Harry Cooper is the founder of Sharkhunters International, a company that organizes tours to sites that were historically important to the Third Reich, such as the Wolf’s Lair, Hermann Goering’s house, and Hitler’s vacation homes in Bavaria. These tours, or “patrols” as they are referred to, are presented as opportunities to “relive history” — in this case, the troublesome history of the Nazi leadership of the Third Reich.
About Harry Cooper
Cooper claims that Sharkhunters is “nonpolitical,” but members of the group include former SS members, neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, and Cooper has long advertised for new members in neo-Nazi publications. Cooper also is a conspiracy theorist who believes that Hitler did not commit suicide at the end of World War II, but instead escaped to Argentina and lived out the rest of his life in hiding.
In his own words:
“We must remember that official government sources state definitely that Hitler committed suicide in the bunker and that the body found not far from the Chancellery was indeed that of Martin Bormann. … Naturally we must believe what the governments tell us, like John F. Kennedy was shot by one madman using a worthless rifle when nobody with any sense buys that story except the Warren Commission. … The list of lies by the world’s governments could by themselves, fill a major size book but you already know that.”
—Introduction, Escape from the Bunker, 2010
Harry Cooper founded Sharkhunters International, he is fond of relating, after quitting his job and setting off on a sailboat (with, he boasts, a “blonde, a brunette, and a red head who were 24, 24, and 25 years old and I was 40”) to the Bahamas. There, he discovered the remains of a German U-boat. Intrigued, Cooper began to research the German U-boat fleet. In the course of his research, Cooper was appalled by what he considered the extremely negative bias with which German World War II sailors were viewed. In order to counter what he saw as the biased history of the U-Boat fleet and its sailors, Cooper founded Sharkhunters.
Cooper insists that his motivation for founding the organization was primarily one of altruism. He hoped to heal some of the wounds of the Second World War by bringing together American and German veterans in a space dedicated to honoring the heroism of both sides. As the trip report of the very first “patrol” states, the enterprise “was meant to bring our Members together from both sides of the Atlantic, and to show that ‘Yesterday’s Enemies’ really are ‘Today’s Friends.’” Such benevolent language belies the reality of the group, which exists primarily to bring together prominent neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers from both sides of the Atlantic in areas of historical importance to the Third Reich.
Neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, and far-right extremist politicians are close to Sharkhunters and its leader. Charles Ellis, who serves on the group’s advisory board and accompanies Cooper on many of the “patrols,” is a former member of the National Alliance, once America’s leading neo-Nazi group. In an interview with extreme-right radio host Jeff Rense, whose network hosts former Klan leader David Duke’s radio program, Cooper referred to leading Holocaust denier and anti-Semite Willis Carto as a close friend. And Duke himself is another “dear friend” of Cooper and the Sharkhunters, who, according to the Sharkhunters log for its 2009 trip to Austria, drove across Bavaria to visit with participants.
Cooper is popular with the radical right in Europe as well. The Sharkhunters met frequently with Austrian politician Jorg Haider, leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, before Haider’s death in 2008. In addition to his overt racism and anti-Semitism, Haider was also roundly criticized for making pro-Nazi comments. In an unexpected twist, Haider was killed in a car crash after leaving a gay bar, a fact that Cooper refuses to acknowledge, preferring instead to insist that his right-wing friend was the victim of a government assassination plot.
Less well-known associates of Cooper include Rigolf Henning, a far-right, anti-Semitic German politician who accompanied Cooper on a 2009 trip to Argentina. Another is Manfred Roeder, who has been classified by the German government as a right-wing terrorist and whose home in Bavaria is a frequent stop for the summer solstice celebrations held by the Sharkhunters. Actress Michele Renouf, a vocal Holocaust denier, also frequents these solstice celebrations. A particularly jarring picture on the Sharkhunters site shows her, Cooper, Roeder and a young Russian woman named Anna who was wearing a shirt emblazoned with “Skinheads Deutschland.”
Cooper has disingenuously claimed that his group is “nonpolitical,” but the facts belie that. He has repeatedly run ads for Sharkhunters in anti-Semitic publications like National Christian News, whose tagline is “Talmudism is Treason!” He has also advertised in GANPAC Brief, long run by now deceased SS member Hans Schmidt, and The Spotlight, one of Carto’s anti-Semitic publications. Sharkhunters has included such members as Leni Reifenstahl, the Nazi filmmaker whose house Cooper boasts of repeatedly visiting, and Leon DeGrelle, a notorious Belgian former member of the SS. And Cooper is a member of Board of Contributing Editors of The Barnes Review, the world’s leading Holocaust denial journal.
Cooper brags incessantly that Sharkhunters enjoy unprecedented access to numerous areas considered “off limits” to the rest of the public. What appears to be closer to the truth, however, is that Cooper and his associates have sometimes attempted to access private property without bothering to obtain permission. In one case, Cooper tried to get into the former home of Dietrich Eckart, one of Hitler’s confidants and a key early member of the Nazi party. A sign then in front of the house read “Privat Ausfahrt Freihalten,” which, according to Sharkhunters, means “Harry is Welcome Here” — but which actually translates to “Private exit, keep clear.” Cooper was not welcomed by the soldiers who were guarding the house, despite his reported attempt to use his Coast Guard ID card to gain access.
Another year, the Sharkhunters apparently sneaked into the home of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s infamous propaganda minister, now abandoned and off limits to the public. The visit was apparently risky enough that Cooper did not explicitly name Goebbels on his website, instead referring to him by his title.
When Cooper does seem to have sanction to visit these sites, it is often through connections with apparent Nazi sympathizers. In one instance, he lauds “our host and guide all along [who] fought in the Hitler Youth in the defense of Berlin in the closing moments of the war, and is a very patriotic right-wing German. … [H]e opened many doors not normally open to others.”
Cooper dresses up what is a simple desire to both glorify and exonerate the Nazis with a veneer of innocent historical enthusiasm. While carefully avoiding outright Holocaust denial, Cooper rejects many of the historical realities related to it—stating, for example, that no forced labor was used to build many of the tunnels, bunkers, and houses used by Nazi leadership. According to the Sharkhunters website:
[I]f you look closely at these structures that we show on our various Patrols you will note the extremely high degree of engineering that went into building these various structures, tunnels, buildings, airfields and more. These were not done by slave laborers but rather well paid and highly skilled professional tradesmen. In addition to a good standard of pay, they also got bonuses for such things as being away from their homes for certain amount of time, having to work in wet ground etc. They lived in camps that were quickly erected at the work site and when the bridge or tunnel or whatever was completed, they moved the camp to the next work site.
Cooper also alludes to the “historical revisionism” of “accepted history,” implying that many of the details about World War II were fabricated to encourage anti-German hysteria during the war.
Perhaps Cooper’s most elaborate rewriting of history is his enthusiastically overwrought explanation of how Hitler did not commit suicide in the Berlin bunker, but in fact escaped and lived out the remainder of his life in South America. Cooper claims that the source material for Escape from the Bunker was a letter given to him by a Spanish-German double agent named Don Angel Alcazar de Velasco, who Cooper says was personally involved in the operation to smuggle Hitler and Martin Bormann out of Berlin and into Argentina.
Published in 2010 with the support of Carto, Escape from the Bunker also alleges that the FBI and other intelligence agencies was fully aware of Hitler’s escape, and were complicit in propagating the lie that Hitler had died during the war in an effort to bring closure to a country traumatized by war. Moreover, Don Angel supposedly bought up the possibility of Hitler having two surviving children, living somewhere in Mexico. In an interview with white supremacist radio host Jeff Rense, Cooper said he was looking for two individuals who might be those children.
Cooper is so attached to this conspiracy theory that he has conducted several “patrols” in Argentina, visiting locations which he is convinced are the sites where Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi officials lived after the war. The Sharkhunters trip reports are cagey about where exactly these locations are, referring to the small German-influenced Argentinian village they visited only as “Stadt” (the German word for “city”). The island that Cooper alleges held a German nuclear research facility remains unnamed, although Cooper claims this laboratory was so advanced that in the 1940s and 1950s its scientists accomplished so-called cold fusion — a feat yet to be accomplished by modern scientists. Cooper and the Sharkhunters also visited an abandoned mansion, which they hint may be a former residence of Hitler himself. The expedition report poses this rhetorical question:
“So......................... who owned this estate? Who once lived here?
We'll give you a hint - when we landed and were walking across the great front lawn, the two Skippers were goose-stepping with their right arms raised stiffly in front of them, making a salute that is illegal in Germany.”
The theory that Hitler did not commit suicide and instead escaped — a claim for which there is zero evidence — is controversial even among white supremacists. Neo-Nazi John de Nugent, in particular, took issue with Cooper’s claim, writing in the Holocaust denial journal The Barnes Review that Hitler wanted to die with his troops and have his body burned so it could not be desecrated by the Allies. De Nugent states that Hitler praised the act of “free-death” and believed it more honorable to kill himself than live out the rest of his life after losing the war.
Some commenters on Stormfront, a leading white supremacist Web forum run by a former Alabama Klan leader, have also expressed skepticism over Cooper’s claims and credentials. Commenter “Phoenix88,” for instance, slammed Cooper and his book. “Why is this ‘historian’ or ‘author’ not highly regarded or cited anywhere?” he asked. “Oh wait, he is not even a historian or author, all he is is President of Sharkhunters International. … [C]onspiracy theories are not something I go about believing in, Hitler did not go to Argentina in 1945, only a nut job would think this.”
In a thread on the Axis History Forum, which describes its as an “apolitical” group, commenters took on both Cooper’s conspiracy theories and the Sharkhunters generally, alleging that the group is little more than a scam to make money off of aging German veterans and gullible American tourists. States commenter “SemperFi62”: “He came across as friend [to the German U-boat veterans] and they gave him their stories and signed photographs for free and he sold them for profit through Sharkhunters. His web site featured cheap mugs, mouse pads and video tapes of his tours as well as other cheap junk and bogus conspiracy theory books about Hitler escaping to Argentina etc. - All for profit.”