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The Neo-Nazi Who Wasn't
The strange story of Jacques Pluss just got stranger.
In March, Pluss was fired from his position as an adjunct professor of history at Fairleigh Dickinson University shortly after it became known that he had become a leader of the National Socialist Movement of the United States, which is also known as the American Nazi Party. Students and colleagues at the New Jersey institution were stunned, but Pluss could be heard on Nazi radio broadcasts and made racist and anti-Semitic comments to reporters covering his dismissal.
Today, in an article being published on the History News Network, Pluss explains that he was never a real Nazi, but pretended to be one and outed himself so that Fairleigh Dickinson would fire him -- all to collect material so he could write a book.
In an interview, Pluss explained why he became a Nazi by saying: "I do not believe that any historian can fully grasp the actual spirit that is the essence of their subject unless they participate in it, and that participation has to come in as full a manner as possible."
In his article, Pluss cited the influence of the French deconstructionists Derrida and Foucault, as well as the work of Ernst Kantorowicz, a historian of medieval Europe, to explain why he pretended to be a Nazi. While all three scholars dealt in varying ways with issues of reality, their followers have not generally been known to take the approach Pluss did. Pressed further on why he pretended to be a Nazi, he also cited interviews in which Anthony Hopkins discussed trying to think like an evil person when he was preparing for the role of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.
The research from his time as a Nazi will go into a book that will probably take the form of historical fiction, Pluss said. He said that he anticipates publishing the book with his own publishing company.
Pluss seemed somewhat surprised by questions on whether there were moral issues associated with writing for Nazi Web sites, making audiotapes of Nazi ideology, appearing at rallies in brownshirt uniforms, etc. He acknowledged that his actions as a Nazi had probably "caused pain" for some people, but said that his findings were significant. Asked about them, he said, "There is nothing romantic about putting on a Nazi uniform and playing Third Reich. That ended in 1945. There are connections between white power groups that reach far and wide, and include a sort of spider web across America -- skinhead groups, National Socialist groups that don't use uniforms, and so forth."
Told that the links among various white power groups have been well documented by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, he said, "I became a Neo-Nazi because when I was thinking of applying my historical method last year, I wanted to find the most hard-hittingly obnoxious group that I could come up with."
He stressed that he finds Nazi ideology offensive. He said that he realizes his approach upset his former colleagues and students at Fairleigh Dickinson; at William Paterson University, where he previously was a tenured professor of history; and at the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. Pluss said that he couldn't tell anyone about his deception as that would have disturbed his "method acting approach."
He said he did make one exception: He told his mother, who he said was Jewish and who recently died, that he was faking his Nazi ties. (Pluss said that his one-time Nazi colleagues never learned that he had a Jewish parent, and that he does not practice any religion.)
A spokeswoman for Fairleigh Dickinson said that officials there did not have any comment on the latest revelations from Pluss. She said she did not know of anyone at the university who was aware of the deception.
Rick Shenkman, editor of the History News Network, said today's article came about when Pluss contacted him to complain about being listed on the Web site's "Historians on the Hot Seat" list of scholars involved in various scandals.
Shenkman said that Pluss was surprised that his October resignation from the Nazi organization hadn't been noticed or led to his removal from the list.
Pluss said he was looking forward to people knowing the nature of his time as a Nazi. Asked if we can know with confidence that he's not engaged in another hoax, he said, "you don't know," but insisted that he was telling the truth -- this time.