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Published: Saturday, 3/12/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

UT law student's novel on race sparks debate

Critics call book ‘hate fiction,’ but others praise work

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Kyle Bristow is a student at the University of Toledo college of law. Kyle Bristow is a student at the University of Toledo college of law.
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Law student Kyle Bristow spent last summer living and working in Toledo, although one could argue his mind was in two different worlds.

During the day, he worked at Lucas County Family Court Center, assisting low-income residents with their child-custody and divorce cases. He said he found the work fulfilling. A large number of clients were black and Hispanic.

"It felt really good to help those people out," said Mr. Bristow, 24, now a second-year student at the University of Toledo college of law.

But when he wasn't helping minority families, Mr. Bristow was writing a self-published novel that a national civil rights group deemed racist and "hate fiction." It classified the novel as in the same genre as The Turner Diaries, a fantasy said to have inspired domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh, the 1995 Oklahoma City bomber.

Mr. Bristow's thriller, White Apocalypse, is set in northwest Ohio. He says it was inspired by his research into the Solutrean Hypothesis — a fringe theory of archaeology that suggests European settlers crossed a frozen Atlantic Ocean and beat the ancestors of present-day Native Americans by several thousand years. In Mr. Bristow's telling, these white settlers were massacred by the darker race that arrived later.

His book, which is dedicated to "the real Native Americans," appeared last fall and was embraced by some admirers as a necessary white power book: "This evidence could be the jolt whites need to awaken from our suicidal slumber," one reviewer wrote for the book's dust jacket.

‘White Apocalypse’ has been called ‘hate fiction’ by a civil rights group. ‘White Apocalypse’ has been called ‘hate fiction’ by a civil rights group.
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The Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, Ala., says the book, though fiction, really depicts the assassination of two of its staff members — a claim Mr. Bristow denies. The law student also takes strong offense at notions that he is a racist, sympathizes with white supremacy, or that he aims to incite violence.

"I am by no means racist," Mr. Bristow said. "I just found the Solutrean Hypothesis really interesting, and I thought it would make for a great fictional novel."

But the book's critics are reluctant to give him a pass.

As a college undergraduate, Mr. Bristow gained notoriety on a national scale for public spectacles that he considered conservative activism but others called needlessly provocative and hateful. If his book gains the popularity some fear, he could be back in the same spotlight he says he gave up for his law school studies.

UT officials last week declined to discuss the matter or Mr. Bristow, citing federal privacy laws.

A polarizing figure

Mr. Bristow grew up Catholic in Clinton Township, Michigan, about 25 miles northeast of Detroit, and was president of the Young Republicans Club at Chippewa Valley High School. He went on to Michigan State University, where, before the end of his freshman year, he was a polarizing figure. "Most people either really, really opposed him, slightly opposed him, or approved of what he was doing," said MSU classmate Ted Madsen, adding the later group was a minority.

At 19, Mr. Bristow was elected chairman of MSU's Young Americans for Freedom chapter, a conservative group started in 1960 under the aegis of William F. Buckley, Jr. Mr. Bristow transformed the chapter into a lightning rod for controversy.

The chapter took some traditional conservative stances, such as opposing gay rights and amnesty for illegal immigrants. It invited mainstream conservative speakers to campus, including former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo. But the group also invited Nick Griffin, a British politician and Holocaust denier who has been accused of inciting racial hatred.

Left-wing campus groups held protests against both the Young Americans for Freedom chapter and its most controversial speakers. Agitators pulled fire alarms to disrupt some events. Mr. Bristow said he was kicked and spat upon by protesters and that other chapter members' vehicle tires were slashed.

Under Mr. Bristow, the group planned "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day," members said, to raise awareness of immigration, though it was canceled. The group held a "Koran desecration contest" and organized a "straight power" rally outside Lansing City Hall to protest an anti-discrimination ordinance that would protect gays and lesbians. The ordinance passed.

Mr. Bristow wrote a press release for the city hall protest: "YAF members find homosexuality and other forms of sexual deviancy to be disgusting. The Boy Scouts, military, and the American public need to be protected from these degenerates."

'Hate group' label

In 2007, the spring of Mr. Bristow's sophomore year, the Southern Poverty Law Center designated his Young Americans for Freedom chapter as one of 800 "hate groups" in the nation. It was the first time the center extended the label to a college group. Others on the list included chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, Nation of Islam, and several neo-Nazi groups.

Mark Potok, intelligence project director for the law center, said his organization was correct in applying the hate label to a campus club.

"What has happened since then only confirms our early judgement about Kyle Bristow," he said. "Bristow is part and parcel of the radical right. He's very much in the world of white supremacy now."

Compared to the activism of his college years, Mr. Bristow has all but gone underground at UT's law school.

Brad Levine, a friend and classmate, said Mr. Bristow is generally recognized on the law campus as being conservative, but he doesn't press his viewpoints. If he does stand out, it is for being very serious about his studies.

"His classroom demeanor is quite quiet. You hardly notice he's there half the time," he said. "I've never seen him go out of his way to push any political beliefs on anybody."

Mr. Levine, 29, is Jewish and considers his own political views liberal, "and yet I've had no problem at all befriending Kyle," he said.

Political heroes

Mr. Bristow's past is that of an incendiary figure who once called for establishing a "Caucasian Caucus" of students at MSU. In person, the polite and demure student discussed his political heroes: Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul, and Barry Goldwater. He traced the development of his self-described conservative philosophy to his teenage years as a shy bookworm. He said his turning point came when reading noted conservative Ann Coulter's Treason:Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism.

He says his leadership style at MSU enriched the campus discussion and debate about issues facing America.

A friend and conservative ally, Dennis Lennox, who led Central Michigan University's Young Americans for Freedom chapter, said Mr. Bristow brought greater awareness to MSU of right-wing ideas. The two consider MSU's campus to be politically liberal.

"The hypocrisy is amazing. [Left-wing students] claim they're for free speech and the open exchange of ideas, but the moment they don't like the content, they cry for it to be shut down," said Mr. Lennox, the elected drain commission-er in Cheboygan County, Michigan.

Just ripples now

Mr. Bristow said the rigors of law school have kept him too busy to get involved in activism at UT. But there have been a few ripples.


In April, the online "legal tabloid" Above the Law published two detailed blog posts about how Mr. Bristow's past at MSU raised concerns among classmates. The site said it was tipped off by UT law students, it did not name, who complained about his past.

The blog post said students became alarmed by writings on Mr. Bristow's Facebook profile, including a status update that said he was rooting for Duke in the NCAA tournament because it was the "last white basketball team."

Mr. Bristow told The Blade: "I don't recall having posted that, but if I did, it was in jest."

The tabloid also reported that the law school administration, in response to the Facebook page, warned students in a mass e-mail about posting controversial content online.

Mr. Bristow downplayed the controversy and blamed it on a couple of left-wing students trying to discredit conservatives. He also accused the blog posts' author, Elie Mystal, of having "a history of going after conservatives who are trying to become part of the legal profession."

Mr. Mystal told The Blade in an e-mail that he doesn't target anybody — "I just call them like I see them."

Controversial exit

Mr. Bristow's exit from his chairmanship of Young Americans for Freedom was a matter a controversy. He said he resigned near the end of his junior year because he needed to study for the Law School Admission Test. But current and past directors of the national organization say Mr. Bristow was forced out.

Jordan Marks, now the group's senior national director, said national leaders told Mr. Bristow not to invite Mr. Griffin, the British politician, because "bringing a racist to campus is not what we do."

According to a report in the Michigan Messenger, Mr. Griffin told his MSU audience that "Muslims gang-rape women in Norway and other cultures. ... " and "We don't believe in integration. Integration is extermination."

Because Mr. Bristow defied the orders, the national board was ready to expel him, Mr. Marks said. Mr. Bristow resigned before they could act.

"It was one of those things where, 'You can't kick me out, I'm going to quit,'?" Mr. Marks said.

Mr. Bristow said the Young Americans for Freedom claims are lies.

Jeff Wiggins, 25, was chairman of the MSU College Republicans during some of Mr. Bristow's time with the YAF chapter. He said he admired Mr. Bristow's intelligence, ambition, and work ethic, but he thinks his abrasive, attention-getting tactics ultimately harmed conservatism on campus. The university's Young Americans for Freedom chapter is now considered inactive. "I think that he scared a lot of people away," Mr. Wiggins said.

Mr. Bristow told The Blade it's important to separate his personal views from those he has associated with, invited to speak at events, or written about as fictional characters in his novel. "I'm a classical conservative at heart. I helped get affirmative action banned [in Michigan] because I don't think people should be judged by their skin color."

The book

The plot of White Apocalypse revolves around the fictional discovery of a mass grave of very early white settlers that would prove the Solutrean Hypothesis. Native Americans and liberal activists make every effort in the story to bury the evidence.

The narrator in the novel describes how one character's ancestors "for 40,000 years were all white and he hated who he was so very much that he put an end to that tradition by becoming romantically involved with a nonwhite individual — as many white liberals are predisposed to doing these days."

The book includes a graphic assassination scene outside a Toledo courthouse.

Mr. Potok, the Souther Poverty Law Center director, said the assassinated character in the book was based on him.

"Our security was much more worried about this, simply for the reason it was in the form of a book. That is the kind of thing that sits on a white supremacist's shelf for years," Mr. Potok said.

Mr. Bristow said neither Mr. Potok nor the law center is depicted, and all the characters are made up. "I've never even met the man, but he sure has a lot to say about me," Mr. Bristow said. "I think he's grown an obsession with me that's kind of creepy."

Mr. Potok said he was more shocked by the novel's dust jacket than its story. Nearly a dozen individuals and public figures, including two college professors, heaped praise.

Other feedback

One contributor, James Edwards, an author and Memphis-based radio host, called the book "glowing with white pride and sorely needed these days, for European Americans are subjected to nonstop insult, abuse, and bashing."

In an interview Friday, Mr. Edwards said Mr. Bristow's critics need to understand he wrote a fictional novel — not a manifesto. "They are trying to paint him as some sort of a militant extremist just because in a work of fiction, there are some violent scenes," Mr. Edwards said. "I think that is grossly unfair."

As for the Solutrean Hypothesis, a small minority of researchers believe some European settlements in the eastern half of North America could have preceded the migration from Asia across the Bering Strait land bridge roughly 12,000 years ago.

Dennis Stanford, anthropologist and a curator at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, said there are a handful of archaeology sites on the East Coast that he believes show evidence of early Europeans. One possible reason for the settlers' disappearance was "an absorption and reallocation of genes" when they met and mated with the ancestors of present-day Native Americans.

"I don't think there was a great purge or massacre of white people by Indians as white supremacists would like to say," Mr. Stanford said.

Contact JC Reindl at: jcreindl@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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