Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson has assured Skokie village officials he will call out the National Guard to prevent violence if 50 to 100 American Nazis carry out their threat to march in storm trooper uniforms through the heavily Jewish suburb this Sunday.
After a year-long legal battle that twice took lawyers for the Nazis and the village to the U.S. Supreme Court, Skokie was forced this month to issue a permit for the march.
But Nazi leader Frank Collin, 33, has promised to call off the Skokie march if U.S. District Court Judge George N. Leighton orders the Chicago Park District to issue a permit for the Nazis to hold a rally on July 9 in Marquette Park. The park is located on the blue-collar South Side of Chicago where the Nazis feel they have popular support. Leighton said he would decide one way or the other today.
Meanwhile, the militant Jewish Defense League cliams that 4,000 of its members from 48 states will be in Skokie on Sunday to stop the march with violence if necessary. Chicago area Jewish leaders have planned a counterdemonstration for 50,000 in a Skokie stadium as a peaceful response to the Nazis.
"We plan to meet the Nazis' tiny band of marchers for racism, religious hatred and genocide with a great outpouring of poeple committed to brotherhood, freedom and rightousness," said Sol Goldstein, chairman of the Jewish United Fund's public affairs committee.
Goldstein said 60 to 100 Jewish leaders would confront the Nazis peacefully in front of the Skokie village hall. "They will stand in vigil, reciting the Kaddish (Jewish prayer for the dead) and the names of the death camps where 6 million gentiles were gassed, burned and slaughtered," he said.
David Smerling, Jewish United Fund president, said, "We're not going to allow this thing to explode into violence."
But Bonnie Pechter, national director of the JDL declared, "It's going to be suicide for the Nazis to come to Skokie - the most fatal mistake they're going to make. If we responded with a peaceful demonstration, it would show that we learned nothing from the Holocaust. You can't deal with Nazis on the nice Jewish intellectual level. Nazism is synonymous with death for the Jews."
Pechter, 26, said she will hold a press conference in Chicago today to plead with the National Guard "not to make this another Kent State." She said, "Our members wil not be armed. Our sheer members will be enough."
In addition to the National Guard, village officials say they will have every available police officer on duty to perserve order and are arranging for hospital emergency services in Skokie and the adjoining suburb of Evanston.
Any hopes of legally blocking the march were dashed last Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court, by 7 to 2, turned down an emergency request to review the case.
Skokie lawyers argued in their Supreme Court belief that the march ought to be banned because the sight of swastkas and storm trooper uniforms would have a traumatic effect on many Jewish survivors of Nazi concentration camps, and could provoke violence. Of Skokie's 70,000 residents, about 45,000 are Jewish, and an estimated 7,000 are survivors of concentration camps.
American Civil Liberties Union lawyers representing the Nazis responded that swastikas and storm trooper uniforms are a form of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment. The ACLU view prevailed in the Supreme Court, as it had earlier in the Illinois Supreme Court, the U.S. District Court in Chicago and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
ACLU's defense of the Nazis has resulted in the resignation of 30,000 members nationally and has cost the organization nearly $500,000 in dues.
The issue before Judge Leighton today is the Chicago Park District's refusal to grant the Nazis a permit for a rally in Marquette Park unless they first obtain $60,000 in property damage and liability insurance.
Nearly a year ago, Leighton enjoined the park district from enforcing an ordinance that required a $35,000 insurance bond. The district responded by lowering the amount to $60,000 and has refused to issue a march permit to the Nazis.
David Goldberger, a Jewish ACLU lawyer who represents the Nazis, contends that the lower bond has the same effect as the higher one because insurance companies have refused to sell policies to the Nazis. Goldberger has asked Leighton to order the permit issued today and to hold district officials in contempt for refusing to comply with the spirit of the earlier order.
"We definitely will cancel the Skokie march if we get our rights back in Marquette Park," James Gaynor, a spokeman fro Collin, said Friday.
In another development, the Nazis informed the U.S. General Services Administration last week they intend to hold a demonstration Saturday in the plaza of the Kluczynski Federal Building in downtown Chicago. Jack Williams, a GSA spokesman, said no permit is necessary for the demonstration, and the government will take no action on it.
Pechter said the JDL will confront the Nazis "with violence" at that demonstration. "The only thing a Nazi understands is fear," she said. "You can only stop people like this by making them afraid and carrying through with it."
Chicago officials have no present plans to request National Guard assistance to control the Saturday demonstration. Thomas McLauglin, the plice commander who will be responsible for keeping peace at thedemonstration, said his men will be ordered to arrest anyone - "Jew or non-Jew" - who commits a crime at the rally.