Mel Gibson and His Father’s Extremist Views Are Questioned

Long a favorite actor of the far right, Mel Gibson comes under attack over a new film — and his father's views of Jews

For almost a decade, Mel Gibson — through no fault of his own — has been revered by the American radical right.

It began with "Braveheart," the 1995 movie in which the dashing leading man plays Sir William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish nobleman who fights to free his people from British rule. Next came "Conspiracy Theory," released at the peak of the militia movement, in which Gibson plays a bumbling but likeable conspiracy nut not unlike many in the movement. Finally, there was "The Patriot," with Gibson drawn into the American Revolution when his son is murdered by the British.

Gibson did nothing in these movies to win the admiration of the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, militiamen and survivalists who make up the extreme right. It was enough that he was white, strikingly handsome, and playing noble characters who risk all to fight "the system" — whether that be oppressive Britishers, government bureaucrats or freedom-hating monarchists. Nevertheless, the libraries of those on the radical right today are bulging with copies of these Gibson films and others.

Now, Mel Gibson is at the center of a storm that may be of his own making. As he was completing a film on the last 12 hours of the life of Christ, The New York Times Magazine published a March 9 cover story reporting that "The Passion" may reflect the radical Catholic view that Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Jesus.

The Times story delved into the "traditionalist" beliefs of Gibson and his father — and it quoted 85-year-old Hutton Gibson denying that the Holocaust occurred.

Scoffing at the notion that 6 million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis, the elder Gibson told the Times that the Holocaust was fabricated in order to hide a secret deal between Hitler and "financiers" to move Jews from Germany to the Middle East. And he dismissed the notion that Osama bin Laden was behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, saying the planes were crashed by "remote control."

The Times also reported that both Gibson men are Catholic "traditionalists" who reject the 1962-65 Vatican II reforms. (A key reform was the dropping of the doctrine that Jews are collectively responsible for Christ's murder.) And it said that Mel Gibson recently finished building a church near Malibu, Calif., that will cater to Catholic traditionalists. The story said that Gibson was the only benefactor of the church, giving a total of some $2.8 million.

In June, after wrangling with Jewish and Catholic leaders who had criticized "The Passion" long before its 2004 release date, Mel Gibson issued a statement to Daily Variety denying any bigotry. "Anti-Semitism is not only contrary to my personal beliefs," he said, "it is also contrary to the core message of my movie."

None of the critics have seen Mel Gibson's movie, which is shot entirely in the ancient tongues of Latin and Aramaic and may not be subtitled. And supporters of the actor have noted that he has been in the forefront of movie-making that celebrates multiculturalism and promotes an end to anti-black racism.

But there are some reasons to believe that "The Passion" could follow an arch-conservative religious line. WorkingForChange, a center-left, Web-based news organization, quoted Mel Gibson bitterly criticizing changes in Catholic doctrine in a 1992 interview with Spain's leading newspaper. In the same interview, the actor reportedly attacks homosexuality in crude terms.

As to Hutton Gibson, who the Times described as "a seminary dropout and rabble-rousing theologist" who has written books like "The Enemy Is Here," there seems to be less question. On June 21, the elder Gibson spoke to a Washington, D.C., conference of The Barnes Review, one of the world's leading Holocaust denial organizations.

Gibson senior made no mention of Jews, but did talk about Masonic anti-church conspiracies, "our current, Koran-kissing anti-Pope," plans for a "one-world government," how the Civil War was fought over state's rights (as opposed to slavery) and the Federal Reserve. And he complained bitterly that "international bankers" have "subjected us to the usury that our church formerly condemned."