Tom Perkins apologizes for his 'Kristallnacht' reference

While the investor regrets comparing the Occupy Movement with Nazi Germany, he stands by his message that a "minority" of rich people are being "demonized" by a "majority" and "it's wrong and dangerous."

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins. CBS News

Venture capitalist pioneer Tom Perkins has apologized for a reference he made comparing the anger directed at the wealthiest 1 percent of people in the US to the Nazis' treatment of Jewish people in the beginning of the Holocaust.

The debacle began when Perkins, a now-retired founder of leading venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, wrote a letter to The Wall Street Journal titled "Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?"

In the letter, Perkins wrote, "I would call attention to the parallels of Nazi Germany to its war on its 'one percent,' namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the 'rich.'"

Perkins likened people involved in the Occupy Movement and those protesting the Google buses in San Francisco to the Nazis that rounded up Jews in 1938 in a notorious incident called Kristallnacht. During this event, translated as the "night of broken glass," around 90 Jewish people were killed and 30,000 were arrested.

"This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking," Perkins wrote. "Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent 'progressive' radicalism unthinkable now?"

It didn't take long for backlash to ensue. Not only did the Anti-Defamation League protest Perkins' statements, but Kleiner Perkins quickly condemned the letter. Leading venture capitalist Marc Andreessen even tweeted, "I wish to express my extreme displeasure with Tom Perkins. His positions just go to prove that he is the leading [a%()e] in the state."

In an interview with Bloomberg on Monday, Perkins apologized for referencing Kristallnacht and said "It was a terrible word to have chosen. I, like many, have tried to understand the 20th century and the incomprehensible evil of the Holocaust. It can't be explained. Even to try to explain it is questionable. It's wrong. It's evil."

He said that he came up with the comparison when he thought about how people in the Occupy Movement broke bank and retail store windows. In an apology letter to the Anti-Defamation League, Perkins wrote that his late partner at Eugene Kleiner "fled Hitler from Austria and fought in the US Army."

"We became the deepest of friends during our long association and he taught me, 'Never imagine that the unimaginable cannot become real.'"

While Perkins said he regrets making the comparison to Nazi Germany, he also said he still stands behind his message about protesters' rage toward rich Americans.

"I feel, however, that as a class I think we are beginning to engage in class warfare," he said. Then later noted, "The message is, any time the majority starts to demonize a minority, no matter what it is, it's wrong and dangerous. And no good ever comes from it."

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About the author

Dara Kerr is a staff writer for CNET focused on the sharing economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado where she developed an affinity for collecting fool's gold and spirit animals.

 

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