WBAI Board Member Suspended For Abusive Attacks on Other Members
(New York City, March 11) The WBAI Local Station Board voted 12-7 Wednesday to suspend member Paul DeRienzo for six months and demand that he apologize "for his racist, sexist, anti-semitic and personal attacks" before returning to the board. DeRienzo, elected by listeners to a three-year term in January 2004, had become increasingly disruptive and vitriolic in recent meetings since last December, when a diverse slate of anti-racist community activists won a board majority in the second round of elections. DeRienzo has frequently denounced the policies of that slate -- the WBAI Justice and Unity Campaign -- and has publicly called for the firing of the station's General Manager and Program Director, both prominent African American community advocates.
Lisa Davis, chair of the Reparations Committee of the New Jersey-based People's Organization for Progress, and the WBAI board member who introduced the suspension motion (Click HERE for Resolution), said, "I commend the board majority for sending a clear message that abusive behavior will not be tolerated. Turning a deaf ear to such conduct would be tantamount to condoning it."
At various meetings in the past two months, all of them videotaped, (links to individual incidents below) DeRienzo repeatedly shouted the Nazi salute, "Sieg Heil!", "When are you going to open BAI's ovens?" "Nazi scum!" and "Adolph Vajra!" (referring to board chair and housing activist Vajra Kilgour); screamed "F--K YOU!" five times at Kilgour; and insulted three African American male board members, calling prominent Black anti-police-brutality activist Father Lawrence Lucas a "lame ass" and a "loser," demanding of respected defense attorney Michael Tarif Warren, "Did you pass the bar in New York state?," and of human rights activist Omowale Clay: "Did you demonstrate against 'The Color Purple'?" DeRienzo at times left his seat and thrust himself within inches of other board members' faces while shouting at them, and on Wednesday stalked up and down the aisles shouting for a full five minutes. "Freedom of speech does not give people the right to degrade and defile people," Davis said. "Furthermore, this type of bullying behavior effectively silences others, denying them their free speech rights," she added.
Board members from Justice and Unity maintained that DeRienzo's repeated yelling on Wednesday of "Anti-semites!" at the board majority is part of an ongoing effort by some signal area residents to stigmatize WBAI as "anti-semitic hate radio." "For 35 years, this has been the mantra of those seeking to silence WBAI's airing of the voices of Palestinian people struggling against the Israeli occupation, and of people of color here struggling for community control and affirmative action," said Father Lucas. "Like others before him, Paul DeRienzo is trying to exploit tensions between progressive Jews and African Americans to drive a wedge between these historic allies," said Bob Lederer, a staff representative on the board and a gay anti-racist activist. Lederer, whose Austrian Jewish great-grandmother was murdered by the Nazis, added, "Shouting Nazi epithets at one's political opponents in a progressive organization adds insult to injury, trivializing the suffering by Jews and others in the European Holocaust."
Only Justice and Unity Campaign board members and independent staff representative Cerene Roberts voted for the suspension; no one else on the board had previously spoken out against the conduct that led to the motion. After the board's vote, DeRienzo issued a press release falsely accusing the board of "banning" him in violation of the bylaws of the parent Pacifica Network, and claiming an infringement on his free speech rights. Attorney Warren responded, "We simply took absolutely necessary steps, after several warnings and tremendous patience, to stop abusive and threatening conduct that no board would tolerate, and to preserve the integrity of board meetings so we can continue upholding the station's peace-and-justice mission." Warren added, "The Pacifica Bylaws mandate that board meetings follow Robert's Rules of Order, which authorizes suspension of members by majority vote 'in cases of obstinate or grave breach of order.'" Warren noted that following DeRienzo's suspension, he was permitted to speak from the audience along with other members of the public.
DeRienzo is a former WBAI programmer who became prominent in 2001 for his vocal defense of what many have called the "Christmas Coup" at the station, in which Pacifica installed talk-show host Utrice Leid as station manager in violation of network rules. Leid proceeded to fire numerous activist-oriented hosts, setting off a huge movement by listeners and staff that ultimately won the restoration of the station's and network's progressive orientation.
In June 2001, at the height of this campaign, NYC Independent Media Center reporter Kevin Pritchard filed criminal charges of third-degree assault against DeRienzo for an incident in which Pritchard sought station staff comment on a nonviolent protest by listener activists. Pritchard's attorneys charged in a public statement that "Pritchard was physically and verbally assaulted," sustaining "a badly sprained or broken finger, a cut lip and multiple abrasions" and $300 in damage to his audio equipment. According to reports, Pritchard's finger was later determined to be broken.
Note on documentation: Click HERE to go to a page with excerpts from 3 meetings.
Click HERE for a 28-minute video (mp4) showing some of DeRienzo's misconduct and the LSB's actions, along with context and history of the underlying struggles, is posted above.
Click HERE for written background information on DeRienzo's history.