David was walking his 14-year-old puggle, Dakota, down his quiet street in Glenview Tuesday morning when he noticed a plastic bag at the end of his driveway. Inside, a smorgasbord of antisemitic flyers. He called the police, then took a photo and emailed it to me.
“I reported to the police and they are aware that it’s been happening in West Glenview over the last two weeks,” wrote David — I’m not using his last name; given he’s already received his ration of hate for the week, I didn’t want to invite more.
He wasn’t terrified.
“I didn’t feel threatened,” he said.
Nor do I. Antisemitism is an odd brand of hatred. Usually, bigots try to shore up their broken selves by sneering at those they consider beneath them. But antisemites jeer at a group they imagine simultaneously beneath and above them, both rats and world dominators. Vermin who nevertheless run the banks, the government, the media. (I sometimes hear from readers whose careful analysis of this column detects a subtle Jewish influence, particularly when concerning subjects like Yom Kippur.)
To be honest, I took only the most detached interest in the screeds; mostly, because they are an example of vanishing print media.
”That’s old school,” I told him. Almost nostalgic, like finding a Tony Alamo pamphlet on a bus station men’s room urinal.
Normally, I wouldn’t magnify this stuff. It’s just dull. But distribution of antisemitic material is at “historic levels,” according to an Anti-Defamation League report issued Thursday, up 27% in 2021 over 2020.
And I do have a personal insight I’d like to share, if you’ll journey with me back almost 30 years, to 1993. There was a Neo-Nazi named Jonathan Preston Haynes who murdered Dr. Martin Sullivan, a Wilmette plastic surgeon, because he gave patients what Haynes dubbed “false Aryan beauty.” As the case unfolded, it came out that Haynes had sent form letters seeking white supremacist subjects for a book.
“Just like our Fuhrer,” Haynes wrote, “I have the soul of an artist.”
One letter went to a longtime Bridgeport racist named Joseph Dilys. I was a general assignment reporter, serving at the whim of the city desk, and when that news broke, I was dispatched to Dilys’ home on South Union.
Honestly, I was reluctant to enter the residence of this notorious hater somehow tied in with a murder. As I stood on the front stoop, screwing up my courage, two Chicago cops came out.
“Do you think it’s safe to go inside?” I asked.
One cop gave me a long look I wouldn’t understand until later.
“I think you’ll be all right,” he said.
I rang the bell. Dilys ushered me into the living room. He was about 90, in his underwear — strap T-shirt and boxer shorts. He was missing a leg, and hopped around on a crutch. He had a big, open sore on his neck. It was not a good look.
One wall of the living room was given over to shelves, crude wooden bays each holding a stack of photocopied fliers. Dilys gave me a variety: denouncing Israel, condemning Jews, praising Nazis. He proudly showed me a series of rubber stamps. “THE JEWS KILLED KENNEDY” read one. He was smiling at me, happy at the attention. He didn’t seem to realize that I am Jewish; I didn’t tell him.
I felt as if I were getting a glimpse into a secret world. You see this garbage — at the time, shoved under automobile windshield wipers; now, everywhere online — and wonder where it comes from. I looked around the living room, and at Dilys, with his open sore and his faded underwear, smiled, and thought: “Of course. It comes from here. From places like this. From guys like him.” It was oddly comforting.
I don’t want to downplay haters. They are not as marginal now as then. They have a friend in Donald Trump and everyone who supports him for whatever reason. They do real harm, sometimes. But their first and greatest victims are always themselves, self-exiled to their twisted world, living constrained lives, lost in obsession with something they hate. It sometimes can hurt others. But it ruins them, completely.
Jonathan Haynes was sentenced to death, commuted to life in prison when Illinois abolished its death penalty in 2011. He’s still in prison.
Then again, he was in prison before.