"Race and Reason" opens with soft, insistent piano music and a shot of the host in a three-piece suit, seated at a table. He has a monotonic, almost hypnotic voice. But the words, at times raw and vicious, explode.
"Hi, I'm Tom Metzger," he said, introducing a recent show. " 'Race and Reason' is seen in 55 cities around the United States, one of the longest-running shows on cable access. We stand for freedom of speech, total freedom of speech, an island of free speech in a sea of controlled and very managed news. Today's guest is Carl Straight, a roving reporter of ours who's done some excellent reviews on the kosher food racket. . . .' "
Metzger, a TV repairman in Fallbrook, Calif., is leader of the White American Political Assn. and the White Aryan Resistance, a former San Diego congressional candidate and a former California grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.
For the past four years, he has hosted "Race and Reason," a talk show that is shown on public access channels on cable television--channels that by design are open to anyone who submits a tape.
Often, they are conduits for programming from government agencies, health care organizations and local religious, ethnic and civic groups.
From Sacramento to Cincinnati, from Austin, Tex., to Spokane, Wash., "Race and Reason" has provoked controversy. Going beyond the confrontational type of "shock TV" practiced on commercial television by the likes of Morton Downey Jr. and Wally George, this is "hate TV."
Racial slurs are commonplace, the suggestion that Asians and other minorities should be stopped at the U.S. border is routine, and the allegation that Jews run the country is frequent.
Wearing a T-shirt with the message "White Revolution Is the Only Solution," guest speaker Straight talked about white supremacists jailed for illegally bearing arms who are in cells with "some of the greasiest-looking . . . you ever seen in your life. You can tell these guys come from the black ghettoes of Watts or somewhere."
The City Council in Kansas City recently shut down its public access channel rather than let the Ku Klux Klan show "Race and Reason." Now the show could become a test case of the future of public access programming and the constitutional limits of free speech on cable TV.
"Race and Reason," a program of "talking heads," rarely shouts.
Metzger generally acts as the protagonist who enables his guests to unload their material. Sample remarks made on "Race and Reason":
--Herbert Poinsett of Atlanta opined that "blacks are 15 to 20 IQ points below us" and that "Polish people are excellent; they had 'em in the \o7 Waffen \f7 SS."
--Klansman J.B. Stoner, who was convicted of the 1958 bombing of a black Baptist church in Birmingham, claimed that the AIDS virus is spread by blacks and Jews.
--Karl Hand, commander of the National Socialist Liberation Front based in New Orleans, called Hitler "a great man," while Metzger's response was a concern that "Mein Kampf" is misquoted.
Although Metzger said on the program with Straight that the show was appearing in 55 cities, he said in a more recent interview that it was in 40 cities. When asked to name them, he and his wife came up with about 20--including San Francisco, San Diego and cities in the west San Fernando Valley and Orange County. Outside California, the series is seen in Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Richmond, Va., and Memphis, and has been shown in such cities as New York, Norwood, Ohio, and Pocatello, Ida.
"We feel this is quite an accomplishment over a period of four years. We've gone from nothing to virtually being all over," Metzger said. "I'm much more influential around the country due to this notoriety, yes."
Metzger figures he has done about 80 shows. In the past year, most have been taped at Comcast Cable in a residential Fullerton neighborhood after student protests forced him out of facilities at Cal State Fullerton.
The Comcast division, which serves Fullerton, Placentia and Buena Park, shows Metzger about twice a month. To be eligible, said Lisa Yale, until recently Comcast's director of community programming, "you have to reside or be affiliated with a group or organization in the community, and his producer, David Wiley (composer of the theme music), is a resident of Fullerton."
There is an occasional protest call, although Comcast, like most cable companies, displays a disclaimer saying the company is not responsible for the opinions expressed.
"It's his First Amendment right," Yale said. "We just make sure the program's not obscene or indecent, no profanities or obscenities."
An estimated 1,500 to 1,700 of the 8,000 cable systems across the country have some kind of public access channels, according to Sharon Ingraham, board chairwoman of the National Federation of Local Cable Programmers. These channels are part of the usually exclusive franchise agreements that city and county governments arrange with cable companies.