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"Can somebody tell me what big threat I was supposed to be?"

By Lori Leibovich
March 15, 1997 1:00AM (UTC)
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"for O.J. Simpson to get away with murder, an innocent cop -- a brilliant detective -- had to be destroyed. That was the cynical strategy of the Simpson 'Dream Team,' and it worked." So goes the copy on the flap jacket of Mark Fuhrman's book, "Murder in Brentwood" (Regnery). But Fuhrman, whose image has gone from racist cop to sad scapegoat, appears to have survived, even prospered. His book is near the top of the bestseller lists, outpacing books by Fred Goldman and by Fuhrman's former colleagues, Philip Vannatter and Tom Lange.

Salon talked with Fuhrman by telephone at his home in Sandpoint, Idaho and asked him about life before, during and after O.J.


You were so reviled during the O.J. Simpson trial -- by the defense, the prosecution and the media. What kind of reception have you been getting from the public during your book tour?

I have not had one person come up and say something negative to me. I've even had a lot of black people come up to me. They give me their hand and say, "I forgive you for what you said, and Simpson's guilty." I'm not sure it's just about me personally. People see me as the underdog. When all else fails, the guy that doesn't have money or political clout gets attacked. People feel that if I could be the victim of that, so could they.

What about on TV talk shows?


A lot of the media that jumped on the O.J. bandwagon actually read my book, which is fantastic. Most of them loved it. Even the ones -- Oprah for example, who tried to be hard or rough or extremely candid. Oprah was a really nice lady. She was very interested in the book and the evidence. But she has a responsibility to who and what she is. She has to hit the controversy head on and challenge the veracity and authenticity of my claims. Same with Geraldo. He has a responsibility to his audience and I understand that. But like I told Geraldo, "There is nothing that you can ask me that I can't answer." Off-camera, Geraldo and I get along real well. We play basketball together.

During her summation, Marcia Clark said, "Do we wish this man did not exist? Yes." What did that feel like?

We often forget what I did for 20 years. Being a policeman and a detective does not win you any popularity contests. What Marcia Clark said was pretty lightweight compared to people trying to shoot me, beat me, ambush me, spit on me, swear and cuss at me about my mother, wife, kids. I considered the source too. Not Marcia herself, but the position she was in. She was scrambling to distance herself from me. I think she should have taken the opposite approach. She should have gone on the attack, not the defensive. Instead the prosecution decided to lay down and play dead.


You criticize Marcia Clark for failing to pursue the possibility that Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were lovers -- which could have been a motive for O.J. to kill them both.

I interviewed two people who said that Ron made a comment about dating a woman, 35, with two kids who drove a Ferrari. Another person said he asked Ron, "Isn't sex with an older woman great?" And he said, "Yeah, it's great." That's pretty straightforward. We know he's talking about Nicole. She is seen driving in his car, by O.J. And the two are seen drinking coffee at Starbucks. It doesn't necessarily mean that something was going on; he could have been bragging. But it sure should have come into play about what O.J. thought. I mean, a waiter took his wife away from him! That's a pretty big jump for a guy that has as big an ego as he does.


But the criminal trial was almost as much about you as about O.J. Simpson. In your more reflective moments, do you ever think to yourself, "I might have been responsible for getting O.J. off?"

No, not exactly. I feel absolutely terrible that I allowed a red herring to be introduced into the trial. But on the other side, had it not been for me, we never would have established probable cause to enter the Rockingham estate. We would have never interviewed Kato (Kaelin). We never would have found the bloody glove. I brought forth quite a bit of evidence to this trial. In fact, my partner and I found 16 of the first 19 pieces of evidence.

Your defenders, including former L.A. prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, who wrote the introduction to your book, say you were a victim of the trial.


I'm a victim of the system that seems to be invisible. Justice is supposed to be blind but in this case we had one eye peaking out from behind the handkerchief. Now I'm not pointing the finger or blaming anyone, but when I walk into a courtroom I am humbled by the judge because he is the general in this battlefield, in this courtroom. (Judge Lance) Ito was not in charge. He couldn't maintain order in this classroom where there were a bunch of spoiled children running around. There was no bias against Mr. Simpson. He was treated like a piece of gold. Ito allowed that because he was afraid to be second-guessed by the world.

You were on the streets for 20 years, which some people say can brutalize even the warmest-hearted of cops. How did your feelings and attitudes about people and about crime change over the years?

I came on when I was 23 years old, two weeks after I left the Marine Corps. At first you are very proactive and very aggressive. I started out in South Central and I didn't have any complaints of brutality or racist comments. I worked at a pace that was probably self-destructive. You work nights, and if you're proactive that means you also go to court, which happens to be in the daytime. It was a pace about as conducive to marriage as living in another country. I went through two marriages in my first eight years on the police force. Pretty good, huh? (laughs). I burned out. I was stressed out of my gourd.


As a cop you see what you'll never see in the movies. You smell dead bodies. What really gets to me is dead children. It's an unspeakable crime. You learn to become coldly professional. You have to in order to function and get the job done.

You also used racist language -- at least you did several years ago on the now-famous tapes. But you say you had black friends with whom you socialized and played basketball with. So, were you a racist, or not?

I've had black and Hispanic friends my whole career. I had a black friend in junior high who I played basketball with. I can't remember his name to save my life, I can see him though, plain as day.

The tapes with the screenwriter: It was an attempt to do something very unnatural, and that's to create fiction. You have to use some real life experiences. Then you expand on them, exaggerate them and make up what you don't know. Things in the tapes were exactly that. When (screenwriter) Laura Hart McKinny was asked on the stand by Christopher Darden, point blank, "Does Mark Fuhrman talk like this?" She said "no." What a perfect time to start a rebuttal against the racism accusations.


How have you been treated by members of the LAPD since the trial?

I've had no surprises. Any of my partners or friends who were my friends before I left are still my friends -- black, white, brown, black DAs and white DAs. I even talk to (former assistant prosecutor in the Simpson trial) Bill Hodgman.

Anyone on the force treated you badly since the trial?

(Laughs) Just Vannatter and Lange. They called me a coward. They're upset because I took notes.


There was speculation when you moved to Sandpoint, Idaho, that you were moving there because it was a bastion of white supremacy.

Every person who has said that is making statements from a point of ignorance. I think there's only one place I know of, Hayden Lake, this little compound near there, where they produce white supremacist newspapers. Every media person that's come up here has thanked me for moving here so that they could spend time here. It's a resort town.

What are you doing in Sandpoint?

I've got to get through this (the book tour) first. If someone offered me a job overseeing investigations, I'd jump at it. But I won't send out risumis or ask around because I don't want to put them in that position.


You're a convicted felon (for perjury) on probation.

Right. I can't own firearms, vote, hold public office, be licensed by the state. But hey, things happen in life. That's the way it goes.

You sound fairly resigned to your situation -- even a little upbeat. Aren't you angry?

I wrote the book because I got to the point where I said, "Enough is enough. I am tired of shouldering everything for anybody that wants to shovel something on me." I was willing to let these people puff their chests in court and tell everybody how great they were, but I knew different.

I'm angry that the world can allow such an obvious political indictment of perjury when it's not even perjury. It's ironic, because we have the situation of Ollie North where it was clearly a material perjury, yet he got off. Then we have O.J. who clearly perjured himself repeatedly in not only his deposition but his trial, over two major areas, both of which were material. Any time California's attorney general wants to step up to the plate, let's do it! It shouldn't be too tough. But they won't do it. Why? Because politically they can't get anything out of it.

It's funny. I come to northern Idaho. I become an electrician and I buy a farm. I'm minding my own business. I'm keeping my mouth shut. Can somebody tell me what big threat I was supposed to be?
March 14, 1997

Do you agree that Mark Fuhrman was an innocent, used by the system? Or is he a racist cop who went too far? Join the discussion in Table Talk.

M I D E A S T A T T H E B O I L I N G P O I N T --

Jordan's lone gunman was merely acting out the insanity of his environment.


appealing for calm after the murder of seven Israeli schoolgirls by a Jordanian soldier Thursday, President Clinton said there was no evidence that "this terrible incident is related to tension in the area over the issues. For all we know, this may have been just a deranged person."

Perhaps. But in the Middle East, people are driven to seemingly insane acts of violence by "the issues" all the time. In 1992, Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians while they prayed in a Hebron mosque, leaving behind a note that said he was driven to despair by the negotiations the Israeli government was conducting with PLO "murderers." In 1994, a Jewish gunman assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, branding him a traitor to the cause of a "Greater Israel."

Little is known about the Jordanian soldier who sprayed the visiting Israeli schoolgirls with automatic weapons fire, but his action is just the latest evidence of the lethal atmosphere surrounding the battered Middle East peace process. Only Wednesday, Jordan's King Hussein publicly attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for pushing the region "toward an abyss of bloodshed and disaster."

Hussein was responding to Netanyahu's decision to expand Jewish settlement in Arab East Jerusalem while making a much smaller than expected withdrawal from the West Bank. Arab, European and American diplomats had dismissed Netanyahu's rationale for building housing for 30,000 Jews in East Jerusalem -- that he is simply trying to alleviate the housing shortage in Jerusalem -- as disingenuous and dangerous twaddle.

His real intent, these diplomats say, is to create "facts on the ground" -- large apartment blocks strategically closing an existing ring of Jewish housing around the city, making it physically impossible to link East Jerusalem with the West Bank.

East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of a future Palestinian state, is no less an emotional issue for Arabs than it is for Israelis and Jews. One would have thought that Netanyahu learned that earlier this year when his decision to open an archeological tunnel alongside the Al Aqsa Mosque sparked gun battles between Palestinian and Israeli forces that left more than 100 dead.

Israel's announcement that it will return only 9 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians under the next troop withdrawal was seen in Arab capitals as a deliberate attempt to humiliate Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians, who were expecting to receive three times that amount of territory in this first of three planned withdrawals. "How can I work with you as a partner and true friend," King Hussein said in his furious letter to Netanyahu, "when I sense an intent to destroy all I worked to build between our peoples and states?"

Israeli officials were quick to blame what some have called the "atmosphere of agitation" created by the letter and other anti-Israeli statements by Arab leaders as the cause of the schoolgirls' killings. "Perhaps the conclusion is that the king must hold his tongue so that another soldier doesn't take his words to mean more than he intended," said Education Minister Zvulun Hammer of the National Religious Party, a member of Netanyahu's ruling coalition.

But just as Netanyahu's decisions can be explained in part as the result of hard-line pressure within his government, King Hussein's letter also reflects his sensitivity to the growing disillusionment with the peace process among ordinary Jordanians, a majority of whom are Palestinians. Hussein's letter appeared to acknowledge that he had gotten too far out in front of public opinion in his country and that he must show more empathy for his subjects if he himself is to survive politically.

Four years after the historic handshake between Arafat and Rabin on the White House lawn, the Middle East peace process is not quite back to square one, but there is that old, sickeningly familiar atmosphere of suspicion, recrimination and violence. This weekend, while Israel mourns the slaughter of its innocents, Arab, European and American officials will gather in Gaza at the invitation of Arafat to try to stop the cycle from spiraling downwards. But even now, the emotions of the moment are working against rational thought: To demonstrate his disgust with Netanyahu, Arafat pointedly declined to invite any Israelis.

In such an environment of "insanity," it's hard to see what good the gathering can do.

Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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