Holocaust and Genocide Denial: A Contextual Perspective

Here are some highlights from this 2017 book:

* While David Duke remains a committed Holocaust denier and anti-Semite,68 other prominent figures within white nationalism and ‘race realism’ either do not advocate denial or have openly queried its utility, despite remaining strongly committed to anti-Semitism. Thus, Kevin Macdonald, editor of the Occidental Quarterly and Occidental Observer journals and websites, refuses to promote denial on his websites, and allowed white nationalist Greg Johnson, editor of the Counter Currents website, to publish an article calling into question the relevance of ‘Revisionism’ to racialist politics,69 inevitably provoking furious responses from diehards.70 Other white nationalist bloggers have echoed this scepticism, labelling Holocaust denial ‘strategic buffoonery’.71 While most on the extreme right remain emotionally and intellectually wedded to anti-Semitism, other perceived threats, especially from Islam, have even led some rightist intellectuals to reject anti-Semitism, as did the nouvelle droite author Guillaume Faye.

* In January 2009, the director of the IHR, Mark Weber, since reduced to maintaining a news-orientated website and appearing on far right talk radio shows in the United States, announced to the horror of his onetime comrades that Holocaust revisionism was no longer relevant to the cause of anti-Zionism.37 In responding to Weber’s intervention, one of the more reflective negationists came close to admitting the intellectual bankruptcy of the enterprise. ‘Is revisionism dead?’ asked Serge Thion. ‘As an open quest, an intellectual commitment, it has probably reached its limits.’38 A few years later, the Danish ‘Revisionist’ Christian Lindtner openly declared his opposition to denial, provoking further outrage from the true believers.

None of the erstwhile directors of the IHR possessed doctorates, while the Journal of Historical Review devoted significant space to non-Holocaust topics as well as puff pieces.40 From 1997 to 2005, therefore, the German negationist Germar Rudolf attempted to rectify the credibility gap by publishing a more heavyweight journal
alongside a series of ‘Holocaust Handbooks’ designed to showcase ‘Revisionist’ research achievements.41 Thus, paradoxically, the period after 2000 represented the high-water mark of ‘Revisionist’ pseudoscholarship, both in terms of output as well as quality. Under Rudolf’s aegis, a firm distinction emerged between ‘guru’ researchers and ‘cheerleader’ authors capable only of writing puff pieces or regurgitating other people’s ideas. Erstwhile gurus such as Faurisson, meanwhile, were relegated to cheerleader status after it became clear they were incapable of contributing semi-serious research articles and no longer attempted to use primary sources.

* No new studies of Holocaust demographics have been attempted by negationists since the 1980s, despite the importance of the ‘numbers game’ to earlier authors such as Rassinier;47 denial remains fixated on gas chambers, cremation and killing sites. However, negationists have been totally unable to repeat the forensic coups of Leuchter and Rudolf, with little effort being made to carry out pseudoscientific experiments ‘in the field’. The last such attempt, a claimed ground penetration radar survey of Treblinka by the Australian engineer Richard
Krege associated with the Adelaide Institute, has like its predecessors fallen flat, because more than a decade on, the alleged study remains entirely unpublished48 and has been refuted by the results of professional archaeological investigations.

* Pseudoscholarly ‘Revisionism’ bears all the hallmarks of a ‘degenerating research programme’, to use the terminology of the philosopher of science Imre Lakatos. In this regard, negationism mirrors a common tendency among conspiracy theory pseudoscholarship more generally.52 Not only are there simply fewer ‘Revisionist’ researchers, but their books have lengthened as the gurus are forced to confront a larger body of evidence for the Holocaust. Moreover, denier research remains resolutely negationist, with significantly more effort expended
attacking eyewitnesses, documents and forensic evidence generally thought to prove mass murder than in locating any evidence that might support ‘Revisionist’ conspiracy claims about Allied and Soviet manipulation, or which might prove an alternative explanation of the fate of the Jews in Nazi and Axis hands.

All of the remaining negationist gurus combine a deep and abiding ignorance of the overwhelming majority of recent Holocaust research with ad hominem attacks on historians and an obsessive ‘refutational’ style aimed at real or hallucinated debate partners,53 something which also marks out other ‘revisionist’ schools of history writing.54 Yet these arguments are largely howled into the void, since the response to MGK’s work has been a deafening silence from academics.

This in turn has led MGK to believe they are really onto something, in a classic illustration of the topsy-turvy circular logic of fringe pseudoscholars, since the lack of response from academics must mean that historians cannot refute the negationist gurus.55 What emerges, above all else, from surveying the work of ‘serious’ revisionism is, moreover, its striking irrelevance to the concerns of contemporary Holocaust research.

* The conspiracist scene has in fact become one of the few potential growth areas for negationism in recent years, with a number of websites such as Veterans Today featuring the occasional poorly constructed article re-treading familiar old denier arguments.83 Yet just as negationism has become virtually toxic on the extreme right and among anti-Zionists, the presence of Holocaust deniers has become extremely contentious within conspiracy theory
circles, both inside the 9/11 Truth Movement as well as on the larger conspiracy forums such as Above Top Secret or David Icke’s website. The Iranian government-sponsored website and TV station Press TV, a noted peddler of conspiracy theories, is one outlet that seems happy to reprint negationist material without blushing.84

The tolerance of conspiracist websites for denial is reciprocated in the tolerance of ‘Revisionist’ websites to welcome conspiracy theorists into the fold. In 2008, a 61-year-old British historian of astronomy, Nicholas Kollerstrom, wrote two articles for CODOH rehashing all the old claims surrounding Leuchter’s ‘chemical disproof’ first tried over 20 years before, padding the pieces with internet clichés such as the Auschwitz swimming pool. Kollerstrom did not, however, confine his unconventional beliefs to Holocaust denial, as he is a
classic example of so-called crank magnetism,85 advocating astrology, crop circles, 9/11 Truth, as well as conspiracy theories about the London terrorist bombings of 7 July 2005. His harassment of survivors of the 7/7 bombings led bloggers to uncover his Holocaust-denying articles on CODOH, resulting in the loss of an honorary fellowship at University College London.86 In 2013, the serial conspiracy theorist James Fetzer, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Minnesota, added Holocaust denial to his repertoire of theories regarding the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 9/11 and the Sandy Hook school shooting of December 2012. Fetzer subsequently contributed a foreword to Kollerstrom’s book Breaking the Spell, and edited a collection of articles featuring ‘Revisionist’ authors alongside moon-landing hoax theories and other fringe claims.87

The convergence of negationism and conspiracism can also be seen in the use of videos for propaganda purposes. In both cases, this resort to what is now known as ‘argumentum ad YouTubium’ was preceded by the reliance on VHS videos in conspiracy theorist, white nationalist and negationist circles during the 1990s.88 The novelty of YouTube, which was only founded in February 2005, as well as the advent of other social media in web 2.0, helped 9/11 conspiracy theories to go ‘viral’ in 2005–06 through the medium of video documentaries such as Loose Change.89 Negationist efforts to exploit the viral-video phenomenon have met with mixed success. In 2006, ‘Mike Smith’, also known as ‘denierbud’, produced One Third of the Holocaust, 30 clips’ worth of denial of the extermination camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.90 ‘Denierbud’ or ‘Dean Irrebod’ has since made two subsequent videos, on Buchenwald and Auschwitz, but recently declared he would probably not make further videos due to ‘lack of financial contributions’.91 Another younger ‘Revisionist’ video maker was Eric Hunt, who had previously received a two-year sentence in 2008 for attacking Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in a San Francisco hotel…

Since the de facto demise of the IHR in 2002 and the abandonment of negationism by the majority of vote-seeking far right parties, Holocaust denial has been cut loose to fend for itself as just one of many fringe conspiracy theories peddled on the internet. Its continued allure undoubtedly stems from the legal repression of denial as a form of incitement to racial hatred in a number of European countries, imbuing negationism with the appeal of an ultimate taboo. As a form of ‘stigmatized knowledge’, to borrow Michael Barkun’s useful term,112 negationism
will likely continue to appeal to a small minority for the foreseeable future. Its wellsprings of support can be found on the extreme right, in certain fundamentalist or traditionalist religious circles, as well as increasingly among the contrarian conspiracist milieu.

Seven reasons can be adduced for the decline of Holocaust denial:

1 Consistent social disapproval
2 Its political ineffectiveness
3 The ease of finding other ways of expressing anti-Semitism or delegitimising Israel
4 Loss of ‘market share’ to other conspiracy theories
5 Inability to cope with the volume of recent Holocaust research
6 Lack of novelty
7 The ageing of the ‘movement’

Indeed, at least 84 ‘Revisionist’ authors, activists or prominent supporters have died since the turn of the millennium, including two of the most important organisers of the movement, Willis Carto and Bradley Smith, during the winter of 2015/16. Many other prominent figures from the heyday of ‘Revisionism’, such as Robert Faurisson, 87, or Ernst Zündel, 77, are now too old to contribute meaningfully to the belief system. While Mattogno and Graf are both now 65, and could well be producing their pseudoscholarship for some time to come, the majority of their peers from the 1980s and 1990s have abandoned what Faurisson once called the ‘intellectual adventure of the 21st Century’, with few younger cadres emerging to replace the casualties. Thomas Kues, born in 1981 and thus one of the youngest ‘Revisionist’ authors of significance to publish since the turn of the millennium, quit the denier scene in July 2013 for personal reasons.113

While the rise of internet conspiracism has caused concern in some quarters, the failure of Holocaust denial to break out of its ghetto offers some hope more generally. As has been observed, pseudo-theories are always aimed over the heads of academics at an unsuspecting general public.114 The transparency of the internet and the multiple outlets available in the age of web 2.0 might at first glance seem to encourage the spread of fringe ideas, as was seen in the mid-2000s with the 9/11 Truth Movement, and in President Barack Obama’s first term with ‘Birtherism’. Yet the self-same transparency also acts to expose advocates of fringe ideas as cranks, and to set firm limits on their growth, while also stimulating opposition to fringe ideas from ordinary internet surfers. The near-unanimous rejection of ‘Holocaust Revisionism’ by academic and intellectual opinion, in
politics, the courts and in Western societies as a whole, has been reproduced on web 2.0 by a similar thumbs-down from the overwhelming majority of web surfers.

With virtually all Holocaust denier activity now concentrated on the internet, a final twist can be noted: if one switches off the internet and walks away from the computer, Holocaust denial disappears entirely.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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