Holocaust Denial from the White House

The White House in its statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day engaged in Holocaust denial. Then they doubled down on the action and via Reince Priebus on Meet the Press expressed no regret about the wording which had no mention of the Jews in their supposed “remembrance”. This has been criticized from both ends of the political spectrum, from John Podhoretz in Commentary Magazine (a Reagan speechwriter and conservative columnist) to Tim Kaine characterizing it, correctly, as Holocaust denial.

You may ask, why is this denial? Is this hyperbole? You may even find the administration excuse that they are trying to be more “inclusive” of all the others who were victimized in the Holocaust plausible. And to the uninitiated it probably seems reasonable, and so the administration will likely get away with it.

But the reality is, this is part of a long history of Holocaust denial, in which the experience, memory, and truth of Jewish survivors and victims is diminished and denied. The first step of Holocaust denial isn’t an outright denial of the Holocaust, the deniers have become more subtle in the decades since Paul Rassinier outright denied its existence in the aftermath of WWII. Holocaust deniers instead start with the exact kind of minimization and distraction that the White House engaged in with this statement. They say, “well, the Holocaust was about so many other groups, not just the Jews.” This argument seems to have a patina of credibility, but on any real inspection it is foolish.

The Holocaust was a deliberate, systematic attempt by the Nazis to eliminate Jews from the face of the Earth. That other groups such as homosexuals, dissidents, and others despised by Nazis were also targeted does not change or diminish the fact the primary intent was to destroy the Jewish people.

These distracting arguments undercut the truth about the purpose of the Final Solution and are thus a denial of history and truth. They are the same as the arguments that diminish the numbers of victims, that suggest the Nazis weren’t specifically targeting Jews, or inevitably, the crimes of the allies (such as the bombing of Dresden) were just as bad.

Deborah Lipstadt wrote a book Denying the Holocaust: The growing assault on truth and memory that is as relevant today as two decades ago. It a major influence on my writing about denialism because Lipstadt systematically exposes the tactics deniers used to subvert legitimate scholarship and scientific fact, which, it turns out, are pretty universal to denialist movements. One of the key points she makes is that denial doesn’t have to start with dismissal of the entire horror of the Holocaust, but rather is a chain of lies that begins with the kind of minimization of the Holocaust such as the White House espoused on Remembrance Day. Lipstadt is now the focus of a film entitled “Denial” about a libel case brought against her by the Holocaust denier David Irving. Irving, like most deniers did not like being called a denier, even though it was true. Deniers know that to be a Holocaust denier is bad, and makes them bad people, so they like to pretend they’re not Holocaust deniers even while they deny the Holocaust. Spoiler alert, she won, because Holocaust deniers are lying liars who lie.

Finally, you may ask, what proof was there this was purposeful? Should intent be included in the accusation of Holocaust denial rather than mere incompetence? Well, for one thing, when this was pointed out to the White House they defended the language twice – both Hope Hicks and Reince Preibus expressed this specific language excluding Jews was purposeful and a lack of regret that it specifically leaves Jews out of Holocaust remembrance. They deny that it was Holocaust denial but Holocaust deniers usually lie and say they’re not denying the Holocaust. Second, we have seen a pattern from this administration of courting and hiring white nationalists, including Steve Bannon (also an alleged anti-Semite), and repeating propaganda from white supremacists (eg whitegenocide) and neo-nazis repeatedly during the campaign (anyone remember the “Sheriff’s Star”?).

via USA Today
via USA Today
Chuck C. Johnson, who engaged in holocaust denial on a recent Reddit thread also claims to be advising the White House on nominees. Finally, you see how these signals from the White House are received by racists like David Duke and neo-nazis, who now represent the administration’s most ardent supporters:


To summarize, this is classic Holocaust denial from an administration that (1) has been documented courting racists and neo-Nazis, (2) has a known white nationalist as a political advisor to the president, (3) has admitted the exclusion of the Jews from the statement was purposeful, (4) has expressed no regret about excluding Jews from the statement, and (5) received acclaim from neo-Nazis for the use of this language.

This is a clear-cut case of deliberate Holocaust denial presented on a day that was meant for remembrance of this specific history. It was accompanied by an attack on refugees, many of whom are fleeing murder and oppression, based on religion, which is horrifically reminiscent of this period of history. This will surely represent a low point in the history of our own country, and will forever stain the politicians and leaders who fail to speak out against this denial of history and human decency.

Conspiracy belief prevalence, according to Public Policy Polling is as high as 51%

And it may even be more when one considers that there is likely non-overlap between many of these conspiracies. It really is unfortunate that their isn’t more social pushback against those that express conspiratorial views. Given both the historical and modern tendency of some conspiracy theories being used direct hate towards one group or another (scratch a 9/11 truther and guess what’s underneath), and that they’re basically an admission of one’s own defective reasoning, why is it socially acceptable to espouse conspiracy theories? They add nothing to discussion, and instead hijack legitimate debate because one contributor has abandoned all pretense of using actual evidence. Conspiracy theories are used to explain a belief in the absence of real evidence. Worse, they are so often just a vehicle to direct vitriol and hate. We need less hate and partisanship. We should be able to disagree with a president without saying that he’s part of an agenda21/commoncore/obamacare/nazi/fascist/communist/North Korean conspiracy to make American citizens 3rd world slaves (not an exaggeration). We should be able to disagree with a corporation’s policies without asserting their objective is mass-murder. What is the benefit of this rhetoric? It’s just designed to poison our discourse, and inspire greater partisanship, divisiveness and incivility. Conspiracy theories are often used as a more subtle way to mask vile invective towards whichever group you hate. As you look underneath these theories you see it’s really just irrational hatred for somebody- liberals, conservatives, homosexuals, different races or religions, governments, or even certain professions. This is because at the root of the need for conspiratorial thinking is some irrational, overvalued idea, and often the open expression of the belief would result in social scorn.

I’ve found in my experience, almost everyone carries one really cranky belief that they can’t seem to shake, no matter how evidence-based their other positions are (probably because we are all capable of carrying some overvalued ideas). But it’s worth peering through PPP’s full results to see the nature of some of these associations.

For one, some of these associations I think are spurious, poorly questioned, or just reflect misinformation, rather than conspiracy. For instance:

44% of voters believe the Bush administration intentionally misled the public about weapons of mass destruction to promote the Iraq War, while 45% disagree. 72% of Democrats believed the statement while 73% of Republicans did not. 22% of Democrats, 33% of Republicans and 28% of independents believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Many have questioned the inclusion of this question because, in reality, there were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. So the question of whether we were “misled” or “intentionally-misled” puts us in the murky position at having to guess at the motivations of individuals like Bush and Cheney. Mind-reading is a dubious activity, and I tend to ascribe to the Napoleonic belief that you shouldn’t ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence (also known as Hanlon’s razor). Is it conspiratorial to think maybe they were more malicious than incompetent? While I think that administration really were “true believers”, of course I don’t really know for sure, and I don’t think it’s fair to describe such as conspiratorial reasoning. Instead it’s just the dubious but common practice of guessing at the intentions of others. The generally-similar numbers on the Saddam Hussein/9/11 connection, I believe, just suggests ignorance, rather than necessitating active belief in a conspiratorial framework (keeping in mind the margin of error is about 3% these aren’t huge partisan differences like over WMD).

One of the most disappointing numbers was on belief in a conspiracy behind JFK’s assassination:

51% of Americans believe there was a larger conspiracy at work in the JFK assassination, while 25% think Lee Harvey Oswald
acted alone.

That’s 51% conspiratorial belief, 24% probably showing ignorance of one of the most important events of the last century, and 25% actually informed. This is pretty sad. The movements of Oswald were so thoroughly-investigated and known, the hard evidence for his planning and involvement are so clear, the conspirators so unlikely (the mob/CIA/LBJ/KGB hiring crackpot loser communists for assassinations?), and the fabrications of the conspiracists so plain (asserting the shots couldn’t be made despite it being easily replicated by everyone from the Warren Commission to the Discovery Channel and even improved on, the disparaging of his marksmanship when LHO was a marine sharpshooter, altering the positions of the occupants of the car to make the bullet path from JFK to Connelly appear unlikely, etc.) it’s sad that so many have bought into this nonsense. The historically-bogus picture JFK, by Oliver Stone, may also play a large part in this, and is an example why Oliver Stone is really a terrible person. People that misrepresent history are the worst. If anyone wants to read a good book about the actual evidence that of what happened that day, as well as destroys the conspiracy position, Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi is my favorite, as well as the most thorough.

But there is one redeeming feature of conspiracy about the JFK assassination. For the most part, conspiratorial ideas on the subject aren’t due to some dark part in people’s souls, as for many other conspiracies, but rather the very human need to ascribe more to such earth-shattering events as the assassination of a president than just the madness of a pitiable loser. The imbalance between the magnitude of the event, and the banal crank that accomplished it, is simply too much. There’s no way that a 24-year-old, violent, wife-beating, Marxist roustabout could be responsible for the death of a man like JFK right? Sadly no. The evidence shows even a man that pathetic can destroy the life of a much greater man with a cheap rifle and a simple plan.

The conspiracy theories embedded within this poll that really disturb me because I think they demonstrate the effect of irrational hate are ones such as for whether President Obama is the antichrist (although is that even really a conspiracy?). 13% of respondents believed this, 5% of those that voted for him still answered this question in the affirmative (really? you voted for the antichrist) as opposed to 22% of those that voted for Romney. Do we really need to elevate political disagreement to the level of labeling people the antichrist? Around 9% thought government adds fluoride for “sinister” reasons, and 11% believe in the LIHOP 9/11 conspiracy theory. They clearly think very little of their fellow Americans, and believe some really demonic things about our government. Our government is neither competent enough, or evil enough, to engage in then successfully cover up either of these things. Our top spy couldn’t even hide a tawdry affair.

Other conspiracy theories seem to indicate their is a baseline number of people, at about 15%, who will believe in just about anything from the moon landing being hoaxed to bigfoot. I would have actually pegged this number higher, given my pessimism about rational thought, but that seems to be what we can read from this. However, without being able to see whether or not it was the same people answering yes to each individual absurd conspiracy from reptilians to “government adds secret mind-controlling technology to television broadcast signals”, it’s possible this number is actually much larger. I would be curious to see the data on the overlap between these questions, as the phenomenon of crank magnetism is well known.

Ultimately, I read this data as saying that Americans have a big problem with conspiracy theories entering our political discourse. We should be embarrassed that as many as 37% of us believe that global warming is a “hoax”. That requires a belief is a grand conspiracy of scientists, policy-makers, journals, editors, etc., all acting together to somehow fabricate data for a single objective – often described as world-government control conspiracy to cede our sovereignty to the UN. Somehow, every single national scientific body, all those national academies, all those journals, and all those scientists, all those governments, all working in perfect secrecy according to some master plan (which I’m often accused of being a part of but I’m sure I’m missing the memo), and this is plausible how? The answer is, it’s not, unless you remain steadfastly ignorant of how science actually works and progresses.

Everyone, of any political persuasion, should be embarrassed by the conspiracy-theorists in their ranks. This isn’t healthy thinking, it isn’t rational discourse, and it only serves to divide us and make us hate. Enough of this already.

Is the holocaust denial/climate change denial comparison apt?

Many of the climate change denialist sites have been up in arms by comparisons of climate change denial to holocaust denial. In particular Marc Morano at climate depot has had multiple articles attacking and expressing hysterical outrage at these comparisons.

We know they don’t like the comparison, but the question is, is it apt?
Continue reading “Is the holocaust denial/climate change denial comparison apt?”

The New Scientist Debates Denialism

Luckily they don’t make the mistake of actually debating denialists. The feature of last weeks issue, “Age of Denial” is a series of articles by skeptics and one laughable rebuttal, discussing the nature of denialism and tactics to use against it. They do quite a good job covering the basics, starting with Deborah MacKenzie and her article “Why Sensible People Reject the Truth“:

Whatever they are denying, denial movements have much in common with one another, not least the use of similar tactics (see “How to be a denialist”). All set themselves up as courageous underdogs fighting a corrupt elite engaged in a conspiracy to suppress the truth or foist a malicious lie on ordinary people. This conspiracy is usually claimed to be promoting a sinister agenda: the nanny state, takeover of the world economy, government power over individuals, financial gain, atheism.

All denialisms appear to be attempts like this to regain a sense of agency over uncaring nature: blaming autism on vaccines rather than an unknown natural cause, insisting that humans were made by divine plan, rejecting the idea that actions we thought were okay, such as smoking and burning coal, have turned out to be dangerous.

Here she has it exactly right. Denialism starts with ideology, which most of us possess to some degree or another, and a conflict between that ideology and reality – at least so far as science allows us to understand it. In order to regain control of one’s beliefs, and protect them from being challenged, one has to prove that the science is wrong. And that requires one to believe in some form of non-parsimonious conspiracy theory, after all, how else could it be that science has come up with such an answer if not for the concerted malfeasance of thousands of individuals, all working together to undermine the TRUTH?

Further she cites these as tactics of denialists:

How to be a denialist
Martin McKee, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who also studies denial, has identified six tactics that all denialist movements use. “I’m not suggesting there is a manual somewhere, but one can see these elements, to varying degrees, in many settings,” he says (The European Journal of Public Health, vol 19, p 2).
1. Allege that there’s a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence.
2. Use fake experts to support your story. “Denial always starts with a cadre of pseudo-experts with some credentials that create a facade of credibility,” says Seth Kalichman of the University of Connecticut.
3. Cherry-pick the evidence: trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited.
4. Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts.
5. Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man.
6. Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist “both sides” must be heard and cry censorship when “dissenting” arguments or experts are rejected.

Sound familiar? That’s because McKee cites us in his paper. We’ll forgive her for not identifying the original source, after all McKee gives the credit.

She does get a few things wrong, likely due to her unfamiliarity with just how absurd some denialists are. For instance when she says:

The first thing to note is that denial finds its most fertile ground in areas where the science must be taken on trust. There is no denial of antibiotics, which visibly work. But there is denial of vaccines, which we are merely told will prevent diseases – diseases, moreover, which most of us have never seen, ironically because the vaccines work.

This is demonstrably false, as we have encountered denialists who do deny the efficacy of antibiotics and all of Western medicine, as their particular ideology requires them to believe in the primacy of religion (Christian Science, New Age Nonsense) or in the magical properties of nature. She goes on to describe the work of our good colleague Seth Kalichman and the good things he’s done to fight HIV/AIDS denialism. Overall, a good summary of the problem. I also like how she stays non-judgmental and reflects on how pseudoscience is ultimately a complement to science:

This is not necessarily malicious, or even explicitly anti-science. Indeed, the alternative explanations are usually portrayed as scientific. Nor is it willfully dishonest. It only requires people to think the way most people do: in terms of anecdote, emotion and cognitive short cuts. Denialist explanations may be couched in sciency language, but they rest on anecdotal evidence and the emotional appeal of regaining control.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, this certainly applies to pseudoscience. After all pseudoscience is a reflection of the authority science has as the arbiter of truth. If being on the right side of science wasn’t so important, cdesign proponentsists and global warming denialists wouldn’t fight so hard to warp it to fit their ideology, and by doing so, implicitly seek its approval.

Jim Giles contributes an interesting article on an example of how a lie travels twice around the world before the truth gets its boots on with Unleashing a Lie, but then the series gets a bit more problematic with the contributions of noted skeptic Michael Shermer (also anerstwhile global warming denialist and persistent libertarian) and an amusing counterpoint from the otherwise wonderful Michael Fitzpatrick, a British GP who fights the good fight against autism quackery.
Continue reading “The New Scientist Debates Denialism”

Holocaust Museum Shooter – Anti-semite and conspiracy theorist

Orac has already pointed out the disgusting hate behind the Holocaust museum shooter and his holocaust denial. Others around the internet, in particular Pat at Screw Loose Change have pointed out he was an example of crank magnetism. Not surprisingly, he was also a 9/11 truther (which as Pat says, “scratch a 9/11 truther and you get a holocaust denier”), loved Mel Gibson, and promoted conspiracies about how Obama isn’t a US citizen.

I am particularly interested in his anti-Federal Reserve craziness, which these days, especially among the Ron Paul crowd, I’ve noticed seems to be a stand-in or euphemism for “Jewish bankers”. I think it’s no surprise that Ron Paul is the Stormfront candidate, as his theories about the gold standard and federal reserve being the source of all evil are congruent with the classic jewish/banker/protocols conspiracies usually espoused by the extreme right wing and neo-nazis. Is this the mainstreaming of an anti-Jewish conspiracy theory? Or is it just another example of crank magnetism?

Finally, this is another example of the importance of understanding and working to correct the problem of the suspicious personality. This type of thinking isn’t just unscientific, historically bankrupt, irrational, and just plain crazy, it also leads to extremism as it feeds into persecutory delusions, and as people become more disenfranchised due to their insane beliefs, it eventually will cause violence. This violence, evidenced by shootings loosely directed at liberals and gays like at the Knoxville Unitarian Church, is likely being ratcheted up by the increasingly unhinged conspiracy-mongering coming from the right. Liberals are being described as destroying America, major right-wing media moguls like Andrew Breitbart are spreading conspiracies about the liberal intent to destroy the country, Glenn Beck is spouting off total gibberish about how his country is being destroyed by liberals, etc. This is only going to get worse and the paranoid conspiracy-mongering from the right is stoking the flames.

Expelled as Holocaust denial

I’ve been reluctant to write about Expelled from the perspective of their abuse of the memory of the Holocaust. Ever since I learned that they were going to recycle the ludicrous Darwin-caused-Hitler argument I’ve been sending out emails to asking other experts their take on whether or not it constitutes a serious affront. Now reading Orac’s coverage of Art Caplan’s review of Expelled I think it’s something that needs to be discussed.

Let’s start with very clear statements of fact that are at issue here.

1) The Holocaust was a direct result of racism and anti-Semitic hatred that existed througout Europe for centuries. This was the motivation, this is clear and obvious to non-Holocaust denier.

2) The statement that the Holocaust sprung from the scientific theory of natural selection is absurd, Orac again does the best job of tearing this one apart. Hitler never once mentioned Darwin, rather Koch and Pasteur seemed his scientists of choice in his rhetoric against the Jewish people.

Previously the ADL has attacked those who have made this comparison. Why they have been quiet this time is inexplicable. I’ve sent them multiple missives asking for a similar reply to Expelled but no reply has been forthcoming. This is unfortunate. But I think their previous argument abotu D. James Kennedy’s use of the Holocaust to attack Darwin stands:

:”This is an outrageous and shoddy attempt by D. James Kennedy to trivialize the horrors of the Holocaust. Hitler did not need Darwin to devise his heinous plan to exterminate the Jewish people. Trivializing the Holocaust comes from either ignorance at best or, at worst, a mendacious attempt to score political points in the culture war on the backs of six million Jewish victims and others who died at the hands of the Nazis.

So I’m left with the following observations. Stein and the makers of this film have ignored the factual inaccuracy of their claims about Hitler and the Holocaust to present a false-history of how these events happened. They have attempted to score political points against science by shifting the blame for the Holocaust from the racism of the Nazis to an English scientist.

Does this constitute Holocaust denial? It certainly is denialism – it is the promotion of false history to attack science. It also includes the denial of a specific and important facet of the history of the Holocaust – that European racism is what facilitated the Nazi campaign of extermination against the Jews. While it doesn’t minimize the number of victims, or deny the actual events like more classic Holocaust denial, what does one call it when one lies about the reason for the Holocaust? Without the specific anti-Semitic intent I’m not entirely sure this qualifies.

I don’t know. We should ask experts like Deborah Lipstadt what they think. I do know one thing for sure. It is despicable.

The latest example of crank magnetism – Ahmadinejad becomes a Troofer!

Yes, that’s right, the Holocaust denier who brought us the international meeting of Holocaust deniers has slipped naturally into trooferism.

Earlier Wednesday, Ahmadinejad called the 9/11 attacks a “suspect event” in a speech at a public rally in the holy city of Qom.

“Four or five years ago a suspect event took place in New York,” Ahmadinejad said, in an address carried live on state television.

“A building collapsed and they said that 3,000 people had been killed, whose names were never published.”

“Under this pretext they (the United States) attacked Afghanistan and Iraq and since then a million people have been killed,” said the Iranian president.

This was the third time in just over a week that Ahmadinejad has publicly raised doubts about the September 11 airborne attacks on New York and Washington carried out by Al-Qaeda militants which killed nearly 3,000 people.

In this you see the natural thought process of the denialist. Ahmadinejad ideologically opposes the state of Israel. He believes the state came to exist and has its allies because of sympathy generated by the Holocaust. Therefore, he must deny the Holocaust, or at least create enough doubt to help rile the people up against the Jews.

Now Ahmadinejad ideologically opposes the United States and its invasion of Iraq (as do many of us). He believes 9/11 was used as an excuse to invade these countries (it was a poor excuse for Iraq, certainly). Therefore he must create a conspiracy to deny the reality of the terrorist attack (now he’s lost me).

This is the mindset of the denialist. Reality is secondary to ideology. 9/11 created the political impetus for our invasions of other countries, and rather than just attacking these acts for obvious and legitimate reasons instead he must attack reality itself. Why am I not surprised? A Holocaust denier will believe any nonsense.

Can someone explain to me why the neo-nazis love Ron Paul

I’m so confused. I’ve got Ed telling us that the neo-nazis are claiming them as one of his own, which I would usually dismiss since they’re usually just lying about everything. But then I see Ron Paul supporters blame a Jewish Cabal for the allegations? That, and David Duke coming to his defense? I prefer my brother’s explanation better, that Ron Paul is really the Drizzle.

I don’t have time to piece this together, I’ve got to drive down to C-ville today. I want a full report on what the hell is going on with all these cranks by the time I get there.

Holocaust Denier David Irving at Oxford – A report

I actually had thought the debate with holocaust denier David Irving and racist Nick Griffin at the Oxford Union had been canceled, but via Deborah Lipstadt’s blog it turns out they made the mistake of giving the man an outlet for his nonsense. An account is offered by attendee Jonny Wright that I think supports our contention that denialists should not be debated.

Wright takes the side that free speech is always the best way to go, but the mistake here is thinking that free speech means inviting a holocaust denier to use your loudspeaker to spout nonsense. It never should have even been considered. All this does is give Irving a patina of legitimacy, and an opportunity to once again deny the truth, which he clearly does throughout the debate. The deniers will use this as an example of their fake historian being taken seriously, and legitimize the idea that there is an actual debate to be had over whether or not the holocaust happened. The other supporters of the invitation had similarly inane things to say, such as this nonsense

But participant Ms Atkins said controversial views should not be silenced but exposed.

“When you say that the majority view is always right I think that is a deeply dangerous and disturbing thing to say.

“I am not for a moment saying that I agree with David Irving or Nick Griffin but I am saying that once you start having truth by democracy you risk silencing some of the most important prophets we have ever had.”

This is making the false assumption that truth by democracy is what makes people like Irving and Griffin wrong. The issue isn’t what the majority approves of but having standards for honest debate. You simply can’t have that with people who lie and misrepresent science or history to serve a ideological agenda.

The tougher issue, however, is what to do when the denier got invited. The anti-fascist demonstration clearly got out of hand trying to prevent entry of anyone into the debate. Wright categorizes this as anti-free speech and hypocritical (just as hypocritical as “free speech” advocate Irving’s lawsuit against Deborah Lipstadt to silence her), and I agree with that much. But the goal of putting pressure on the Oxford Union not to have the debate in the first place was certainly correct, and protesting outside of the debate and calling the attendees useful idiots of Irving would have been just fine as well. It’s not suppression of free speech to refuse denialists access to your platform though, and that is just what should have been done. After all, the issue is not the content of what Irving discussed that night, but rather the legitimacy that a venerated debate society confers on the denier by virtue of their invitation.