewish community. In the wake of that speech, embarrassed Muslim students exchanged visits and lectures with Jewish students, and their presidents, Muhammed Mekki and Jason Auerbach, signed the following joint statement published in the Daily Pennsylvanian:
"Hillel and the MSA reaffirm our commitment to unity and friendship. As we rediscover our common roots and our shared history, we urge all Penn students to follow our example in rising above perceived differences. Let us be proactive in building interpersonal relationships that, God willing, will further strengthen our unique Penn community and inspire peace in our world."
Contacted by the Weekly, Shaheen Kazi, MSA's national manager, denied she'd ever heard of Baker, claimed her group would never knowingly invite a neo-Nazi and maintained that an independent chapter had booked his appearance. "We have so many MSAs that we can't track every one," she said. "We would definitely take [Baker's background] into consideration, and we would be inclined not to invite him in the future."
Baker's influence extends to other pro-Arab outlets. The website for the pro-Palestinian magazine Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, widely regarded as representing the views of Saudi Arabia, offers a favorable review of Baker's incoherent, anti-Semitic book, Theft of a Nation, which it sells for the discounted price of $12.
Hussam Ayloush, director of the California CAIR branch in Anaheim, says he's heard Baker speak at many Islamic events—and Ayloush was loath to rebuke Baker. "His focus is that we all hold stereotypes—and that we shouldn't feel threatened by knowledge or interaction," Ayloush said. "As a Muslim, I have been accused of so many things that I would be very hesitant and careful before condemning anyone."