Nazi Films Inflame Tensions in Kalispell

Flathead Beacon, Montana/May 5, 2010

Karl Gharst stood inside the south door of the Kalispell library last Thursday evening, looking out at the roughly 200 protesters outside, holding signs showing their opposition to a film he was screening in the basement titled, "Epic: The Story of the Waffen SS."

"It's a f---ing freak show," Gharst said of the protest. "They're all the same queers and Jews and s--- that were at the gay pride parade."

Gharst was manning the door to ensure that anyone who wanted to see the film wouldn't be harassed on their way in. A few minutes earlier, a scuffle broke out as the protesters took photos of some of the people entering and a woman's camera was broken.

Kalispell Police arrested April Gaede and Mark Harrington for the incident, charging them both with assault and criminal mischief, misdemeanors, and led them out of the library in handcuffs.

Gharst said he was disappointed that Gaede reacted to the demonstrators, adding that descriptions of the people there to see the film, and of those who attended his March 29 screening of a film titled, "The Holocaust Debate," as a unified group were inaccurate.

"We're not organized, we're not Klansmen, we're not anything but good citizens," Gharst said.

Outside, demonstrators lined the intersection of First Avenue East and Third Street, holding signs reading "No Neo-Nazis," "Love is True Purity," and "No Hate in My Backyard."

Rabbi Allen Secher stood across from the library's south entrance holding a sign that read, "I only hate broccoli." The purpose of the protest, he said, was to "let these guys know that the majority of the good citizens of the Flathead say ‘no' to hate here."

"This hasn't happened very often in the Flathead - it's here, it's real and vicious hate exists," Secher added. "I lost family in the Holocaust. This is denying me my birthright."

Darryl Kistler, pastor of the United Church of Christ in Kalispell, organized the protest.

"This demonstration is only step number one," Kistler said. "Ultimately, we have to get to engagement, we have to get to dialogue, where we sit down peacefully and with mutual respect for each other and have a conversation."

West Valley resident Bill Breen, who fought in the Pacific theatre during World War II, was pleased by how many people turned out to demonstrate.

"We're just fortunate to be able to express our views and have the freedom we have in this country," Breen said. "But it's an ugly insult to people that fought against the Nazis, and the millions of people who sacrificed their lives around the world to stop this kind of hate."

However, those inside the library to see the film said the demonstrators were denying them their right to peacefully watch a movie. The film itself was a speech recorded in 1982 by Leon Degrelle, a former officer in the Waffen SS, the combat arm of the Nazi political party, which was condemned during the Nuremberg trials for crimes against humanity.

"Hitler said, ‘If I ever had a son, I'd want him to be like you, Leon,'" Gharst told the small group gathered in the basement as he introduced the film. "If you listen carefully, you'll find out that this is a highly intelligent man."

According to a transcript of the film obtained online through the Institute for Historical Review, Degrelle calls Adolf Hitler a "man of exceptional genius," who turned Germany into an "economic powerhouse" and was averse to war. According to Degrelle, Germany's invasion of Poland during World War II was manipulated by the British, along with the Nazi occupation of France.

"Hitler had no interest whatever in getting involved with the war in France, a war forced on him," Degrelle said in the film.

As for the concentration camps, where an estimated 6 million European Jews were systematically exterminated by Nazis, Degrelle dismissed the notion entirely, saying, "they were just work camps where intractable communists were put to work," and were "well treated."

"The fight - if we can call it that - of National Socialism against the Jews was purely limited to one objective: that the Jews leave Germany in peace," Degrelle said.

The belief that the Holocaust did not occur was shared by a handful of the people viewing the film, some of whom ended up in the hallway outside the viewing room arguing with the protesters who came downstairs.

A man who identified himself as Hans Kraft said he was a resident of Berlin and raised in a German family of SS officers. As the movie started and the crowd outside began to disperse, Kraft shouted at the protesters that Hitler "was just trying to feed his country," and that Americans have also committed historical atrocities, and thus have no right to judge Germany.

"You're not going to eradicate the German race; we're not going to allow it to happen," Kraft shouted. "How dare they point a finger at another country?"

As the demonstrators began to walk away, Kraft gave the Nazi salute, shouted "Sieg Heil!" and clicked his heels together.

Downstairs, a woman confronted Kraft, telling him her great-grandparents died in the Holocaust.

"Oh, bulls---," Kraft replied, noting that his uncle worked at the Auschwitz concentration camps. Historians estimate more than 1 million people died in Auschwitz, most of them Jews.

"They were Jew-on-Jew crimes," Kraft said of the Auschwitz deaths. "It had nothing to do with the Germans."

Next to Kraft, Gharst was explaining to a group of high school students that people of different races have never coexisted peacefully and never would. Gharst is a former resident of Hayden, Idaho, and was involved in the neo-Nazi group, Aryan Nations. In 2003 he unsuccessfully ran for city council there with two other Aryan Nations candidates.

In 2004, Gharst was convicted in Flathead County District Court and served five months for threatening a social worker with the Department of Public Health and Human Services. According to the criminal complaint, Gharst called the woman a "wild savage from the Flathead Indian Reservation." He also told a DPHHS worker he was forming a group in Kalispell to "gather up all the lesbians and mongrels and evil people."

"All white people are kings and you are still a greasy turd colored mongrel, a corruption, a racial hybrid, something God didn't create and he is about to take care of business," Gharst is alleged to have said to the social worker.

As for the demonstrators, Gharst said they would not dissuade him from showing more films and that he planned to screen a movie May 29 titled, "The Truth Behind the Gates of Auschwitz."

When asked if he would consider engaging in dialogue with Kistler or some of the other protesters, Gharst replied, "I'd be more than happy to go to his church and talk to his congregation."

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