There may have been bigger and more successful bigots than Gerald L.K. Smith, but few have been so durable. During four decades as a rabble-rouser, he has made a career and a fortune out of preaching that only the far right is right and that just about everything else is wrong. A onetime tub thumper for Huey Long, Smith says that the U.S. was meant to be "a white, Christian country," claimed in 1952 that Eisenhower was Jewish, and has called Hubert Humphrey "a creature of Jewish subsidy." Though his appeal today is only to a lunatic fringe, he still makes a handsome living from virulent pamphleteering and donations to his rabid, California-based Christian Nationalist Crusade. By way of apostrophizing his movement, Smith, 68, has just erected a $250,000 snow-white statue of Jesus Christ atop 1,500-ft. Magnetic Mountain near the Arkansas spa community of Eureka Springs.
Fashioned from steel and concrete and reminiscent of the arms-out stretched statue of Christ on Rio de Janeiro's Corcovado Mountain, the 67-ft.-high "Christ of the Ozarks" is visible ten miles away, will soon be illuminated at night by blue, violet and purple spot lights. Why did Smith put it up? "A vision in my own heart," he says, "of wanting to see a statue of Jesus Christ rise in monumental splendor." And, ah, another reason: Smith plans to use the statue as a grave marker for his wife and himself, is having a cemetery prepared near the sculpture's base.
Residents of Eureka Springs (pop.1,668), of two minds about the project, are hopeful that the statue will stimulate the local tourist trade, but are uneasy about Smith's presence in their community. Says Mrs. Smith: "It is a pleasure for me to point out that Eureka Springs is not a concentration center for eccentric kooks and nuts." Not yet.