Conservative columnist William F. Buckley spent yesterday afternoon in U.S. District Court here, listening intently and speaking just briefly as lawyer Mark Lane compared his words to Adolf Hitler's and described his magazine, the National Review, as a "racist, pro-Nazi, profascist publication."
Lane, whose career started on New York City's left, is defending the right-wing Liberty Lobby and its founder, Willis A. Carto, in a libel suit brought by National Review.
As the trial started before an all-black jury of five women and one man, Lane took the offensive against Buckley, quoting from National Review editorials in the 1950s and 1960s that criticized Adam Clayton Powell and Martin Luther King Jr. and called whites in the South an "advanced race."
"In a demonstration of chutzpah [the Yiddish word for nerve], they have come to this city to say 'Protect our good name,' " said Lane, whose clients have included the Rev. Jim Jones, who led more than 900 followers in a mass suicide-murder at Jonestown in Guyana, and James Earl Ray, the convicted slayer of King.
"You must determine what the good name of the National Review is worth," Lane said. "The figure two cents keeps coming into my mind."
The convoluted case started six years ago when the Liberty Lobby, based on Independence Avenue SE, sued the National Review for libel because of a 1979 article that said Carto and his organization were funneling money to Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., a left winger turned right winger, and his National Caucus of Labor Committees.
National Review then countersued about articles in Liberty Lobby's weekly newspaper, Spotlight.
In 1983, Judge Joyce Hens Green dismissed Liberty Lobby's claim against National Review and granted summary judgment for National Review on two of its four counts against Liberty Lobby.
However, Green said two remaining counts would have to be decided by a jury along with damages on all of the libel charges.
After two years of legal motions and wrangling, the jury was finally picked yesterday morning. Lane and National Review's lawyer, J. Daniel Mahoney, the chairman of the New York Conservative Party, gave their opening arguments in the afternoon, and then Buckley testified for slightly more than half an hour before the trial recessed until tomorrow.
The columnist spent most of his time on the witness stand describing his education -- private schools in London, Paris and Connecticut, tutors at home -- and his stewardship of the National Review, which he has owned and edited since its founding 30 years ago.
He also recalled the speakers and guests at National Review's anniversary banquets, including Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Barbara Walters. Despite objections from Lane, Buckley told the jury that President Richard Nixon was scheduled to speak at the 1970 banquet but canceled to attend the funeral of French President Charles de Gaulle.
Mahoney said Green had already found Liberty Lobby guilty of libel for saying that National Review favored giving "militant sex deviates . . . the right to molest your children" and for calling the magazine a "mouthpiece" of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, a Jewish fraternal organization.
The two counts before the jury now concern statements in Spotlight that Buckley had a "close working relationship" with George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, and that he had collaborated with Rabbi Meir Kahane, head of the Jewish Defense League, and members of the John Birch Society to prepare a "muddled smear" of the Liberty Lobby.
Mahoney called these statements "vicious" and "outrageous."
But in his opening statement, Lane said National Review had suffered no damages because it has no "good name.