Bonus Episode Seven Transcript
Bonus Episode: The Holocaust Denier and the CHD
One of the things that happened was that things started to accelerate, and they kind of converged and got more intense. From the mid 80s through the mid 90s, there was the militia movement, there's the KKK, and then you had religiously tinged to groups like Christian identity, these were deeply anti-Semitic, and anti-Black, and then there were neo-pagan groups. There was one called Asatru, and they were quite active and we're also on the far right. And then there were international intruders like David Irving from London. And so there was quite a variety of kinds of activities. There was a lot of, a lot of agitation, and these things all sort of fed into each other. And that led to a sense of public alarm, and it led to groups that we organized like the Coalition for Human Dignity, the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment and other groups who were realized that more needed to be done that was being done by the authorities.
That's the voice of Steve Wasserstrom, professor of Judaic studies and the humanities at Reed College, and a member of the Coalition for Human Dignity. If you've been listening to the It Did Happen Here Podcast, you're familiar with the atmosphere Professor Wasserstrom describes. I'm Celina Flores.
And I'm Mic Crenshaw. We're your hosts for this bonus episode, the Holocaust Denier and the CHD, which will highlight how the research arm of the CHD contributed to an international effort to shut down a peddler of anti-Semitic revisionist history.
David Irving, English-based popular history writer first and foremost, he's a holocaust denier. He's an anti-Semite and in the 1980s and 1990s, he was one of very few somewhat academic neo-nazis, who provided the link between street level racists and well, academics and more, and a more professional class. So Irving would tour in countries that would allow him in, and talk about how World War Two was not about the destruction of European Jews, it was actually just a response to Stalin, and really nasty stuff.
That's CHD research director Jonathan Mozzochi. In the early 90s, Irving went on an international lecture circuit to promote claims that, for example, gas chambers did not exist at Auschwitz. As a result, several European countries including Germany, Austria, and Italy, barred Irving from entering.
In any case, he was an important figure in fascist international networks. In Portland, in the early 90s, he was hosted by an attorney, who also happened to run a racist pagan group--white people who were worshipping pagan idols or whatever. It was an Asatru group, is what they called themselves. So they had some access to money and some access to some professional organizing. They could talk to the media without having swastikas painted on their forehead, and they were the ones who hosted Irving at a number of events that they tried to hold, and a couple that they did successfully hold in the Pacific Northwest, and so we headed up the intelligence on who was hosting his event, and we found that it was racist skinheads who were doing security, racist skinheads who were doing promotions around Irving's speech, and his appearances and that this was the case in all over the United States and in this speaking tour. So we managed to track his efforts pretty closely, and then to disrupt them in a number of places.
So David Irving was increasingly active as a Holocaust denier on the international scene in the 80s. Some of these local groups, we know who they were, invited him to come repeatedly to Portland. They would organize these by word of mouth, somebody would have to find out and we had people who could find out where these events took place, and then we would organize demonstrations just to cause as much attention to make life as difficult for them as possible.
When Steve Wasserstrom talks here about people who could find out, he's referencing the research capacity of the CHD, the strengths of the organization. The Coalition routinely sent agents into neo-nazi meetings, to collect intelligence, learning where fascists were hosting events, gaining entry into their events finding out the dates and times of engagements, things like that.
We couldn't and wouldn't and never did debate them. There was a universal consensus among people who work with these kinds of groups that you don't debate Holocaust deniers. If you debate them, then you give them a legitimacy. So, we weren't going to do that, but short of that we could bring people out to their events and let people see that they were in their community and they were organizing the community.
We found out that he was coming back to Portland to teach. When we found out that Mount Hood Community College had given them their speaking room, there was a Oregonian editor at the time named Phil Stanford. He started writing in our newspaper about how maybe we should listen to this guy, David Irving. You know, maybe he's right, maybe not that many people died during the Holocaust. This is in our Oregonian prime first thing on the column. So, we had to then organize in a broad base of all faith communities, all political communities and start answering that editorial.
Abby Layton of the Coalition for Human Dignity talks about an important aspect of academic fascism. Draping lies in the cloth of free speech rights. Journalist Phil Stanford at the time, was a metro columnist for The Oregonian, Portland's daily newspaper. Stanford disagreed with the practice mentioned by Professor Wasserstrom, that Holocaust survivors, scholars and activists do not debate Holocaust deniers and do not allow them to speak in their communities.
Irving and other fascists consistently portrayed themselves as victims being denied free speech, despite proof from many legitimate historians that urban so-called history is full of errors, and designed to spread a message of deep anti-Semitism. We see this reflected today as the far right mounts a crusade against cancel culture, where politicians and pundits who routinely promote hate speech evade accountability by declaring themselves to be victims of hate. Stanford seems to have fallen for Irving's claim that he was a historian. The academic veneer that Mozzochi describes was enough to gain support of the influential local columnists. Here's an excerpt from one of the columns Abby mentions, written September 25 1992:
At least as far as I know, Irving is not a neo-nazi sympathizer. He is a British historian who has published a number of controversial works on World War Two. And along the way, has said some pretty upsetting things about the Holocaust. In fact, he questions whether the number of Jews killed by the Nazis is as great as most historians say. In other words, he's what people in the history business call a revisionist. He doesn't deny that huge numbers of Jews and others died under the Nazis. However, he puts the number at something closer to 1 million. Is he right? Is he wrong? Personally, I wasn't there doing the counting, so I don't know. As far as I'm concerned, 100 would have been too many.
He went on to write two more, he stuck his place. So what we did proactively besides organizing every, you know, every community and getting it seen, so what we did was we we did a four day symposium, and we revealed him. But then what we did, we did not, you know, just let it go by. We went out there and did a peaceful demonstration at Portland Community when he was actually speaking at Portland Community. We stood there and sang and had presence; there's over 200 people, and of course, the police showed up in all of their riot gear and billy clubs against us.
The police are protecting them and ushering them and there was literally threats of violence. Law enforcement organizations came out in larger force and kept them separate, but part of the effect is that they have protection. And I'm not saying "oh, we should unleash violence in the streets," but I'm concerned with the way that law enforcement has, have been managing these events in such a way that these folks are, feel protected and comfortable coming back.
In 1993, Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies, published Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, in which he named David Irving as a Hitler partisan, who manipulated the historical record in an attempt to portray his hero in a favorable light. Three years later, David Irving sued Dr. Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books for libel, which resulted in a month-long trial in English courts. In American courts, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but at the time, English law was the opposite. Professor Lipstadt was required to provide proof that her statement was factual. The five year legal battle was described as, "putting history on trial," and the CHD played a small but important role in that.
So when Irving was brought to trial, they had to demonstrate that he was in fact a neo-nazi and extreme right wing activist, so they collected witness statements from a number of us from around North America who had actually heard his events and what he had to say and I submitted one of those, and he was convicted.
Wasserstrom submitted a sworn affidavit with observations he made while attending the Irving event at Mount Hood Community College; statements Irving made, descriptions of the neo-nazis who provided security, the racist pagan who introduced him, intelligence that had been collected and stored in the famous filing cabinets of the CHD's research wing. It's an effective example of how opposition research can have lasting impact that we may not understand at the time, and a good reminder to archive our histories. Irving's reputation as a historian was thoroughly destroyed. He was sued into bankruptcy and he lost his home. He's not without continued support. He continues to travel and speak but resistance to his toxic message also continues. In 2019, for example, he was banned from entering Lithuania until 2024.
We don't want these folks in our downtown on the Courthouse Square or anywhere on the street, spewing their hate. And in many cases, we're talking about groups who are literal neo-nazis or virtual neo-nazis. We're talking about hardcore hate organized and marching in our streets. What people can do is show up. Rose City Antifa and other groups who are, monitor these groups make clear when they're going to have rallies, bookmark those sites and find out when events are coming and show up. My idea would be that many, many more Portlanders of good, good faith would show up at these events than these activists and never let them come and have any, any degree of comfort, spouting hate in our streets. And there's lots of other kind of work to do--academic work and scholarly work and political work of, of all kinds, but they organize intentionally to come to the streets. I think it's important for our community to, to show up as, in as large numbers possible. Folks who you know, who work actively in this area, do not like, generally shy away from comparisons with the 1930s in Germany. We are hearing those more and more now. And while I think that's still alarmist, we do know that there are precedents of increasing authoritarianism and this kind of street hate activism is part of a package of a slide into authoritarianism. It's not clear how many folks have had their consciousness raised sufficiently to understand how, how much closer we're getting to that world, and therefore how much more work everybody needs to do to stop it. To the extent that we know that somebody is already fully committed to agendas that are tantamount to white nationalism, I'm not sure how much more conversation is necessary. Resistance is in order after a certain point. I think we do need to be very concerned about the contemporary situation. It's closely connected to international developments, particularly in eastern and western Europe, and so it's partly being driven from abroad, but we need to be aware of that and keep our eyes open.
Thanks for listening to this bonus episode of It Did Happen Here. There are transcripts, show notes with links, and other relevant content at our website, itdidhappenherepodcast.com. You can also listen to the podcast on the KBOO website, KBOO.fm, on Spotify, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts. Interviews in this episode were conducted by Claire Risciotto and Celina Flores, and your hosts were Celina Flores and Mic Crenshaw. This podcast is produced by Celina, Mike, and me, Erin Yanke. Music in this episode is by Kai Engel, The Fucked Up Beat, and Silicone Transmitter, made available by the Free Music Archive. Thanks to Jonathan Mozzochi for the bonus help, and thanks to the Marla Davis Fund, KBOO Community Radio, and the rest of our production team, Icky A, Julie Perini, and Moe Bowstern. And thank you for listening.