OUT OF THE NORM
part 1 of 2
As a professor of education for twenty years at the University of Northern Colorado, Norm Resnick specialized in training prospective teachers how to handle the emotionally disturbed. And in light of that, his new career as a radio talk-show host makes strange sense: His callers worry about Chinese troops in Montana, Luciferian schemes to burn Jupiter's atmosphere and mysterious black helicopters that fly unusually low over Colorado's Front Range.
Fans of KHNC/1360, an AM station in rural Colorado that barely reaches Denver, know "Dr. Norm" as the guy who rails against the "New World Order," calls Bill and Hillary Clinton "socialist Marxists" and muses about sending liberal politician Howard Metzenbaum to jail. What Dr. Norm does most, however, is rouse the rabble, like the guy in the lynch mob who says, "Yeah! Let's do it!" every time someone else names a potential victim.
Although Dr. Norm likes to think of his new career as a dangerous gig, some of his former friends think it's nuts. This deeply religious Jew who keeps a kosher home and studies the Talmud caters to an audience of self-described "patriots" that he himself admits contains a sizable number of racists and anti-Semites.
But then, Resnick is no Alan Berg, the abrasive, liberal, Jewish talk-show host murdered ten years ago this week in Denver by far-right extremists. Berg baited "patriots" and mocked religion; Resnick describes himself on the air as a "traditional Jew" defending the "Judeo-Christian heritage and ethics." At the same time, though, he parrots advertising copy about "international bankers," an anti-Semitic euphemism for Jews.
And he's no longer just a voice in the media wilderness of northeastern Colorado. Since February Dr. Norm has been beaming his "USA Patriot Network" agitprop across the continent via shortwave giant WWCR, World Wide Christian Radio.
Death threats now prompt him to carry a concealed gun, he continually reminds his audiences. His .45 also works great as a prop--especially when a reporter suddenly invades his air space by walking into the broadcasting booth.
Interrupting his on-air guest for the thousandth time, Dr. Norm seizes upon the reporter's presence to ask his listeners for advice: "Should I bare my soul? Should I trust Westword? Give me a call." A few minutes later he has his answer: "Laura, you're on the air...I should keep my gun really close?...Shoot him?"
Dr. Norm laughs. Fifty-one years old but still rumpled in T-shirt and jeans, he has the wiseass humor and adenoidal delivery of somebody born in Brooklyn, which he was. During his next commercial break, he grins at his visitor and says, "We'll go out for a sandwich afterwards. Think I'm too crazy?"
Toward the end of his tenure at the University of Northern Colorado, Norm Resnick was accused by campus police of trying to run over his department chairman.
"I was always controversial at the university," Resnick says between bites at a sub shop across the street from KHNC's studios in Johnstown, fifty miles north of Denver. "My doctorate's in the area of the emotionally disturbed, and I've always expressed my opinion."
Resnick, who did most of his growing up in Springfield, Massachusetts, earned a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Connecticut in 1971. The rest of his career was spent as a special-ed professor at UNC.
His supporters there say Resnick was courageous in standing up for other faculty members and advocating new methods of evaluating teaching performance. His detractors say he was an occasional hothead whose career was never very successful and who finally got the boot.
The way Resnick tells it, "They evaluated me as being worse than poop." At that, he slapped the university with an official complaint.
"The next thing I know," he recalls, "the campus police called me in and said they were investigating me for attempted murder and second-degree burglary--and that got my attention. They said that I tried to run over my department chairperson in the parking lot with my automobile. As a matter of fact, the story got around campus so much that a couple of weeks later another faculty member was accused of trying to murder his associate dean by allegedly running her over with a supermarket cart in a supermarket. The attempted burglary was supposedly stealing files from a department chairman's office. Obviously, the allegations were dropped immediately. It was just that chicken-shit kind of behavior for speaking out. I didn't fit in."
On that point, his critics agree.
"During his time at UNC, he always assumed he was being persecuted," says Richard Bear, a UNC psychology professor emeritus and former associate dean. "It didn't matter whether it was by people in supervisory positions or by students. Part of the time he attributed that to being Jewish. But we had other Jewish professors who didn't have that problem."
One of those professors, however, praises Resnick for his willingness to speak up for other faculty members. "In my opinion," says UNC education professor Rick Silverman, once a close friend but now estranged, "Norm had pretty legitimate grievances with the university. He did not have access to due process."
Resnick says he was hounded out because of his activism. "I was speaking out about issues," he says. "I chaired the university's grievance committee for six, seven, eight years. And I got politically active there, talking about how universities should be a place, first and foremost, for the teaching of students and not for running around the country and wasting taxpayers' money giving presentations and not publishing obscure articles in meaningless journals.
"I was a teacher. That's what I was hired for, and I wouldn't do the other shit."
In 1990 Resnick reached an agreement with the university to go on a three-year "transitional-retirement" contract that ended his career there. He's still bitter about it. "Do I have a bone to pick? Yeah. Do I believe my professional career was ruined? Yes. I go after administrative traitors in universities and public schools all the time," he says. "And if they had any brains at all, they'd sit down for coffee with me. So my record of professional achievement I never got back, my career was ruined and, much to their chagrin, I became a radio talk-show host! Ha-ha! And basically, for three years I didn't have any load at all and they paid me for not even showing up."
During this period he also faced the danger of cancer. In fact, Resnick says, he's fought tumors in his lungs and arms for twenty years, and his separation from UNC involved a permanent medical disability.
So he sat home. "And I watched Donahue and Oprah," he says, "and did all the would-haves and could-haves and should-haves about my life."
Always a fan of talk radio, he'd thought Alan Berg was "a great entertainer." And he says he "looovvves" right-wing black commentator Ken Hamblin. So when a friend suggested that he get in touch with a fellow named Don Wiedeman, who was starting a radio station in Johnstown, Resnick jumped at the chance.
KHNC, which went on the air in February 1993, bills itself as "right-minded radio," the only station in the country that does constant "conservative talk." And it's from a "nonreligious perspective," Resnick contends.
"If you're saying to me, on my show do I defend and support traditional Judeo-Christian values and ethics, of course I do," he says. "And if you term that as religious talk, then I do. If you're saying that you turn on my show and you hear Jesus-talk, of course you don't. I'm not Pat Robertson. We're not a Christian-talk station."
The station's owner also defies categorization. "Don believes that he's Jewish," says Resnick. "Don believes he can be fulfilled by observing all the Jewish holidays and accepting Yeshua as the messiah, which is Jesus. I don't share that belief system."
That might make Wiedeman what evangelical Christians approvingly call a "messianic Jew," but Resnick denies it.
"Don never tries to convert other Jews," says Resnick. "He's a person who's hard to define. I define a messianic Jew as somebody going out there and trying to convert Jews, and I couldn't be associated with somebody like that."
Wiedeman himself refuses to discuss his religious beliefs, saying, "I'd rather not get into that subject."
He operates the station from an abandoned farm-implement store right on Colorado 60, next to Johnstown's only traffic light. "Here, we're kind of like in the middle of the heart of northern Colorado," Wiedeman says. "It's a good location to reach out to the cities around us. And people can listen without being unpatriotic to their hometowns."
Patriotism is important at KHNC. "Our idea," Wiedeman says, "was to promote traditional family values and a traditional lifestyle and not be religious about it. And also to warn people of the agenda of the New World Order."
Do I believe most of what I say? Yeah," Resnick says. "Do I do news? No, I don't do news. I do entertainment from a right-wing perspective. I'm pretty good at it, too."
In mid-April, Dr. Norm discovered that the new operator of an auto-emissions testing station in Greeley had painted over the previous operator's "Jesus Loves Me" sign and replaced it with "Triangle Emissions" and an "upside-down triangle." One afternoon on his local show, he called the new operator and badgered him about replacing a Christian message with one that uses a "satanic" upside-down triangle. Then he gave out the befuddled guy's phone number and urged listeners to call him.
Most of the time, however, Dr. Norm serves as a pitchman for his guests--and for a variety of weapons and precious-metals dealers as well. After he stokes his listeners' paranoia, he tells them how to "get control" of their lives: Stock up on gold, silver, guns and ammo so you can resist the enemy and save America.
One of Dr. Norm's favorite guests, "Mark from Michigan," compiles and spreads rumors about mysterious troop movements and ominous war games right here in our midst, emanating from a plot by the New World Order and the United Nations to take over our country.
"There are many good Americans," Mark said this spring on Dr. Norm's show, "who are patriots who will stand and they will firmly resist, and they do have the weapons and they do have the technology and they do have the know-how, and some of them are listening right now. So trust me, America. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, we will stand against the tyranny. It's gonna be expensive. Norm, one thing you should stress with your people: They must gird themselves and prepare now, because there is not going to be a second chance on this. This is a winner-take-all game. It is a life-or-death struggle for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That torch, if extinguished, will be very expensive to try and relight."
Mark from Michigan signed off in classic patriot jargon: "God bless the republic. Death to the New World Order. We shall prevail." Although Dr. Norm happily delivers Mark's message--he calls the Michigan man a "legend"--some listeners don't appreciate the messenger.
"Despite my good deeds," Resnick says, "despite my standing up because of our great similarities, many of my audience do believe that I'm going right to hell because I don't accept Jesus as my messiah. So I get it from the left, I get it from the right."
And he gets it from the far right. "One of the most disconcerting aspects of doing conservative talk, of defending traditional Christians' rights," he says, "is that when we talk about the far-right movement, we're talking about a quarter, 20 percent, a third--I don't know the exact percentage, but I know it's a significant number--of people out there who are virulent racists and anti-Semites. It's very disturbing, because there are blacks and Hispanics and Jews and Christians and Muslims out there who are part of the problem and some who are part of the solution."
Resnick, not only a devout Jew but also a Zionist, concedes that some of the conspiracy theories presented on his show have an anti-Semitic bent. "And guests like this do not stay on my show," he insists. "There are some Jews who are major bankers or major parts of the New World Order. But to say it's a Zionist conspiracy is absolutely ludicrous. So here I am rejected from the far right.
"And as far as the guests on my show, I interview people. I'm pretty good interviewing people, and one person leads to another person leads to another person. Sometimes I wonder--you know, I don't believe everything they say. They give me a number to call. How do I know if I'm calling them at home or they're in a back ward of a psychiatric institution?"
One of his guests, conspiracy theorist Ralph Epperson, author of The Unseen Hand and The New World Order, tackled that question head-on. On one of Dr. Norm's KHNC broadcasts in mid-April, Epperson revealed that "there has been a secret worship of Lucifer on this earth, concealed in every religion including Christianity, for 6,000 years."
But the real bombshell came after Epperson established that George Bush and Freemasonry were tightly linked to the insidious New World Order. Epperson's revelation: Bush and others of his ilk will gather in Egypt around the Great Pyramid of Cheops on January 1, 2000, where they will see the planet Jupiter light up precisely at midnight. It seems that a U.S. rocket launched in 1989 is at this moment hurtling toward the solar system's largest planet, carrying 49 pounds of plutonium that will touch off an explosion when it hits. "We're going to be told," said Epperson, "that it's being done as a wondrous sign in the heavens that Lucifer the light-bearer is going to now take his rightful place in the universe."
Dr. Norm's phone lines lit up. As Epperson begged America to "wake up" before it was too late, Dr. Norm desperately tried to cut in. Finally, he told Epperson, "Ralph, I got two calls off the air saying that my stock has gone down as a talk-show host and that you're certifiable. The two people who called said that you belong not on radio but maybe in an institution."
Epperson replied, "Your callers are correct. If they've never heard this before, I sound like a raving lunatic. I know that. I'm aware of that. I'm not in a psychiatric home. I'm sitting in my den in my home in Tucson, Arizona." Then Epperson added, "All I'm saying to the American people is: What in God's name if I'm right and you do not listen?"
Partly because of his bizarre guests and partly because of his own behavior, Norm Resnick faces accusations that he's gone off the deep end. Even his family--he and his wife have three grown children--is split; Resnick acknowledges that his wife is unhappy with his notoriety. "There's a lot of alienation for me," he says. "People who are Jews who I thought were my friends can't stand what I'm doing. They're mortified."
"I think Norm's pretty accurate on that point," says Alan Ackerman, president of Beth Israel Congregation in Greeley. Ackerman picks his words carefully and emphasizes that he's speaking not for the town's small Jewish community of about fifty families but for himself.
For that matter, adds Ackerman, so is Resnick.
"Norm is an observant Jew and a nice person, and he certainly speaks for himself and not the Jewish community," says Ackerman, who notes that Resnick is one of only a handful of Greeley Jews who maintain kosher homes. "A lot of people disagree with him, and some people are uncomfortable. His listeners may misinterpret what he says as the viewpoint of the community."
In most towns where they make up tiny minorities, Jews try not to make waves for fear of persecution. In the case of Greeley, now a big town of 60,000, there's been a Jewish community for almost a century. It had to face the KKK and crosses burned on lawns, and a few years ago vandals defaced the synagogue. "In general," says Ackerman, "our relationship with the Christian community has been positive. Historically, Jews are worried about being strident around more conservative neighbors. That's not a serious concern here."
But then, Norm Resnick is more conservative than many of his neighbors. When one of his guests failed to show up for the April 12 KHNC show, Dr. Norm delivered an hour-long harangue about Jews and gun control. "Jews who support gun control," he told his audience that day, "endorse a moral perversion so profound as to be frightening. And to the extent that this perversion prevails, it will arouse righteous anger against those who support it. To the extent that Jews are, or seem to be, among its supporters, the anger will damage all of us."
Gathering steam, he added, "Jewish gun-control advocates create ill will against Jews. Jewish gun-control advocates are self-destructive. And gun control makes Jews vulnerable to those who hate us. What do you think about that? How many friends do you think I'm going to get by talking about this?"
Not many--and he's likely to lose still more. "Agitation--that's what concerns people," says Richard Bear. "There are some people who feel it's rather dangerous. Others say he has some kind of identification with Alan Berg."
Bear, who has known Resnick socially because of their wives' friendship, says Resnick "used to have a card saying, `Shalom' and a very positive little saying on it. Now he's just become very extreme, very hard, very insensitive. The show has cut him off from people."
But unfortunately, not from all people, Bear adds.
"I think he's being used by the religious right," he says. "He gets a lot of support from them and a lot of accolades. He's a hero to some of them. That probably feels really good to him. I don't think that's something he's experienced a lot of."
Resnick insists he's not doing radio as an ego trip but acknowledges that his KHNC job feels good. "I get a lot of friends out of it," he says, "but I've been crapped on for so long at the university and then with my battle with cancer, I've been humbled."
Dr. Norm even bills himself as "your humble servant--with a big mouth."
"His current orientation is alien to me," says Rick Silverman, "but he spent a lot of years being good and doing good things for people."
Silverman thinks Resnick's combative style at UNC not only made him a "lightning rod" for controversy but also may have had a cumulative effect on him.
"Norm had a lot of years to cultivate a very deep anger," says Silverman, "and I think a lot of that anger comes out on his radio show. I would hope that streak of doing good is still part of his wiring. It's awfully hard to discern any streak of kindness, but that doesn't mean it's not still there."
end of part 1
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.