Holocaust denier claims run the gamut. Some of these groups falsely say that most Jewish people were not killed in a World War II systematic genocide, but instead were the victims of disease, starvation or other indiscriminate hardships. Other holocaust denial group members claim 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.
Holocaust deniers and revisionists also promote antisemitic tropes common within the broader white power movement, including conspiracies that Jewish people control the media and political systems through powerful behind-the-scenes networks. In all its forms, the antisemitism of these groups and individuals delegitimizes the suffering of Jewish people and exacerbates intergenerational traumas by denying Holocaust history and codifying antisemitic propaganda under the guise of academic research.
Holocaust deniers and revisionists mask antisemitism and racism under the guise of free speech and asking questions. Major revisionist organizations like the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust are producing online content, books and other publications to push the message that the current understanding of the Shoah has been drastically overblown because of Jewish control of media and academics. Recent publications like Unmasking Anne Frank or The Steep Climb: Essays on the Jewish Question have been produced by noted antisemitic hate group and publisher Clemens and Blair were recently pulled from sale on Amazon. These books emphasize the current trend among revisionists and deniers to cast themselves as academics and truth seekers rather than hatemongers and antisemites.
Holocaust denial has long been an essential manifestation of antisemitism in the radical right. The Institute for Historical Review (IHR), formed by Willis Carto in 1978, became 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 – a 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 Jewish people. His defense of Zundel’s views and the Leuchter Report further confirmed his antisemitic beliefs. Irving has been banned from entering Austria, Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa and most recently Lithuania.
Irving’s cohort, 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.”
Another significant group that promotes Holocaust denial and revisionism is the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH). Founded by Bradley Smith in 1987, it became a more significant online platform at the end of the 20th century and into the 21st. Focusing on faux-academic publishing, speeches and interviews, CODOH has carved out a sphere of authority in far-right spaces. The organization disingenuously presents its antisemitism as “truth seeking.”
In 2014, CODOH began publishing Holocaust handbooks and documentaries to support revisionism. In 2015, CODOH became the publisher of a quarterly magazine titled “An Inconvenient History: A Quarterly Journal for Free historical Inquiry” n, which purports to be a legitimate academic endeavor.
By 2022, with the incorporation of Castle Hill publications — the online bookshop for CODOH— it is clear that CODOH will remain a publishing force for antisemitism and Holocaust denial. With Smith’s death in 2016, revisionist Michael Santomauro has risen to be a prominent member of CODOH, is CEO of Castle Hill Publications, and is a primary contact for another of its publishing affiliates, Clemens and Blair.
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 about the Holocaust are residual ideological underpinnings from when Former Grand Dragon 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 also include antisemitism.
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.” Jones failed to make it into office in the November 2018 midterm elections, receiving 26.5% of the votes in the general election after running unopposed in the Republican 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 simply trolling. He has, however, been instrumental in raising legal defense funds for avowed neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin. On Jan. 16, 2019, Johnson met with then-U.S. Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee and Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland. Previously, Johnson attended the 2018 State of the Union with Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and was part of a meeting with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California, and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Furthermore, in the debate regarding free speech in the era of social media, Meta Platforms Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg came under scrutiny in 2018 for stating that Holocaust-denying speech should be allowed to remain on the company’s Facebook platform, because he said he believed that deniers aren’t “intentionally getting it wrong.” While Zuckerberg initially failed to distinguish between inadvertently inaccurate information and bigotry aimed at degrading and vilifying Jewish people, he reconsidered his stance and banned Holocaust denial on the platform in October 2020.
On the social media platform Gab, however, distinctions between First Amendment rights and violent hate speech remain convoluted. Robert Bowers, a man radicalized on Gab, faces federal hate crime indictments in the killing of 11 Jewish people in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. On Jan. 29, 2019, the Justice Department indicted Bowers for 13 violations of the federal 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.
Most recently, some individuals have invoked the imagery and history of the Holocaust while seeking to build a narrative of victimization around COVID-19 vaccine campaigns and mask mandates. While the U.S. government has not mandated vaccines for the American population, numerous far-right figures have undermined the gravity and lasting impact of the Holocaust by comparing the genocide of 6 million Jewish people with efforts to increase vaccination rates in the country.
Prominent figures such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Fox News host Tucker Carlson have compared mask mandates to the Holocaust and the COVID-19 vaccine to Nazi experiments. On Jan. 23, 2022, Robert Kennedy Jr. compared measures to contain the virus to Nazi-era restrictions instituted as part of a genocidal campaign. In response, the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum remarked that Kennedy’s exploitation of “the tragedy of people who suffered, were humiliated, tortured and murdered by the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany” was a “sad symptom of moral and intellectual decay.”
The Antisemitism Ideology File includes a list of Holocaust denial hate groups that were active in 2022.