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An investigation followed. Pluss did indeed hold radical beliefs way beyond the mainstream, in fact he had a radio show hosted by the National Socialist Movement. While Farliegh Dickinson never questioned why a neo-Nazi would be travelling in Irish Republican Army circles (socialists and nazis don’t exactly get along), the issue of what to do about Pluss and concerns about intellectual freedom came to light. Pluss certainly never preached his beliefs on campus… and leftist radicals (and professors) were allowed to come, speak, and hold radical beliefs all the time.
So what did Farliegh Dickinson do? They fired him, but not for his beliefs — rather they fired him for absences that coincidentally became problems right around the same time as his “beliefs” came to light.
“Beliefs,” you say? Why the quotation marks? Because Pluss never held those beliefs. Rather, he is a very close student of another Jacques: Jacques Derrida:
Pluss did this with an unprecedented — some would say nutty — piece of guerrilla theater that just came to light the other day. At this time last year, Pluss was a quiet and otherwise unremarkable part-time history teacher at the Fairleigh Dickinson University campus in Teaneck. Then in March, the student newspaper received a mysterious letter postmarked from a small village in Ireland. The letter alleged that Pluss was a member of a neo-Nazi group in America and was also, among other things, an Irish Republican Army member who was being investigated concerning a recent drive-by killing in Belfast.
The neo-Nazis and the IRA generally don’t move in the same circles, so that should have tipped off the college kids that something about the letter was a bit fishy. But then a bit of investigation turned up the curious fact that Pluss had been holding forth on an Internet radio station hosted by the National Socialist Movement.
Before long, Pluss was summarily booted from his teaching post and told not to show up on campus again. Fairleigh Dickinson officials said the firing had nothing to do with his politics. The dismissal was, they said, the result of some absences that had, coincidentally enough, come to their attention at the same time they learned of his tendency to march around in a brown shirt wearing black boots.
Having gotten that bit of legalese out of the way, they then went on to denounce Pluss for his political views. ‘It’s not politics; it’s hate mongering,’ a dean by the name of John Snyder told the Bergen Record. ‘It’s just hatred directed at the very students he taught.’
When I phoned Pluss at the time, he protested the hypocrisy of the FDU faculty. Murderous leftist movements of all types are welcome on campuses all over America, he told me, but their right-wing equivalents are repressed. Back when he was a professor at William Paterson University some years ago, Pluss told me, a fellow professor had a huge hammer-and-sickle banner on her office wall. Che Guevara’s a big hit among college kids these days, and Chairman Mao’s not far behind, he noted.
Game, set, match. Now not only are the leftists at FDU upset if not angry at Pluss’ exposition of their lack of tolerance for divergent viewpoints, the neo-Nazi’s are upset because of Pluss’ portrayal of them, phoning in death threats and other acts of violence!
All of this, in fact, was a great history experiment in the tradition of Derrida and Foucault:
It now turns out Pluss is not a Nazi; he’s just a post-modernist. The other day, Pluss posted an article on the History News Network Web site (http://hnn.us/) titled “Now It Can Be Told: Why I Pretended to Be a Neo-Nazi.” The episode, he writes, was inspired by the great French deconstructionists Jacques Derrida and Michele Foucault, who had insisted on “the need for the historian to ‘become’ her or his subject.
And so, Pluss is writing a book based on his hypothesis, experimentation, and the result from not only the neo-Nazis, but the very similar rhetoric and response from the enlightened Ivory Tower types at FDU:
“The theory behind my actions came from legitimate scholarship,” Pluss said. “I thought to myself, ‘Let’s do a method-acting approach to the study of history and see how it works.’ I chose the Nazis because they were absolutely the most obnoxious, whacky group I could find.”
The academics were a close second, however.
Pluss wanted to test their reactions as well, which is why he mailed off that nutty letter when he was vacationing in Ireland. The FDU officials took the bait. So much for academic freedom. Pluss was not only booted from the campus but shunned by all of his former colleagues.
Pluss risked reputation, career, and personal safety for what has to be one of the most risky historical/sociological immersion experiments I have seen in my lifetime. How come no one questioned the Nazi-IRA connection? This at a university?
All this having been said, Derrida and Foucault would be proud indeed. Pluss has not only delved into the neo-Nazi movement, he also has the experience of delving into the reaction of leftist groups and understanding the tension between arch-socialists and neo-Nazis. I might not agree with how he did it, but certainly the conversation at FDU amongst the students and the public at large (those paying attention anyhow) should certainly create some conversation as to what really separates ideological fanatics in the end.
I have to go back to this comment by Pluss:
“I had thought there would at least have been some more academically and intellectually oriented responses,” said Pluss, whose Ph.D. in medieval history is from the highly respected University of Chicago.
Why wasn’t he extended that courtesy, when unquestioned socialist heroes such as Mao, Che, and Marx are celebrated as pioneers by some faculty nationwide? A debate could have ensued in the student newspaper, questions about what to do regarding the belief system of any professor on campus, how it influenced what they taught in the classroom, etc.
Instead, that never happened.
Were leftist professors who held obstensibly offensive beliefs way beyond the mainstream – those how epitomize such brutal and murderous leftist ideologues such as Che Guerrera and Mao Tse-Tung – afraid that they too would be scrutinized? Held to their own standard? Rather than set an equitable bar, they took the road of exclusion rather than inclusion, of restriction rather than freedom, of inquisition rather than instruction.
Ideological purity might be good for a political party, a church, or any place where a certain set of beliefs must be imposed via indoctrination. But not at a university, which is precisely the point Pluss makes in dramatic fashion.