A group claiming to be America’s largest Nazi party has scheduled a rally on Yom Kippur — by accident.
The leader of the Minnesota-based National Socialist Movement, Jeff Schoep, told the Forward that he invited like-minded groups to show up for a rally in Valley Forge National Historical Park on September 25, the day of Yom Kippur. The decision to hold the rally on Judaism’s holiest day was a coincidence, Schoep said, explaining that he scheduled the event for a weekend so that his mostly working-class supporters could attend.
“I don’t know much about their holy holidays,” said Schoep, who has headed the 30-year-old Nazi group for a decade. “We’re not going out there for the Jewish people.”
The purpose of the rally, according to Schoep, is to oppose what he described as the “unchecked immigration” that is “breeding us out of existence,” as well as to protest the war in Iraq. The choice of the Philadelphia-area site of Valley Forge, he said in a passionate but careful tone, is of historical significance because it is where Americans fought for freedom against the tyranny of King George. “And now,” Schoep said, “we have another corrupt King George.”
Schoep declined to say how many members currently belong to his organization. He predicted that 250 people would show up for the rally.
But Jewish organizational officials in Philadelphia challenged those predications, saying that previous Nazi rallies held on the East Coast seldom have met the attendance figures touted by organizers. According to Barry Morrison, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League’s regional office in Philadelphia, Schoep’s attendance forecast is likely to follow a familiar pattern. “The group makes preposterous claims that they can martial large numbers of followers, and rarely produce that many,” Morrison said.
In order to avoid providing the Nazi group with any more publicity, Jewish communal officials decided against staging a counter-demonstration. They reached that decision two weeks ago in consultations with representatives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and city and state officials.
“Just because these people are coming to town doesn’t mean we have to jump in response,” said Bert Siegel, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia.
Both ADL and JCRC officials said that the Nazis have a constitutional right to come to Pennsylvania and speak, as long as they don’t incite violence. “It’s a free country, though they weren’t invited,” Siegel said.
“They can speak their message of hate and go home.”
Morrison sounded a slightly different note, saying that “we strongly urge a vocal response to the sentiments they represent.
“But we urge people not to attend the rally — even just to observe rather than engage, debate and confront — which would only encourage them.” He suggested that community leaders sign statements, issue press releases and hold vigils rather than disrupt the Yom Kippur holiday.
David Weisberg of the ADL said an ad-hoc group of local residents not affiliated with the JCRC or ADL is planning an event in Valley Forge, but at a respectful distance inside the park to where the Nazis will assemble.
For his part, Schoep agreed that Jews should stay away from his party’s rally on Yom Kippur.
“People that don’t support us, the best thing to do is to stay home,” Schoep said. “We’re not coming to speak to our enemies; we’re coming to speak to our supporters.”