Holocaust deniers’ claims run the gamut. Some groups say that most Jews were not killed in a systematic genocide, but were the victims of disease, starvation or other indiscriminate hardships of World War II. Some say the gas chambers did not exist or were used only to delouse prisoners. Many deniers claim the gas chambers could not possibly have killed as many victims as historical research shows, bolstering their arguments by highlighting discrepancies in the number of recorded casualties. Others suggest that the gas chambers were built after the war as a way of extracting reparations from the Germans and/or to justify the creation of Israel.
- Some proponents and influencers within organized Holocaust denial seek to rehabilitate the Nazi regime, hoping to open the ideology of national socialism to new, broader audiences.
- Holocaust denial delegitimizes the suffering of Jews, and exacerbates intergenerational traumas by denying Holocaust history, and codifies antisemitic propaganda under the guise of academic research.
- Deniers promote conspiracy theories about Jewish-controlled governments and media by attempting to undermine a history of horrific suffering. Their denials provide a foundation for much of the antisemitism permeating the radical right.
- Deniers misrepresent anti-hate campaigns and legislation as evidence that Jews control the mainstream media.
Holocaust denial has long been an essential manifestation of antisemitism in the radical right. Willis Carto’s formation of the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) in 1978 was the first major Holocaust denial group to develop a substantial membership base, though deniers had been active prior to its existence. As the founder of numerous far-right groups and a campaigner for several conservative political candidates, Carto had varied and far-reaching influence. Following his ouster from IHR for fraud and financial mismanagement, Carto went on to found The Barnes Review – now the leading U.S.-based Holocaust denial publication – and the American Free Press, a newspaper peddling Holocaust denial and other conspiracy theories. Carto’s contemporary, German-born Ernst Zundel, still remains a seminal figure in Holocaust denial despite his death in 2017. In 1977 he founded the now defunct Samisdat Publishers in Toronto to print texts promoting Nazism and Holocaust denial. Most notably, Zundel sponsored and published the Leuchter Report – a biased study of the chemical contents of gas chamber walls in Auschwitz – as part of his defense for spreading Holocaust denial material in Canada. Author and self-described historian David Irving, himself a figurehead within the denial scene, testified on Zundel’s behalf. Irving’s writings devolved into open denialism in the 1980s with claims that Hitler was unaware of the systematic extermination of European Jews. His defense of Zundel’s views and the Leuchter Report further confirmed his antisemitic beliefs. Irving has been banned from entering Germany, Austria, Australia, New Zealand and most recently Lithuania but continues holding book talks in the U.K. and the U.S. Irving’s contemporary Mark Weber also remains active in the movement as the director of IHR. While IHR no longer publishes The Journal of Historical Review and Weber himself made waves with a 2009 essay advocating a shift in attention from denying the Holocaust to the “Jewish-Zionist power,” his website continues to publish and sell denialist material. More recently, Weber received notice that he had been banned from entering the U.K. on April 28, 2015, due to “unacceptable behaviour.”
Holocaust denial and the radical right
Despite many influential Holocaust deniers aging out of relevance, the tenets of denial have become embedded in other segments of the movement. Examples of denying the Holocaust abound in neo-Nazi circles. On the Daily Stormer website, founder and editor Andrew Anglin has described the Holocaust as a “ridiculous fake shower room bug-spray death chamber hoax” that forms “the core of [Jewish people’s] identity.” His vitriolic antisemitism alleges that white people are being duped into complacency under a Zionist-controlled government. Holocaust denial has also manifested within white nationalism and the Ku Klux Klan. Greg Johnson, the editor-in-chief of the white nationalist publishing company Counter-Currents, credits David Irving as instrumental in his conversion to white nationalism. Johnson is wary of Holocaust deniers’ bellicose and spurious claims in his publications, stating in a July 2012 article that “holocaust revisionism is a legitimate field of historical research” but it “is simply not necessary to the White Nationalist project.” However, he continues to support this segment of the far right by speaking alongside Holocaust deniers at exclusive forums in the United States and Europe. Similarly, one of the longest enduring Klan groups, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, questions the validity of the Holocaust. These unfounded claims are residual ideological underpinnings from when David Duke founded the group in 1974. In his rise to leadership, Duke was influential in expanding the Klan ideology from strictly anti-black to include antisemitism also.
Beyond organized white supremacy, Holocaust denial has recently been in the political spotlight. Eight-time U.S. House of Representatives candidate Arthur Jones of Illinois, whose membership in the American National Socialist Workers Party gained significant media attention, has belligerently dismissed the Holocaust as “the biggest, blackest lie in history.” Most recently, Jones failed to make it into office in the November 2018 midterm elections, receiving 26.5 percent of the votes in the general election after running unopposed in the primary. However, others in the far right who have disputed the Holocaust have garnered attention in the halls of political power. Chuck C. Johnson denied the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz and greatly obscured the number of casualties in an early 2017 Reddit post. Johnson has since recanted his denial of the Holocaust and dismissed these comments as experimental trolling, but he has been instrumental in raising legal defense funds for avowed neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin. On Jan. 16, 2019, Johnson met with Representatives Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Andy Harris, R-Md. Previously, Johnson attended the 2018 State of the Union with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and was part of a meeting with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Furthermore, in the ongoing debate regarding free speech in the era of social media, Mark Zuckerberg has come under scrutiny for claiming that Holocaust-denying speech should be allowed to remain on Facebook, because he believes that deniers aren’t “intentionally getting it wrong.” However, Zuckerberg is failing to distinguish between inadvertently inaccurate information and bigotry aimed at degrading and vilifying Jewish people. Unfortunately, such hate speech begets violence.
On the social media platform Gab, distinctions between First Amendment rights and violent hate speech are convoluted. Robert Bowers, a man radicalized on Gab, faces federal hate crime indictments in the killing of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. On Jan. 29, 2019, the Justice Department indicted Bowers for 13 violations of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, bringing the total number of indictments to 66. In the wake of the attack, Gab founder and CEO Andrew Torba promised “to keep Gab online and defend free speech and individual liberty for all people.” While Bowers never explicitly refuted the Holocaust, his antisemitic posts were bolstered by a community where denying the Holocaust continues to excuse and diminish violence against Jewish people.