Were there not a wider world out there, Earl Krugel and Irv Rubin would just as likely inspire snickers and pity as federal prosecution for terrorism. To the greater Jewish community of Los Angeles, the two accused bomb plotters are superannuated radicals with bullhorns and bad manners, who perpetuate a relic called the Jewish Defense League, which, these days, is little more than a pet name for themselves.
The JDL has a violent past -- with a history of bombings and vandalism -- and a rhetoric that is confrontational and sometimes racist. But in recent years, the JDL has been notable to most L.A. Jews as an annoyance and embarrassment. Annoying -- given that the direct targets of Rubins in-your-face protests and public disruptions often have been Jews, those Jews who are too peace-loving and assimilated for JDL tastes. And embarrassing -- because the actions of this handful of publicity-savvy hotheads paint an image that other Jews find unflattering.
True to form, it was no surprise to see Rubin, in 1999, heckling an interfaith Unity Rally just five days after a shooting rampage by a white supremacist killed a mail carrier and wounded three children and two workers at the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills. While some 2,000 others gathered to express grief and solidarity, Rubin took raucous umbrage at the suggestion of restrictions on gun ownership. Theres the governor and thousands of people, representatives of all faiths, and Irv and his three guys are there just screaming when the governor is speaking, about how theyre opposed to gun control, said Sue Stengel, western-states counsel for the Anti-Defamation League. Theyre trying to capture media attention and trying to turn people away from the good that others are trying to do.
It was vintage Rubin, who, presumably, would have preferred to see Uzi-toting secretaries shoot it out with gunman Buford Furrow while the preschoolers performed a perfect duck-and-cover maneuver.
Jewish leaders in Los Angeles would like to dismiss the JDL as both irrelevant and anachronistic, but the uncomfortable wider world has indeed intruded: The attack on the World Trade Center, the Palestinian uprising, the collapsed Middle East peace process and the surge of suicide attacks in Israel -- all have the potential to energize the Jewish extremist movement, especially in Israel, where there are echoes of the JDL call to arms that presumes no possibility of peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Arabs.
JDL founder Meir Kahane openly advocated deporting all Arabs from Israel, by force as necessary. Under the leadership of the charismatic rabbi, whose base was in New York City, the JDL quickly became known in the 1970s and 80s for brawling with Nazi sympathizers, setting off stink bombs during performances by Russian artists -- to protest the plight of Soviet Jews -- and even worse mayhem, such as planting crude bombs to intimidate those perceived as enemies.
But that was then. By September 10, 2001, with Kahane long dead and his adherents splintered, it was easy to forget the JDL entirely. They want to see themselves as the defenders of the Jews, said Stengel, whose organization monitors extremist groups. But on a good day, Irv Rubin probably could have conjured up five people.
September 11 hasnt necessarily changed that, but the terrorist attacks allegedly spurred Rubin and Krugel to seek a higher, more dangerous profile. September 11 also ensured that law-enforcement agencies would be scrutinizing any such threats more closely. Rubin and Krugel ran smack into an all-American-style jihad, one led by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, which is clapping irons on anything that remotely walks and talks like terrorism.
Krugel, a 59-year-old dental hygienist, and Rubin, 56, the titular leader of the JDL, were arrested exactly three months after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. They stand accused of plotting to bomb the King Fahd mosque in Culver City and the offices of Congressman Darrell Issa, an Orange County Republican of Lebanese descent. A grand jury is expected to return an indictment this week. If convicted on the charges, Rubin and Krugel face minimum 30-year prison terms.
The case against Krugel and Rubin is likely to hinge on two things: the credibility of a confidential informant and recordings made by the informant that allegedly capture the hatching of the plot.
The informant is well-known to the JDLs circle of supporters, though at this writing he has not been named in court documents. According to these filings, Krugel recruited the informant in October to make and plant bombs. Instead, the informant contacted authorities, who wired him for sound.
Other details about the informant were offered in an interview with Barry Krugel, the twin brother of Earl. Barry Krugel is also a longtime member of the JDL, but authorities have not implicated him in the alleged bomb plot. Barry Krugel said that the informant approached him about two years ago: His story was, Im interested in the JDL. Im Jewish. My parents are Jewish. Krugel insists that the JDL did not participate in illegal activities with or without the informant.