The Contented Cow’s decision to feature a holocaust denier as part of its series of ‘CowTalks’ has created a severe controversy on campus and in the wider community.
Norman Butler and Diane Burry, the couple who own the Cow, as well as Chapatti, have planned a series of evenings designed to stimulate ‘inquiry’ and conversation, to be held twice a month on the 2nd and 3rd thursday evening of each month.
Among their guests is conspiracy theorist and holocaust denier James Fetzer. He is scheduled to make four appearances so far, on the 19th of February and March, the 16th of April and the 21st of May. Fetzer has published numerous books in support of several conspiracy theories. and has claimed to be a professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Yet the institution denied any such connection.
Among his most notable claims are that 9/11 was part of a conspiracy orchestrated by the U.S. government in cooperation with Mossad, that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax and that the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo was a false flag operation orchestrated by Israeli interests. The argument that has generated the most controversy is Fetzer’s argument that the Holocaust was much smaller than is historically recorded and that it has been exploited for political purposes.
Fetzer was invited for four presentations at the Cow, with the intended subjects being Sandy Hook, the Kennedy Assassination, the terror attacks of 9/11 and the death of Paul Wellstone. Fetzer was invited, as he is “an authority on the subject,” according to Mr Butler. Mr Butler claims he was not aware of Fetzer’s views on the holocaust, yet did not rescind the invitation, as the subject is not the focus of the talks.
This is not the first time that Butler has hosted events at the Cow on conspiracy theories. In previous winters, he has offered “Conspiracy and a Pint,” as part of his program of events.
The controversy developed when a guest of another CotTalk learned of mr Fetzer’s appearance. Although he was not involved in the evening with Fetzer, the speaker withdrew from the series of talks, when he realised that Mr Fetzer would feature in the program. He subsequently urged Mr Butler to cancel Fetzer’s appearance, a request which was refused.
The controversy over Fetzer’s planned presentation then spread in the Northfield community.
The Northfield Area Interfaith Association as well as several faculty members have asked Butler to uninvited Fetzer. In addition, Carleton and St. Olaf faculty wrote letters to Fetzer, urging him not to give his planned presentation.
Carleton chaplain Carolyn Flure-Slocum said: “There is a fine line between free speech and hate speech. Free speech is essential in a democratic society, giving us the ground to confront injustice and speak uncomfortable truths. But, when it crosses the line into hate speech that hurts a segment of our community and threatens the safety of individuals, then it has gone too far. Jim Fetzer’s views, and the threats they have provoked from others toward members of our community, cross that line into hate speech and should not be promoted by the Cow.”
Butler continued to decline to cancel the event, and forwarded emails urging the cancellation to Fetzer because Bulter felt it was important to inform Fetzer of the protest.
Fetzer responded to emails asking for his cancellation by posting the emails on his website in an article entitled “The Abdication of Reason and Rationality in Northfield, MN”.
Several of Fetzer’s supporters sent faculty threatening emails. Some faculty members see these emails as outlandish, while others have expressed concern for the safety of themselves and family. Fetzer replied to faculty emails with angry expository defense of his theories. Butler was not aware of that Fetzer would publish the emails and has since ceased forwarding communications to him.
Butler’s invitation and continued defence of Fetzer caused some faculty members and students to urge others to reconsider their patronage of both the Cow and Chapatti.
Stating their intention to “take their business elsewhere,” the Chapel plans no longer uses Chapatti to cater its events. An editorial has been drafted by members of the Carleton faculty and the community and signed by numerous members of faculty. It urges their colleagues and students to reconsider their patronage of Mr Butlers restaurants. The petition can be viewed in this issue of The Carletonian. The College has yet to take an official position on the matter.
Butler referred to the protest against Fetzer as “a gag order that isn’t fair or proper.” Butler maintains that Fetzer is exercising his right to free speech, and feels that the protests against the scheduled talk infringe on their freedom of expression. To this one faculty member argues that “But they are exercising their right indecently; And we have rights as well – including the right to speak freely to Norman and Diane, letting them know this is disgraceful… and the right to change where we spend our dollars.”