As our fair county slouches toward the next millennium, I've been thinking it would behoove its citizens to come up with a slogan that encapsulates the role OC hopes to play in the coming years. I've coined a few possibilities:
ORANGE COUNTY: A LITTLE MORE THAN JUST DISNEYLAND
ORANGE COUNTY: LAND OF STUCCO
ORANGE COUNTY: HE WAS TOO A GOOD PRESIDENT!
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But in the past few days, I've decided the most apt slogan for OC is this one:
ORANGE COUNTY: HOME OF THE HATE E-MAIL
Yes, the technobigots have struck again, this time at Irvine Valley College. On Oct. 22, about 400 teachers and staffers at the college found a message in their e-mail boxes headed "Very Important Information." The e-mail, sent by someone calling himself "George Washington," contained anti-Semitic quotations attributed to such historical figures as Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and a list of 60 government officials headed "USA's Rulers-They Are All Jews!"
The e-mail was apparently sent from an account with NetAddress, a free-e-mail provider, probably in violation of the company's anti-spamming policy. The perpetrator has not yet been publicly identified, but college officials have turned over the message to Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gennaco, who has reportedly said he will determine whether the e-mail qualifies as a hate crime.
Gennaco, of course, was the prosecutor in OC's other high-profile e-mail case involving former UC Irvine student Richard Machado. In February, Machado was convicted of violating the civil rights of Asian-American students at UCI after he sent out about 60 e-mail messages threatening to "hunt down and kill" Asian students. Machado was fined, placed on probation and ordered to attend counseling; he had served a year in jail while awaiting trial. On Sept. 30, Machado was ordered to spend four months in a halfway house after violating the conditions of his parole.
The question of whether the Irvine Valley College e-mail is a hate crime is fuzzier than the UCI case. Unlike the Machado message, the anti-Semitic e-mail contains no direct threats. But no one is disputing that it's bigoted and embarrassing. Irvine Valley College president Raghu Mathur condemned the message as "disturbing, inflammatory, hateful and totally disgusting."
The message is also publicity the college didn't need. Irvine Valley College is part of the South Orange County Community College District, which has come in for more than its share of negative PR lately owing to trustee Steven J. Frogue. Frogue was targeted for recall after he proposed to teach a course on the JFK assassination featuring, among other things, a speaker who believes the Israeli government was behind the hit. The uproar over Frogue's perceived anti-Semitism has resulted in petition drives, packed board meetings and frequent shouting matches. Frogue has consistently denied charges that he is prejudiced against Jews, but several of his ex-students have claimed he made numerous anti-Semitic remarks during his tenure as a high school history teacher.
No one is claiming Frogue or his allies were in any way responsible for the e-mail. But it's not unreasonable to speculate that the high-profile argument over anti-Semitism in the district is somehow connected to the anonymous sender's decision to bombard college staff with anti-Semitic propaganda.
Online hate has shot to the top of many activists' fret lists in the past year or so. The Anti-Defamation League (which, ironically, Frogue and some of his supporters have branded a radical organization) published a report last year titled "High-Tech Hate: Extremist Use of the Internet," documenting the rise of hate e-mail, racist Web sites and other uses of the Internet by hate groups to disseminate their doctrines. A group called HateWatch (www.hatewatch.org) keeps an eye on such hate sites as Fred Phelps' God Hates Fags (www.godhatesfags.com).
There's ample justification for the concern. Anti-bigotry groups say the Internet's global reach makes it much easier for fringe racists to spread their message to potential converts. The Irvine World News reported on Oct. 29 that Irvine Valley College officials have discovered identical text from the e-mails sent to college employees on the anti-Zionist Web site Radio Islam (abbc.com/islam/english/toread/frnklin.htm), which is registered to a woman in St. Petersburg, Russia. You can also find the same quotations on the particularly unpalatable site Jew Watch (www.jewwatch.com), which seems to document every crackpot theory ever conceived about Jews Taking Over the World. It's not clear what those quotes are intended to prove-other than people 200 years ago could act like jerks, too.
But the fact is that while the Internet may make it easier for these charmers to spread their poison, OC has a long, inglorious tradition of hate that preceded the growth of the Internet by a good number of years. Frogue has reportedly been questioning the Holocaust for decades. The Newport Beach-based Institute for Historical Review, a leading light in the field of revisionist "scholarship" (which challenges the severity and even the occurrence of the Holocaust), has published its journal for nearly 20 years. There are Bob Dornan's and Lou Sheldon's venomous attacks on gays and lesbians. There's former Fullerton congressman William Dannemeyer's proposal to quarantine all AIDS sufferers. And the list goes on.
For those who think OC's growing rep for hatred is no big deal, I have two words for you: Dallas, 1963. After Frogue's favorite assassination, Dallas got labeled a city of hate, the only place in America where a man would have taken a high-powered rifle and blown a president's head off. (Note to conspiracy buffs: please don't lecture me about the grassy knoll, the pristine bullet or Jim Garrison. Let it slide.) I lived in Texas for a time, and Dallas is still, 35 years later, struggling to outlive that painful legacy.
Think about it.
Preach tolerance to Wyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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