Tuesday, February 20, 2007

New Jersey Residents Bewildered Over Eric Hunt's Actions

Two days after a former Vernon (New Jersey) High School student was arrested and charged with attacking Holocaust propagandist Elie Wiesel, school officials were stunned to think the quiet, courteous teen they once knew could have committed such a crime. Full story published in the New Jersey Herald. This issue is also being discussed on the Vanguard News Network Forum. (Pictured at left, Eric Hunt in the right frame, courtesy of CBS News)

Eric Hunt, 22, of Lake Wallkill Road, was arrested Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Clinic in Somerset County, Montgomery Township Police said. Authorities in San Francisco had issued a warrant for Hunt's arrest after they connected him to the February 1st attack on Wiesel at the city's Argent Hotel. Police said they found Hunt's car in the hotel parking garage, and Wiesel told the newspaper that his assailant fled so quickly that the man left his wallet and driver's license in the car. The police knew Hunt had cash and was using a credit card, and they tracked him to the Carrier Clinic, where Hunt's mother had helped him check into the facility. At that point, San Francisco Police alerted Montgomery Township Police to Hunt's whereabouts. Montgomery officers then arrested him at 1:30 P.M. on Saturday (February 18th) and later reported that Hunt was polite and docile, offering no resistance. The apprehension represented a cooperative effort by the San Francisco Police Special Investigations Division and police departments in New York City and Montgomery Township, according to San Francisco District Attorney Kamala D. Harris.

The Carrier Clinic offers treatment for illnesses such as anxiety, depression, dementia and substance dependence. A woman who answered the phone at the clinic on Saturday said she could not comment on Hunt, citing patient confidentiality. He reportedly had admitted himself there for some type of treatment

Hunt is lodged without bail in the Somerset County Jail, where he awaits extradition to San Francisco. He is charged with six counts, which include kidnapping, false imprisonment, battery, elder abuse, false imprisonment of an elder and stalking. His bail in California was set at $500,000.

To briefly recap the incident, Elie Wiesel, 78, was a featured speaker at a peace forum at the hotel in San Francisco. He was approached in the lobby by a white man in his 20s who asked for an interview, police said. Authorities said Wiesel agreed to talk in the lobby, but the man insisted the interview be conducted in a hotel room, and got into the elevator with Wiesel. Once on the sixth floor, the suspect dragged Wiesel from the elevator, police said. Wiesel began yelling, and the suspect ran away down the elevator, police said, and was in such a hurry he left his car, wallet, and drivers license behind.

It initially appeared that Hunt was being grossly overcharged. However, the stalking charge appears to be also derived from a preceding incident. Lt. Dan Mahoney, head of special investigations for San Francisco police, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Hunt traveled to Florida in an unsuccessful attempt to confront Wiesel at a conference there. This may be the impetus behind the stalking charge, but even so, the charges still appear excessive.

Hunt reportedly began following Holocaust revisionist organizations after graduating from college, and although he used the Internet to spread his beliefs, authorities believe Hunt acted alone, according to the Chronicle.

While the incident has drawn worldwide interest and underscores the disquieting concept of Holocaust denial, many Sussex County residents were bewildered, amazed, and shocked.

"He was a very easy-going kid. He always had a smile on his face," boys tennis coach Doug Miller said of Hunt. Hunt played varsity tennis at the high school for at least two years, earning All-SCIL Honorable Mention in 2001 and 2002. Miller said he first learned of Hunt's arrest in a phone call from a reporter this weekend. "My first impression was that it was something positive, because he was that kind of student," Miller said. "I was completely shocked." Miller further described Hunt as a "normal, quiet kid," and said political issues were not discussed around the team.

Over the past 10 years, the high school has developed numerous special programs "not only dealing with the Holocaust, but tolerance issues in general," Superintendent Anthony Macerino said. "Who knows how these things happen?" he said of the alleged incident. Otherwise, Macerino had not heard much about the arrest during the holiday weekend. "I didn't really know the student," he said. "We have so many students, I didn't even recall the name at all."

"I was amazed," said Mary Ann Kaicher, Hunt's high school debate team instructor. "He was a lovely kid. I can only speculate that something terrible happened to him." Hunt was a good student who did not take part in the more aggressive facets of the debate team, she said. Instead, he participated in public speaking categories such as "original oratory." "I didn't see any indication of any violence. He was a peaceful person, an idealistic person," Kaicher said. "It's an aberrant thing ... There are kids that have strange ideas or an agenda, but he's not one of them."

It was unclear Monday whether Hunt had retained an attorney, and his family was not reachable for comment. The San Francisco District Attorney has also filed special hate crime allegations for each count. "The charges today send a clear message," Harris said in a written statement. "Our city won't allow hatred to go unpunished."

If convicted, the hate crime stipulations could add an "extra few years" to the penalties, Rutgers law professor Frank Askin estimated. "There are enhanced penalties for crimes that include a hateful motivation, and those enhanced penalties have been upheld," he said.

On February 6th, someone identifying himself as "Eric Hunt" posted a lengthy article on the Ziopedia website, admitting to the encounter with Wiesel, and asserting that he had been following Wiesel around the country for weeks. However, the poster further stated that when Wiesel grabbed at his chest and start screaming, he left. While the account squares almost perfectly with what Wiesel has said, it has not been verified that the real Eric Hunt actually posted the information.

The San Francisco Chronicle also reported that Hunt's father, Frank Hunt, 49, said his son called February 9th and asked to be picked up at a bus station in Scranton, PA., explaining that his car was in the shop. The elder Hunt said his son, whom he had not seen in 11 years, acted strangely, appeared disheveled and did not carry luggage, the newspaper reported. [Ed. Note: If Hunt is 22, then that means Hunt's father hasn't seen his son since he was 11. No word on whether Frank Hunt is divorced from a previous wife and is the non-custodial parent - it could even be a different family situation.]

His son mentioned nothing about Wiesel, the Holocaust or anti-Semitism in the two days he stayed with him in Pennsylvania, Frank Hunt told the Chronicle. The elder Hunt, who dropped his son off on February 11th in New Jersey at his insistence, said he hopes his son gets the help he needs, the newspaper reported. "I think he might be mentally ill,'' he told the Chronicle. "I'm worried about his mental health.''

Andover resident Perry Raabe, whose father survived the Holocaust, said he was "kind of stunned" to see the news stories about the Vernon resident and has been clipping the articles. "I was saying to myself, 'That's not the way to put Sussex County on the map,'" Raabe said. Raabe, who has lived in the county since 1975, said he has never encountered anyone locally who denies the Holocaust occurred. "I really haven't, not that it's the type of topic you talk about seven days a week," he said.

The Jewish Center of Sussex County was saddened to see a local person implicated in the attack, because the congregation "feels very much at home in Sussex County," Rabbi Cathy Felix said. Holocaust survivors are regular speakers at the center in Newton, she said. "People are always moved by that story." [Ed. Note: Others are getting sick and tired of hearing it over and over and over, ad nauseum.]

Wiesel, who was uninjured in the hotel confrontation, survived the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II, and has worked for human rights in many parts of the world and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. His best-known book, "Night," was released in 1958 and recounts his experiences in the concentration camps. As of Sunday, the latest translation of "Night" was ranked number 9 on the New York Times Best Sellers list for paperback "nonfiction".

Raabe said he has read several articles by Wiesel and watched him speak on television. "I think he's an intelligent guy with a lot of insight into the Holocaust and the human condition," he said.

Denying the Holocaust is illegal in several European countries. The Volksverhetzung, or "sedition of the people," is a section of German law that makes it illegal to incite hatred against a minority of the population. Just last week, a German court sentenced Ermst Zuendel to five years in prison for allegedly denying the Holocaust on a website, even though Zuendel has never denied the event occurred, but merely disputed the precise demographics, methodology, and singularity. Top Jews insist that the Jewish Holocaust is historically unique, which makes it appear that Jewish suffering is somehow more important than the suffering of other people, an expression of Jewish supremacism. Zundel, 67, was kidnapped in the United States by American authorities, transferred to Canadian custody, held incommunicado in Canada for a year, then deported from Canada in 2005 and prosecuted in Germany because the website in question is accessible there. The U.S. does not have a law against Holocaust "denial" (although this case may create a demand for such a law).

Commentary: Even if Eric Hunt was "stalking" Wiesel by shadowing him around the U.S., this still doesn't warrant the assortment or the severity of charges against him. And furthermore, Wiesel was uninjured. The fact that the San Francisco District Attorney intends to attach special "hate crime allegations" to each specific charge exposes her vindictiveness. Indeed, she freely admits that justice is not the issue; she wants to "send a message" by making an example out of him. This is Soviet-style justice. Can there be any further doubt that Communism didn't die in 1992; it merely changed its address from Moscow to Washington?

One final question - If the attack on Jared Taylor had happened in her jurisdiction, would she be prosecuting Taylor's attackers so vigorously?

No comments: