Wal-Mart Drops Protocols, But Controversy Lives On

Selling Extremism

Wal-Mart is notoriously vigilant about protecting consumers from products it deems offensive. The world's largest retail chain refuses to sell any CD with a parental warning sticker. Wal-Mart even banned Sheryl Crow's music because the singer/songwriter criticized its gun sales.

The chain has also implemented policies against literature it deems offensive, stripping men's magazines like Maxim and Stuff from the store's racks along with gay publications like The Advocate and Out.

Wal-Mart's standards of offensiveness became an issue last fall when customers and civil-rights groups complained about its Web site selling The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.

A notorious forgery that describes a vast Jewish conspiracy to rule the world, the Protocols are carried by other online booksellers such as Amazon.com, but with a disclaimer that describes it as a "pernicious fraud," and "one of the most infamous, and tragically influential, examples of racist propaganda ever written."

Wal-Mart's site featured quite a different description of the controversial product: "If ... The Protocols are genuine (which can never be proven conclusively), it might cause some of us to keep a wary eye on world affairs," said WalMart.com.

"It's outrageous that they would sell it in the first place," said Deborah Lipstadt, director of the Rabbi Donald A. Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University. "It's unbelievable, but I'm glad they pulled it. It's the equivalent of selling 'Birth of a Nation' in the film section."

In fact, "Birth of a Nation," a 1915 filmic ode to white supremacy based on the 1905 novel The Clansman, is still available on WalMart.com for $17.28. The site also sells four different versions of The Clansman.

The book and movie were largely responsible for the 20th-century rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, introducing the tactic of cross-burnings to the new generation of racists the story inspired.

The Clansman isn't the only example of such literature available on Wal-Mart.com. The Web site's 700,000-book inventory includes The South Was Right! by James and Walter Kennedy, founding members of the League of the South hate group. Walmart.com, in a statement no competent historian would endorse, describes the book as the story of "how the South was an independent country invaded, captured, and still occupied by a vicious aggressor."

The site calls a similar exercise in pro-Confederate historical revisionism, Myths of American Slavery, "a sincere attempt to defeat the spread of misinterpretations and misrepresentations that continue to bedevil race relations and contaminate America's political landscape." WalMart.com also carries books like Was Jefferson Davis Right?, which alleges the Confederate president "was innocent of all of the heinous allegations made against him."

Unlike those of other booksellers, Walmart.com's product descriptions are lifted directly from materials provided by publishing houses, says spokeswoman Amy Colella. "We're committed to our customers, and continue to focus on providing a wide range of books that appeal to our broad customer base," she adds.

The decision to include such products is based on the "various interests and preferences" of Walmart.com customers, Colella says.

Customers with a taste for Maxim, Out and Sheryl Crow, however, need not apply.