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L.A. Mensa Chapter Votes to Oust Newsletter Editor : Controversy: High-IQ society is target of national outrage over articles on population control.

January 13, 1995|NORA ZAMICHOW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A newsletter editor for the Los Angeles chapter of the high-IQ society Mensa was ousted Thursday evening after she was criticized worldwide for printing articles that appeared to advocate extermination of the homeless, the mentally retarded, the old and the infirm.

The resignation came after the national head of the society told the chapter to remove the editor, Nikki Frey, who had printed the controversial articles in a recent edition of the locally circulated publication.

In a two-hour emergency meeting Thursday night, members of the local chapter's executive committee voted 5 to 1 to replace Frey. Frey herself cast the dissenting vote.

"Even if they had someone to take over this crummy, thankless job, I still don't think it would do any good for me to resign," Frey had said shortly before the meeting.

Earlier this week, The Times reported that articles in a recent Mensa newsletter discussed numerous inflammatory suggestions for population control, including an article that said the homeless "should be humanely done away with, like abandoned kittens."

In the past three days, Mensa chapters nationwide have been inundated by thousands of outraged calls and letters. The New York office received two bomb threats. The controversy has quickly besmirched the carefully honed image of the society for brainy folks.

Mensa, which boasts a membership with IQs in the top 2% of the public, has found itself the butt of jokes on talk shows. The organization was blasted by comedian Stephanie Miller and skewered by Rush Limbaugh, who quipped that "being at the top end of the bell curve ain't all it's cracked up to be."

And national officials found themselves desperate for damage control.

"This is a huge black eye," said Richard Amyx, chairman of American Mensa Ltd., the society's parent organization. "This is the worst adverse public relations problem we ever had--it's costing us money, it's costing us all kinds of time, and it will ultimately cost us membership because it tarnishes our reputation."

On Tuesday, the day the story ran in The Times, Amyx said he asked Frey not to further fuel the controversy by granting interviews. Instead, Frey appeared on several shows, attempting to defend her actions, he said.

"She was asked to help quiet the situation rather than to seed it," Amyx said. It is because of Frey's actions during the firestorm of criticism--not her editorial decision--that she was asked to step down as editor, Amyx said.

He said he told the chairman of the Greater Los Angeles Area Mensa chapter, a woman who goes only by the name Gowen, that Frey "should be replaced as editor of Lament." Gowen was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Incensed by the newsletter's articles sent to the local chapter's 2,000 members, several Mensa members said they were relieved that Frey, a legal secretary who volunteers her time as editor, had stepped down from the post she has held for almost two years.

"There was a lack of judgment in having that article printed at all and then she is going on radio and television making it worse," said Erik Beckjord, an importer and a Mensa member for 10 years. "I'm glad they are finally acting. I only wish they had done it sooner."

Gowen and six other board members had supported Frey in a meeting last month, giving her a unanimous vote of confidence.

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