Norman Butler, owner of a small Northfield pub that holds regular community forums on compelling issues, said there is no truth to the rumor he's now changing his name to the Discontented Cow.

"But it might be a good idea," he said.

The pub is actually called the Contented Cow, where Butler has been hosting "Cow Talks" on various topics, hoping to engage area professors and college students and get them to buy a beer or two during the winter. Talks include such topics as the Israel-Palestine situation and transgender athletes.

But when word got out that Butler invited conspiracy theorist Jim Fetzer to do a series of talks on historical events on which he holds controversial opinions, some customers revolted.

They say that Fetzer is an anti-Semite because he also denies aspects of the Holocaust. Several residents sent notes to Butler saying they would stop frequenting his pub unless he canceled the talks.

Butler forwarded several of the e-mails to Fetzer, who promptly put them on his website under the headline: "The abdication of reason and rationality in Northfield," and he called efforts to stop the speeches an attempt "to suppress unwanted truths."

Those "truths" include Fetzer's belief that the Sandy Hook school shootings never really happened, that the 9/11 attacks were a "reality fraud" by the government conspiring with Israel and that the plane crash that killed Sen. Paul Wellstone was a possible assassination.

Fetzer's posting of critics' e-mails apparently caused one of his readers to send a threatening e-mail to one professor.

By Monday, Fetzer had agreed to change the events from speeches to debates, inviting people with expertise to rebut him. On his website, Fetzer said the community response "has shattered any lingering illusions I may have had about Northfield as an enlightened and intellectual environment."

In a note he sent to his critics (and to me), Fetzer said: "If, during the course of my collaborative research, I have found that Israel was complicit in 9/11 and that the official narrative of the Holocaust cannot withstand critical scientific scrutiny, I think that's worth sharing with the world."

In a phone conversation Tuesday, Fetzer stressed his credentials as a "philosopher/scientist" who has studied each incident for years, logging reams of scientific data and books.

"I am an expert in all these subjects," he said.

As of Tuesday, Butler was not backing down on the forums.

"I almost folded this morning," he said. "I was down on my knees almost. But I got a second wind."

Asked if he expected the backlash, the England native channeled British comedy troupe Monty Python: "Well, I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition."

One of those who oppose Fetzer's appearance is Gordon Marino, professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College.

He called the appearance "unbelievable."

"Is this some free speech thing?" Marino wrote to Butler. "If so, why not some pro-slavery person as well?"

Butler responded that Fetzer was not really a Holocaust denier.

But on his website, Fetzer says, "my research on the Holocaust narrative suggests that it is not only untrue but provably false and not remotely scientifically sustainable."

Fetzer denies he is an anti-Semite. He suggested I describe his skepticism of the Holocaust like this (his words): "Fetzer argues that, if the inmates had been gassed using Zyklon B, then their bodies would have turned pink and the walls of the gas chambers would have turned blue. But we have no reports of pink bodies and the only walls that are blue are those used for delousing, which means the official narrative cannot possibly be correct."

So there you go.

"My uncle was killed bombing Buchenwald," replied Marino, who rejects the idea he's among "a handful of rabid Zionists" going after Fetzer. Marino has even written articles criticizing Israeli policy he said.

"I didn't organize any boycott, I just don't want to support a place that gives a forum to a Holocaust denier. I find it hate speech."

Fetzer has now offered to add another event on the Holocaust and invited one of the people who complained to debate him.

"What he says is interesting and controversial," said Butler. "A lot of it obviously invites scrutiny. But this has caused a lot of intimidation and threats to boycott the Cow. It's tough enough to be a small-business owner."

Louis Newman, on faculty at Carleton but speaking for himself, expressed his views to me via e-mail:

"I respect the rights of people to hold and discuss unpopular views, as well as the rights of people like Norman Butler to invite such people to share those views in public," Newman wrote. "But some views — particularly those that vilify entire groups of people, or that are based on patent lies, or that fly in the face of established historical facts as well as common sense — do not deserve our attention. Providing a platform for people who hold those views is ill-advised, at the very least. I personally regard it as morally unconscionable, even if it is legally permissible."

During our chat on the Sandy Hook shootings, I stopped Fetzer to tell him I had cousins living near the town, that they attended the funerals of slain children and their photo at the funeral appeared in several newspapers.

"Funerals are easy to stage," Fetzer said.

I guess maybe I'm in on the conspiracy. Maybe we all are. • 612-673-1702

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