Part One: You left the planet thirty-five years ago. A lot has changed. A lot hasn’t.
Hello, sir. I hope all is well.
You’re probably hurtling around the universe and checking out cool interstellar collisions and explosions. I bet they’re rad.
You wouldn’t know me from Adam. I grew up in Park Hill, less than two miles from where you lived. In the early 1980s, I remember seeing your face on KOA-Radio billboards and bus advertisements around Denver. My father was a regular listener and a fan of your show’s provocative format that helped pave the way for the shock-jocks who followed.
While doing homework for this post, I came across a quote, part of a transcript from one of your shows. I guess you got confronted by some ugly people and wanted to respond.
“I know there are anti-Semitic people out there among you gentiles. I know that you’re listening. I want you to call me and tell me why you don’t like Jews. Let’s not pretend this doesn’t exist. Let’s stir it up. You’re anti-Semitic, and you know it, and you’ve got real feelings about this, and I want to find out what they are.”
You’ll be sad to know that anti-Semitic attacks—along with racism towards every ethnic minority group and incidents of homophobia and Islamophobia—have been on the rise. Your old country of residence has been collectively realizing that whites will no longer be the majority within a few decades…and wow, some whites cannot handle this news.
In the ’80s, Team Reagan worried about the demographic shift—they set forth plans to foster income inequality precisely because of this fact. So I’m guessing that you already were aware of the simmering paranoia. Well, fast-forward thirty-five years and America’s whites can barely hold it together. You seem like you had thick skin. I still think that much of today would shock you.
Though I have never heard your broadcasts, I did see you in person once. Probably a year or two before your death, I tagged along with my dad while he ran errands on a weekend afternoon. Driving down 14th Avenue nearing Colorado Boulevard, my dad pointed to a skinny man with wild, poofy hair and a long cigarette dangling out of his mouth, walking a skinny dog. Smiling, my dad said, “Hey, that’s Alan Berg.” Since you talked about your dog on the show, he knew your dog’s name as well and got a kick out of seeing him in the flesh, just like he got a kick out of seeing you.
Looking back at that fuzzy but still existing visual memory—your corduroy sport coat and oversized oval sunglasses, that mop of a hairdo blowing in the wind. You resembled an eccentric, yet brilliant college professor. A relaxed individual just ambling along, helping his pooch get some exercise on a sunny day. I guess this memory stayed stuck in my head because of my father’s excitement.
My next solid memory of you comes from watching the news on the night you got murdered. At twelve years old, I loved to stay up late on Saturday nights watching Saturday Night Live. Doing this made me feel like a grown-up. On the night of June 18, 1984, I turned on the TV in our basement TV room at the tail end of Channel 4’s ten o’clock newscast. Their normal show-ending “feel-good” type of segment got put on hold so they could focus on you.
Footage showed the driveway in front of your condominium, half a block off of Colfax Avenue. Your VW bug’s driver’s side door was still open. Yellow police tape blocked off the area. The squad cars’ flashing lights illuminated the crime scene.
I didn’t know if you followed the case and the subsequent trials in the years afterward. (For all I know, your soul instead felt the urge to fly around at light speed and check out all the rockin’ supernovas, black holes and quasars—gee…which sounds more fun: watching courtroom footage or astronomical awesomeness? Hmmmm…)
It’s understandable if you had better things to do. I’ll assume that you haven’t stayed on top of happenings down here on this little planet.
The next clear memory of you comes from seeing the Oliver Stone movie, Talk Radio. A cool actor named Eric Bogosian portrayed the character loosely based on you and his performance was bad-ass. The production—classic, over-the-top Oliver Stone—had fictionalized a fair amount, but like I said, the character inspired by you rocked it.
They nailed it, with Bogosian and the racists on the other end of the phone, screaming at each other…they never showed any of the callers, the way it got filmed. Nicely done.
After your death, the police chased a variety of leads. With the apprehension of your killers, America learned a new term: neo-Nazism. The movie also addressed this phenomenon and made it part of the story.
Most of your killers got convicted, unfortunately not for your murder, though. Instead the Feds tied their wide range of illegal activities together under RICO and that’s what brought them down. They operated from a remote area in Idaho, surrounded by lots of like-minded white folk. Reflecting on this, I can’t help but wonder: let’s say that organized groups of black, Muslim or Latino American citizens set up armed camps in the woods and openly talked of overthrowing the government. I’m betting you would agree with me, thinking, Yeah….wouldn’t last long.
In the coming years, this removed area in the Pacific Northwest would inspire more racist violence and the world would come to know the name Timothy McVeigh. He traveled up to Idaho to meet with people who knew your killers. I don’t want to infringe on civil rights or threaten one’s First Amendment privileges, but I’ll repeat my earlier point: one has gotta wonder how many non-white people could associate with radicals and convicted murderers, then freely walk around afterward spouting radical ideology to new arrivals? Even if a POC had never been prosecuted, something tells me that they would think twice before advertising their previous connections to people now serving multiple life sentences. But supposedly, former friends of the Order weren’t shy when talking to strangers about their…ahem…former beliefs.
The Reagan years did a number on white America, Mr. Berg. The folks who used to call you up to yell and scream? Fast-forward thirty years and it’s even more batshit-crazy. They make videos of themselves and trade them back and forth. On their phones. Yeah, phones got all sorts of new features now.
Sadly, the anti-Semites today have a champion in the White House and the white supremacist agenda feels an even bigger desire to assert itself into the lives of American citizens. The top 1% of income earners managed to take even more money than in your time—though Ron Reagan paved the way—plus they bought government and the legal system, then rewrote laws to legalize their corruption. The divide-and-conquer approach to class warfare played into their profiteering smokescreen and they enabled average white Americans’ racism in new ways. Before you took off from the planet, you probably saw the beginning of labor unions’ demise. That only continued. Today, workers have little bargaining power and the investors like it that way.
I know your politics didn’t fit neatly into one box and your views got criticized by a wide variety of groups both on the right and left. But I hope that, if you were to return to Earth, you would be shocked at the lack of worker representation there is today.
People put in more hours at work, but receive less pay. This invention called e-mail, now workers use this communication tool to talk to each other about work in their off-hours. Maybe since it’s non-spoken (unlike a phone call), it feels okay to bother each other at home at night or on the weekends. Many companies created sets of expectations, too. If somebody sent you a message at say, 8:30 at night, many times nowadays it will be held against the recipient if they don’t answer right away. Like…you’re relaxing at home and work interrupts. That’s how it is these days. And overtime? That’s quickly becoming a relic of the past.
In 2019 we normal humans and the racists scream at each other using this invention called social media. Though I don’t know you, Mr. Berg, I am going to assume that you wouldn’t be very impressed with social media. Many of us humans are getting tired of it as well.
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