Why Irving can't be ignored
Warren Kinsella, National Post
Published: Thursday, February 23, 2006
I met self-described "moderate fascist" David Irving for the first time one cold evening in March 1989, beneath the gleaming chandeliers at the posh Chateau Laurier in Ottawa.
The British author was a handsome man, dressed in a natty suit and immensely pleased by the turnout. Then and now the sainted knight of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Hitler freaks around the globe, Irving stood before the paying crowd of more than 300 and declared himself a "hardcore disbeliever" in the gas chambers used to exterminate Jews at Auschwitz.
His audience, mainly comprised of older, white men and women from the Ottawa Valley, stood and wildly applauded that statement, and virtually every utterance made by Irving thereafter. Neo-Nazi skinheads, hired as security guards, slouched at the Chateau Laurier's doors and handed out copies of a magazine called Canada Awake! It called for "death to race mixers," contained tributes to Adolf Hitler, and called for "race revolution."
It was an astonishing scene, all of it taking place below the gilt ceilings of one of Canada's most renowned hotels. More than 300 people, paying to listen to a notorious Holocaust denier, knowing in advance that the media would be there to record their presence.
A school trustee, a former ranking diplomat, a Justice Department lawyer, public servants, school teachers: all of them there, notwithstanding the risk of exposure, to hear their St. George, the one whose best-selling books would slay the twin-headed dragon of International Jewry and Communism. As a reporter for the Calgary Herald and the Ottawa Citizen, I had followed Canada's far right movement for quite some time, but I was surprised and disturbed by what I witnessed that night.
Seven months following that wildly successful Ottawa visit, David Irving flew to Austria and spoke to banned neo-Nazi groups. In Vienna and Leoben, Irving stated that "the gas chambers in Auschwitz never existed." Later on, when not sharing stages with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke or one-time American Nazi Party leader William Pierce, Irving would call survivors of the Auschwitz death camp "assholes," and claim that "more women were killed in the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car in Chappaquiddick than in the gas chambers at Auschwitz."
It was that 1989 Austrian far-right tour, more than any other, which would eventually have profound implications for David Irving's freedoms. The Austrians charged Irving under a 1947 law that prohibits any statements that "deny National Socialist genocide or other National Socialist crimes." In November, 2005, Irving returned to Austria -- despite being warned not to -- and was promptly arrested and held without bail. This week, Irving was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for denying in 1989 the crimes that took place at Auschwitz.
Austria and Germany possess some of the toughest anti-hate codes in the world -- because, to them, hate propaganda is not a subject for the debate club. To them, hate has real and lasting consequences. In other Western democracies, meanwhile, the latest development in Irving's file has stirred a predictable debate about "free speech." In a facile editorial in The Globe and Mail, for example, the newspaper advocated -- as it has done for years in respect of other haters, ranging from Ernst Zundel and Jim Keegstra -- that Irving be "left alone [so that] he might have faded into the obscurity he so richly deserves."
But here's the thing about the Globe's remedy: It doesn't work. At all. In the early 1990s, for example, a young American wrote a number of anti-Semitic treatises in small mid-West newspapers, and no one paid much heed to him, either. He was Timothy McVeigh, and, in furtherance of the hateful creed he shared with David Irving, he would go on to murder 168 men, women and children in Oklahoma City in April 1995. Quite a few of us were wishing that we had paid attention to him, then.
Moreover, the Globe and its ilk do not practise what they preach. Whilst urging the rest of us to "ignore" David Irving, the newspaper neglects to mention that it has written about him, often at length, 103 times since 1989. Physician, heal thyself.
I admit that I am not at all neutral on the subject of David Irving. I have debated him in the media and, in 2000, I was asked to be an expert defence witness in his British libel action against distinguished Emory University professor Deborah E. Lipstadt, who had described Irving in a book as a "dangerous spokesperson" for Holocaust denial. In the end, my testimony was not required: In a 334-page judgment, the presiding judge dismissed Irving's claim and found that he was indeed a Holocaust denier, anti-Semitic, and "a right-wing pro-Nazi polemicist."
David Irving and those like him deny the Holocaust to rehabilitate the reputation of Nazism and obviate the sins of Hitler. To leave Irving alone, as the Globe urges, is to do what far too many did in 1929 -- "leaving alone" the meaning of National Socialism's words, which would then shortly become the reality of National Socialism's deeds.
That, among other things, we should never forget.
Update. Dr. Dawg's comment made me go look up this, which I add for a more complete picture.
The Toronto Star
March 7, 1989, Tuesday, FINAL EDITION; Pg. A5
Angry protesters jeer Holocaust skeptic, by Trish Dyer
OTTAWA - About 150 angry protesters narrowly averted colliding with 250 supporters of British author and Holocaust skeptic David Irving at an exclusive Ottawa hotel last night. The Ottawa chapter of International Socialists, university students, members of Ottawa's Jewish community and the Outaouais Anarchist Circle picketed outside the Chateau Laurier for an hour carrying signs reading, "Never Again Irving Zundel," and "Nazis Out Of Ottawa," before bursting through a side door of the hotel in an attempt to disrupt Irving's lecture.
Irving's Ottawa tour organizer Ian Macdonald had delayed the speech until 300 seats - at $10 apiece - were filled. The speech was organized by the Citizens for Foreign Aid Review Organization. The primarily middle-class, middle-aged audience jeered at a handful of dissenters in the room when they asked questions after Irving's talk.
Irving testified in April, 1988, on behalf of Ernst Zundel in Ottawa and is the author of several controversial books about World War II. He has also produced several cassette tapes on prominent Nazis, including one about Rudolf Hess in German.
In Fredericton, N.B. last night, organizers changed the location for a lecture there Friday by Irving after the Roman Catholic church backed out of an agreement to provide one of its buildings, Canadian Press reports.
Irving had been scheduled to speak at the Msgr. Boyd Family Centre but the church cancelled without providing warning or a reason, said Terrence LeBlanc, president of the New Brunswick Free Speech League. He threatened to sue the church for breach of contract. The lecture will now take place at a hotel in Fredericton.
In Ottawa, four city police officers stood with outstretched arms in front of protesters while organizer Brian MacDougall of International Socialists led several choruses of "One-two-three-four, no more Nazis any more," and "Five-six-seven-eight, David Irving preaches hate." Hotel staff frantically pulled TV cameramen off oak and walnut tables in the lobby.
Minutes after the last protesters had left, the crowd waiting to hear Irving was told there had been a bomb threat and herded into the same lobby.
Three self-described "skinheads" wearing white supremacist badges stood at the door of the meeting room and told reporters they had "been asked to provide protection for Irving," but all three avoided direct contact with the protesters. The skinheads circulated around the room, taking pictures of a handful of audience members who dared to disagree with Irving. Neither the skinheads, the ticket seller at the door, nor the sellers of books and cassettes by Irving would give their names to a reporter.
Irving, who describes himself as an "alternative historian," or "gap-ologist," stood in the meeting room with a bemused expression during the protest.
Carleton University's history department chairman Carter Elwood cancelled a scheduled speech by Irving yesterday, after he and his colleagues were told Irving had testified in defence of Zundel last year.
Irving has never denied the Nazi genocide of Jews during World War II in print and was invited to address students on the basis of his reputation as the author of 23 controversial history books, Elwood told The Star.