Philip K. Dick Conference disinvites white separatist

Organizers of an upcoming literary conference at California State University, Fullerton on the late science-fiction author Philip K. Dick have quietly pulled a scheduled presentation by an avowed white separatist and editor-in-chief of Counter-Currents Publishing, a San Francisco-based publisher of racist and far-right extremist literature.

The paper by Greg Johnson, who had billed himself as an “independent scholar,” argued that Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” — on which the film “Blade Runner” was based — was actually a coded allegory in which adherents of a cult called Mercerism represented early Gnostic Christians, while a rival group of malevolent robots, “the Killers,” represented Jews.

Johnson’s paper claimed that the novel’s underlying myth is the passion of the Christ with an emphasis on the role of Jews both in persecuting Jesus at the time, and “their present-day descendants who continue to mock him and his followers.” It is laced with anti-Semitic references to Jews’ alleged intellectual arrogance, lack of empathy, and eagerness to follow the dictates of the Old Testament to exploit animals and other human beings for their own selfish and subversive ends.

Johnson notes approvingly that “Philip K. Dick had a good deal of wisdom about Jews and the Jewish question.”

This interpretation surprised Marc Haefele, a Santa Monica-based arts critic, former journalist and book editor who personally knew Dick and edited four of his books for Doubleday in the late 1960s, including “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.”

“I knew Phil for years and I don’t ever remember any anti-Semitism whatsoever,” Haefele said. He noted that Dick’s most famous and celebrated novel, “The Man In the High Castle” (recently adapted as an original Amazon mini-series), imagined a dystopia in which the Axis had won WWII and the United States was under occupation by Imperial Japan in the West and Nazi Germany in the East. The novel follows the efforts of its Jewish protagonist to identify “the man in the high castle” and mount a resistance to Nazi rule.

Dick’s third wife, Anne Rubinstein, was Jewish.

“He is past question as a liberal, radical stalwart,” Haefele said. “The only thing he was fanatical about was being anti-Nixon.”

Contacted by the Jewish Journal, conference organizer David Sandner, a professor in Cal State Fullerton’s Department of English, Comparative Literature, and Linguistics, said he knew nothing of Johnson’s background as a racist publisher and propagandist.

The annual conference is a joint project of Fullerton’s graduate-student English society, The Acacia Group, and a creative writing club, and features presentations by graduate students, high-profile invited speakers, and individual scholars who submit proposals that generally run no more than a paragraph. “Then we sort of look at them and accept people into those academic tracks,” Sandner said.

The review process is not designed for screening out participants like Johnson, Sandner said. “From what he’d given in, that is not clear, because you don’t get the paper, because people haven’t written their papers,” he said. “You don’t want to just, if you don’t know what the idea is about, stop someone from coming in as an independent scholar.”

Johnson, however, had not only written his paper, but already published it on his company’s website two years ago, on April 4, 2014.

The last posted comment, on November 26, 2015, says, “I would love to see this essay submitted to the upcoming Cal State Philip K. Dick Conference,” but adds that with the “hostile political climate on college campuses to diversity of thought today,” it might not be worth it. “I just submitted it. Thanks for the heads up,” Johnson replied.

Brian Levin, Director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said, “Universities have a responsibility to make sure that people who are invited to speak or to present are subject-matter qualified in the areas they profess to be. Moreover, your reputations are at stake.”

Levin said that it’s not a matter of free speech or academic freedom, but of intellectual integrity. “I really think there are issues here with regard to both scholarly competency, as well as a bit of deception, along with the fact when the university hosts an event, then it could be regarded as an endorsement to a certain degree.”

Conference organizer Sandner said because the program included both graduate students and established academics, “there’s no way for that, going through there, for there to be a kind of checking—it’s not like you’d gone online and seen that and know this about this person.”

In fact, Johnson’s paper, and his qualifications, were online, hiding in plain sight. In a comment posted in April 2014 accompanying the original article, Johnson boasted, “Aside from two readings of the book, I did NO research to write this article, for fear of losing my amateur status.”

Minutes after concluding his interview with the Jewish Journal, Sandner emailed to say, “Greg Johnson’s paper has been removed because it was already published. Conferences are not a venue for already published work.”

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