Advice to Rachel Dolezal from an “Outed” Conservative
[This op-ed was originally published in Communities Digital News, the former online op-ed arm of The Washington Times, on June 18th, 2015. It was redacted the same day. Please go here to read the full story of why it was banned]
There is very little I can relate to regarding Rachel Dolezal. Her gender, her metamorphic race, her support for the NAACP…it’s all alien to me. But I can relate to what it’s like to be a political figure who is publicly “outed” for harboring a secret.
In the early 1990s, I became a minor celebrity due to research I conducted in Poland at the Auschwitz State Museum. I had a simple thesis: I disputed the notion that Auschwitz functioned as an extermination camp in 1944, when upwards of 400,000 people were said to have been murdered in gas chambers. I never denied the Holocaust, I never denied that Auschwitz was a brutal labor camp, I never denied Treblinka, Sobibor, or Belzec, I never denied the killings by the Einsatzgruppen death squads, and I never denied the fact that I’m 100% Jewish. The one time I had an opportunity to test my thesis publicly, on The Montel Williams Show in 1992, an Auschwitz survivor was brought on to call me a fraud for suggesting that people like his brother might still be alive. When the show aired, the brother was found alive and well, having newly immigrated from Eastern Europe. My thesis was not “anti-Semitic.” Quite the contrary; I thought I was doing valuable work.
Indeed, my views were far less extreme than those of Arno Mayer, Professor Emeritus of European History at Princeton. In his 1988 book Why Did the Heavens Not Darken, Mayer, a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Europe, wrote: “From 1942 to 1945, certainly at Auschwitz, but probably overall, more Jews were killed by so-called ‘natural causes’ than by ‘unnatural’ ones.” I devoted my life to what Mayer had referred to as the “many open questions” regarding Auschwitz. My work led to appearances on 60 Minutes, 48 Hours, The Phil Donahue Show, the Montel show, and many others. Phil Donahue called me “the Antichrist,” and my work was damned as “powerful and dangerous” in the pages of The Jerusalem Post.
When a violent extremist organization called the Jewish Defense League put a $25,000 bounty on my head in 1997, I decided I’d had enough. I became David Stein. I made mainstream documentary films, and eventually my politics led me to become a player in the Hollywood conservative group Friends of Abe.
In May 2013, I was “outed” as Cole in the pages of The Guardian. The lead sentence from the article says it all: “David Stein brought right-wing congressmen, celebrities, writers and entertainment industry figures together for shindigs, closed to outsiders, where they could scorn liberals and proclaim their true beliefs … There was just one problem. Stein was not who he claimed.”
Although the paper specifically did not refer to me as a “denier,” every other media outlet – The Huffington Post, The Wrap, The Hollywood Reporter, Yahoo News, MSNBC, Gawker, and dozens of others – did. I was banned from Friends of Abe and the L.A. GOP without being given a chance to explain myself. Two years later, my ordeal has at the very least given me enough wisdom to provide a few pointers to the likes of Dolezal, and anyone else in politics harboring a secret past.
1) Don’t be a fool and draw attention to yourself. Dolezal’s big mistake was seeking headlines by apparently faking racist death threats. Huge error. It’s more prudent to lay low. A simple truth: the more attention you draw to yourself, the more interest the media’s going to take in you, which is great, as long as you don’t have an Achilles’ heel that can be pierced by a few choice words from those closest to you. Speaking of which,
2) You’re most likely to be outed by those closest to you. The people who know your deepest secrets are also the people with whom you’re most likely to get into heated emotional tiffs (as with Rachel Dolezal and her parents). In my case, my “outing” came not at the hands of an ideological foe, but an embittered redheaded supermodel who I’d been supporting for five years. Upset at being cut off from my largess, the young lady, along with her roommate, National Review scribe Michael Walsh (aka David Kahane), outed me. It was an ignominious end. So the lesson is, think of everyone who knows your secret as a potential blackmailer, and don’t piss them off.
3) Always have a Plan B. Live every day as though the flying circus you created might crash at any moment. Have an exit strategy. As soon as I suspected that the supermodel was going to out me, I got a book deal. No self-publishing for me; I knew I’d need that cash advance. But I made sure the deal would only go into effect upon my outing. Two months after I secured the deal, I was outed.
4) Don’t get bitter about “disloyalty.” Don’t drown in self pity when your friends play save-ass. And they will. They’ll condemn and attack you, but remember – you suckerpunched them. After my outing, my conservative chums rushed to denounce me. My friend Eric Golub called me “pure evil” in a Washington Times op-ed. Ouch! And sure, I could have bitterly ruminated about all the favors I’d done for the guy – arranging book signings for his self-published tomes, getting him into events that were way above his pay grade, but in the end, I had to take responsibility for the fact that I put my friends in that spot.
5) You can make a comeback, maybe. I’ll be the first to say that I’m not the monster I was painted to be after my outing. But it’s up to me to make my case. If I fail, it’s my fault. If Rachel Dolezal really is as bone-chillingly nutty as she seems, she’ll forever be nothing more than a faded freak of the week. Bottom line: take a good look at yourself. If you honestly think you were treated unfairly, present your case. If you sincerely come to understand that you were in the wrong, apologize. And if you genuinely believe that you can magically change your race by sheer force of will, well…there are anti-psychotic meds for that. Get a prescription.
My first suspicion that I could survive my outing came from Gary Aminoff, vice chairman of the Republican Party of L.A. County. In 2013, upon learning of my past, he posted on Facebook, “I have to say, as a Jew who lost family in the Holocaust, I find this very disturbing. I did not sleep last night. This is a horrendous thing that David did.” But in 2014, he sent me an email, completely unsolicited: “David, I just want to say that I read your book, and have a different perspective about you now. I understand that you weren’t a Holocaust denier, but were questioning anomalies and attempting to correct the historical record. I have no enmity toward you, and wish you good luck.”
When my former buddies at Friends of Abe learned of that email, they bullied Gary into recanting his praise. But the “damage” had already been done. His email made me realize that maybe my life doesn’t have to forever be defined by the headlines that accompanied my outing.