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A Little Irony With Your Beer?

ON CALIFORNIA

June 02, 1991|ROBERT A. JONES

FALLBROOK — Here's how you get to Tom Metzger's house: drive to Camp Pendleton and turn east, into the hills. Keep going past the new tracts till they fade away and you come, finally, to the horsey town of Fallbrook. There, on Sunbeam Lane, you will find it.

The scene surrounding the house is important, so let me describe it. Sunbeam Lane is not exactly the prestige address of Fallbrook. Sunbeam Lane looks like something out of eastern Kentucky. The favored lawn adornments appear to be used refrigerators. The most popular pets are dogs with missing fur.

On this street, where Metzger lives, a little drama is under way. Metzger, founder of the White Aryan Resistance and currently our most famous white racist, is being relieved of his worldly possessions. Little by little, Metzger's world is shrinking towards zero.

That's because a jury in Portland, Ore., ruled last October that Metzger was "vicariously liable" for inciting a group of skinheads to attack and murder a black man. The jury ordered Metzger to pay the man's family $12.5 million.

That's a fair sum. And since Metzger did not have ready cash on hand, the money must come, so to speak, from his hide.

Sitting in his basement office, Metzger seems little perturbed by his predicament. "Wanna beer?" he asks, and waves a Pabst Blue Ribbon in offering.

Already, the marshals have taken his cars and the truck he used as a TV repairman. They raided the house and took the stereo and video equipment and the video tapes of Aryan history.

They sucked the money out of his bank accounts and out of the post office boxes where the true believers send their contributions. When Metzger diverted the contributions to a friend's account, they took that, too.

And soon they will come to take the house. It's a run-down affair on a run-down street and Metzger estimates it's worth all of $90,000. The plaintiffs say $125,000, but whatever, it will go.

Metzger is not the first of the white rascist leaders to get this treatment. In 1984, the same attorneys brought a similar case against Robert Shelton and the United Klans of America. That judgment amounted to $7 million. Metzger says that Shelton, in the face of that judgment, showed himself a coward. He agreed to end his Klan activities if the plaintiffs would let him keep his house and personal possessions.

Metzger has other plans. "Let 'em take the house," he says. "I will never keep quiet. We'll just go on welfare and rent."

In fact, Metzger already has entered the welfare rolls. Being a family man without means of support, the county is now supplying him with about $1,000 a month. So as one arm of the government tries to crush him, another arm seeks to nourish.

That's the great thing about California, Metzger says. It offers all kinds of possibilities. "The hippies and radicals discovered that truth long ago," he says. "We're discovering it now. Welfare can be a revolutionary act."

"I have even discovered," he said, "that when they take the house, California will give us the money for a motel. Then they will supply $1,000 to cover the security deposit for the apartment.

"Why would anyone ever want to leave California?"

No reason at all, Tom. My understanding is that your otherwise favorite states of Mississippi and Louisiana do not pay $1,000 security deposits for clients on welfare.

I only wish one thing. I wish that you had gotten the hell out of Fallbrook sometime in, say, 1974 and moved to a nice place in Pacific Palisades. One of those neighborhoods where you can watch the sun dip into the Pacific each evening. Back in those days you could have gotten into the Palisades for 75 grand or so.

Today, the house would be worth a million, maybe two. Then the California equation would be working. You'd be a man with real property, somebody with a lot to lose. We could grab the house and turn the proceeds over to the family of that black kid. And there would be some justice.

But no, you had to sit tight on this street in Fallbrook with the refrigerators out front and the dogs rolling in the dirt. You had to put your money into things like mobile trailers that you parked in the side yard and let rust. You stuck with Pabst Blue Ribbon, you stayed poor, and you're hardly worth cashing out.

So we'll see you in the welfare line, Tom. And we know you will appreciate the irony every time you cash the check.

But it will cash, just the same.

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