'Minister of Hate'

Eureka Springs luminary labeled 'most prominent anti-Semite in America'

The Joplin Globe/January 2001
By Andy Ostmeyer

Eureka Springs, Ark. -- The giant, white concrete and steel Christ of the Ozarks statue towers 70 feet over the surrounding countryside.

Fingertip to fingertip, the arms stretch 65 feet.

Nearby are the Bible Museum, a Memorial Chapel, and the New Holy Land with re-created Old Testament brick pits and costumed tour guides. The area also contains "The Great Passion Play," where the passion of Christ is re-enacted during the tourist season.

Gerald L.K. Smith and his wife, Elna, are buried here.

Smith founded the religious theme park and is considered a father of tourism in the Ozarks, having fallen in love with Eureka Springs' Victorian mountain charm at a time when Carroll County was one of the most impoverished counties in one of the country's more impoverished states.

Millions of people have come to see Smith's religious play and tour the grounds in the past 35 years, but few know the full story about the creator's past.

Smith began his rise to fame in the 1930s and within a decade was "the most prominent American spokesman of anti-Semitism," according to historian Leonard Dinnerstein.

Another scholar, Syracuse University political science professor Michael Barkun, has written that "Smith was, by the 1940s, and remained until his death in 1976, the most prominent anti-Semite in America."

According to Barkun and others, Smith also had direct connections to the seminal figures who gave birth to the Christian Identity movement in the latter half of the 20th century.



Smith was born in Wisconsin. His work as a minister took him to Shreveport, La. There, he met Huey Long, Louisiana's powerful politician. Smith banged the drum for Long's political bids and his "Share the Wealth" campaign until an assassin killed the Kingfish.

Smith would continue his preaching and political career with what The New York Times described as a "bewildering succession of unusual organizations - The Committee of One Million, the America First Party, the Christian Nationalist Party - whose common denominator has been protest and incessant churning of the nation's small but perpetual stratum of extremist discontent."

Journalist H.L. Mencken described Smith as "the greatest orator of them all, not the greatest by an inch or a foot or a yard or a mile, but the greatest by at least two light years" the Aristotle and Johann Sebastian Bach of all known ear-splitters, dead or alive."

Thomas Dewey, the Republican contender for president, used a far less stirring comparison.

Worried that Smith and others like him would "pollute" the Republican Party, he described the preacher and his followers as "rodents."


Seeking respect

Around 1964, Smith moved to Eureka Springs, living here during the summers, and soon began his projects, which were well-received.

Local judges, the mayor, the president of the ministerial association and even a retired congressman were present for the dedication of the Christ of the Ozarks statue, which was completed in 1966.

Two historians, Arnold Forster and Benjamin Epstein, concluded that the people of Eureka Springs were willingly seduced by Smith's projects and the economic potential they promised.

High school girls handed out literature about the "Passion Play." Smith's right-hand man and the editor of his anti-Semitic newspaper, Charles Robertson, sat on the board of the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce and would later become the town's mayor.

Restaurants and gift shops proliferated after Smith's work began, followed by new hotels and the renovation of turn-of-the-century buildings.

Smith's biographer, Glen Jeansonne, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said Smith tried to distance himself from his anti-Semitic newspaper, The Cross and the Flag, after moving to Eureka Springs. He wouldn't allow the paper to be delivered here, for example.

Jeansonne titled his book "Gerald L.K. Smith, Minister of Hate."

Although Smith wouldn't allow his paper to be delivered in Eureka Springs, he continued to record his messages on tapes at his home in Arkansas and then mail those tapes to California, where the newspaper was published.

"He wanted to be respectable," Jeansonne said of Smith. "He didn't want to taint his sacred projects in Eureka Springs. "Most people who go up there have no idea about it."

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