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Shofar FTP Archive File: orgs/american/ihr/press/lat.051594


Archive/File: orgs/american/ihr/press lat.051594
Last-Modified: 1994/11/09


                               Los Angeles Times

                       May 15, 1994, Sunday, Home Edition

SECTION: Part A; Page 3; Column 2; Metro Desk

LENGTH: 2419 words

HEADLINE: EXTREMIST INSTITUTE MIRED IN POWER STRUGGLE;
COURTS: STAFF MEMBERS OUST FOUNDER OF HOLOCAUST DENIAL CENTER. THEY ARE NOW
ENTANGLED IN LAWSUITS AND POISONOUS PROSE.

BYLINE: By DOREEN CARVAJAL, TIMES STAFF WRITER

DATELINE: COSTA MESA

BODY:
   On the sunny autumn morning of the coup d'etat, Willis Carto could be found
clinging to the glass doors of his cherished institute like a tough sea
barnacle.

   Swiftly, the mutineers moved to oust Carto, 67, a stubborn and wiry man who
had founded and shaped the obscure Institute for Historical Review into a
revisionist think tank that critics call the "spine of the international
Holocaust denial movement."

   The insurrection finished with the slam of a door and Carto pushed out in the
cold.

   But it did not put a close to the civil war raging within a small circle of
Holocaust "historical revisionists," who are more accustomed to other battles:
denying the reality of Auschwitz's gas chambers or the World War II
extermination of 6 million Jews.

   Since Oct. 15, when the founder and the institute's insurgent staff
unclenched their fists and laid down their weapons -- a club, a concrete-filled
can, wire clippers, a sawed-off handle of a garden tool and a handgun -- the
rival factions have continued battling for control of the institute with
lawsuits and poisonous prose.  

   The bitter power struggle is outlined in voluminous court documents from
three lawsuits pending in Orange County Superior Court. Carto has declined to
discuss the matter except through his court declarations and letters to
supporters.

   At stake is not only the 16-year-old Costa Mesa-based institute and its
shadowy web of political connections, but a generous bequest of more than $10
million in stock certificates from the late granddaughter of inventor Thomas
Edison.

   And much like their lingering squabble over history, everyone involved has a
sinister theory about the spark that ignited and destroyed the bonds between the
founder and his staff of six longtime editorial employees: Subterranean forces.
Greed. Money. Racism. Inadequate health benefits.

   "I'm sure this is personally difficult for Carto," said Kenneth S. Stern,
author of "Holocaust Denial" and the American Jewish Committee's specialist on
hate groups. "This is the man behind the curtain who has been pulling the
strings for years. Carto was the guiding force behind the institute, the one who
pulled together the white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Is it going to fall apart?
These people are all committed to the same goals. They're fighting over money,
tactics and personality, but their common agenda is one of promoting Nazism and
xenophobia."

   Mainstream Jewish organizations, alarmed by the spread of Holocaust denial
theories, said the split is a boon because it has divided key figures who
promote the movement as a serious enterprise.

   "Whenever enemies are fighting with each other, that is a positive sign,"
said Aaron Breitbart, a senior researcher for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los
Angeles. "Let them shoot each other. You don't hear a lot of human rights groups
talking about this because they feel they should fight it out. Maybe they'll
manage to wreck each other's camp."

   From an unassuming suburban headquarters in Orange County, the institute has
emerged over the last decade as an international forum for right-wing ideologues
from Europe and the United States who have used the pages of the institute's
glossy Journal of Historical Review to debate themes such as whether the diary
of Anne Frank was a fraud or the concentration camp gas chambers possessed the
capacity to execute 6 million Jews.

   In 1985, the institute attracted international publicity after it paid
$90,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by Mel Mermelstein, an Auschwitz concentration
camp survivor, in a case that became the subject of a television movie.
Mermelstein sued after unsuccessfully demanding the institute's $50,000 reward
offered for proof that the Nazis operated execution gas chambers.

   Since Carto's unceremonious ouster, his wife and another ally have filed a
lawsuit and an appeal in Orange County Superior Court, unsuccessfully seeking to
regain control of the institute. Carto has also circulated angry letters,
linking the rebel staff to his enemies such as Mermelstein, the Anti-Defamation
League of B'nai B'rith and a catch-all category of "political Zionists." In
court documents, he hints that the Church of Scientology is a backstage force.
Two of the rebel staff members are Scientologists who deny that religion played
a role in the takeover.

   "It is certain there are many more motives at work," Carto wrote in a letter
shared with his supporters, "not the least of which -- in addition to Zionist
forces -- are pure greed and also the involvement of a bizarre, mind-bending,
Jim Jones-like cult, which has a long history of infiltrating and ruining
organizations."

   Over 16 years, Carto handpicked or approved each one of the rebel staff
members who shared his theories that the Holocaust had been greatly exaggerated
for propaganda purposes.

   Carto had been active in conservative politics since the 1950s, when he
organized the Liberty Lobby, a Washington-based group whose weekly tabloid
supported former Klansman David Duke's political aspirations. The
Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith scorns the lobby as "the most active
 anti-Semitic organization in the country . . . a multimillion-(dollar)
operation."

   Irwin Suall, director of fact finding for the ADL in New York, said his
organization has been monitoring Carto's activities for decades. "We regard him
as probably the leading anti-Semite in the country because of his funds,
resources and publications at his command," Suall said.

   Yet, even with that well-known reputation, the staff came to view their
founder as an edgy, cantankerous Capt. Queeg who was steering the institute too
far starboard.

   In interviews, they complained that he treated them like children and skimped
on their pay. He was so intent on saving money, they said, that he lowered the
air conditioning on peak summer days. He exhorted them to conserve paper clips.
Longstanding employees said they lacked health benefits, a sore issue that a
lower-ranking staff member huffed about even in the midst of the October coup
d'etat.

   They also blamed Carto for scrimping on the institute's fire insurance
coverage, which became a compelling issue after the group's former quarters in
Torrance was destroyed in a July, 1984, firebombing that caused $300,000 in
damage. The group was insured for only $50,000. One employee bitterly observed
in a court declaration that only Carto's locked personal office -- which
contained four heavy bronze busts of Hitler -- was unscathed by fire.

   And in interviews and court documents, the institute's staff criticized Carto
for botching the handling of the celebrated Mermelstein case, which later was
made into a television movie starring Leonard Nimoy and Dabney Coleman.

   "Carto's launching and subsequent mishandling of the reward offer wound up
costing a $90,000 settlement with Mermelstein and another $30,000 in attorney's
fees and $20,000 in lost productivity, not to mention embarrassment and
widespread alienation of supporters," director Thomas J. Marcellus wrote in a
court declaration in connection with the lawsuit debating control of the
institute.

   But the growing resentment finally exploded on the issue of race.

   "Our main problem was editorial direction," Mark Weber, editor of the Journal
for Historic Review, said in an interview. "He wanted to make substantive
changes in the direction of the review. He wanted to become more 'racialist,' to
make it more clearly white racist."

   Carto's intent became clear last April, according to Marcellus, who
remembered a table-pounding session of outbursts "a la Nikita Khrushchev."

   While the senior staff editors listened in dismay, they said, Carto declared
his intention to slash journal stories devoted to the Holocaust by 80%.
Eventually, they were told, the topic would vanish entirely, along with the name
of the journal.

   "The focus of the new journal would be race and multiculturalism," Weber
recalled in a letter to subscribers. "In one written memo, Carto called for an
article to appear 'proving' the partial African ancestry of President
Eisenhower. . . . The staff told Carto that to transform our journal into such a
periodical would be suicidal."

   For years, they had tried to win a measure of credibility for their movement
with a journal that strived for a sober tone although mainstream historians
still scoffed at their results. Suddenly, it appeared to the staff members that
their glossy, scholarly looking journal -- with a paid circulation of 6,000 --
was in danger of becoming little more than a crude racist rag.

   In his correspondence to old allies in the Holocaust denial movement, Carto
would later argue that he simply was trying to expand the focus of the journal
to include articles on ancient history, culture, art, religion, philosophy,
social and racial matters.

   The staff did not buy the Renaissance argument; they threatened mass
resignation.

   "Having suffered Carto's machinations, harebrained schemes, mismanagement,
insults and irrationality long enough, the senior staff met to determine the
course of action to stop Carto from taking harmful actions," said Marcellus in
his court declaration.

   They quickly devised a strategy, turning for advice to the same Santa Ana
attorney who had defended the institute in the Mermelstein lawsuit.

   One employee started researching Carto's ties to the institute's parent
corporation, the Legion for the Survival of Freedom. He discovered, according to
the staff's court declarations, that the Texas-based nonprofit corporation had
listed a corporate director who had been dead for five years.

   Then as the summer progressed, Marcellus discovered a $100,000 bank order for
Carto's Liberty Lobby. It was drawn on a Swiss bank account holding funds for
the Legion from the Jean Farrel Edison bequest, according to court documents.

   Edison, the granddaughter of Thomas Edison, was a wealthy heiress to the
Edison fortune who died in 1985, leaving conflicting instructions about the
dispersal of her estate. A handwritten will bequeathed the money -- then
estimated at $40 million -- to a South African-born woman who was Edison's
neighbor in Switzerland.

   The Legion also had a claim to the money because Edison left further
instructions that only a Legion representative could open the four safe deposit
boxes in Europe, Asia and the United States that contained cash certificates for
the money.

   Three of the boxes and $20 million in certificates were found, according to
Suall of the ADL, who said the fourth box in Singapore was never located. The
Legion and the neighbor fought over the money in Swiss courts, finally splitting
the estate in 1990.

   During settlement conferences related to the Mermelstein case, the
institute's attorney, William S. Hulsey, recalled how Carto acknowledged the
existence of the legacy, describing it as "considerably smaller because it had
been contested by various Jewish groups."
 
   "Carto told me that he had been distributing the Farrel Edison bequest 'to
good causes' but did not say to whom," Marcellus said in court documents. He
added that Carto's wife, Elisabeth, told him that Carto had set up a separate
corporation called Vebit Inc. to control the money and loan it back to the
Legion. The loans and debts would then make the Legion an unappealing target for
lawsuits, according to Marcellus.

   For years, Marcellus said, the institute, which has a mailing list of 30,000,
had shifted its assets among various corporations to avoid losing property in an
unfavorable lawsuit. But never had they considered that they would unleash the
lawyers on one another.

   In his court declaration, Carto lashed out at the accusations of "lying,
cheating, falsifying, committing fraud, etc. These brazen smears prove that (the
staff) is trying to obfuscate the one significant fact: that I founded and built
the IHR using what help I could get and usually paying for it with the dollars
of sincere and concerned Americans. And I did this in the teeth of the
opposition of extremely powerful and entrenched forces, which had no wish to
have me succeed."

   Eventually, the senior staff members and their attorney persuaded two elderly
directors of the board for the Legion to resign because of the allegations about
Carto. Then the remaining third board member was enlisted to appoint a slate of
new directors from the rebel camp.

   That director, Thomas Kerr, eventually came to regret his decision.

   "I was misled as to the facts," said Kerr, a retiree and part-time translator
who added in an interview that he appointed new board members because he thought
he had no other choice. "I think it's all about money. They believe Willis Carto
has a tremendous amount of money that was left to the Legion in the will. They
think he has it and they mean to get a hold of it."

   In September, the new board voted to terminate all association with Carto. At
present, the fractured relationship of Carto and his historians is being sorted
out in Orange County Superior Court, where the three lawsuits stemming from the
takeover are pending.

   In one case, Judge Robert J. Polis has ruled that the new board has authority
to run the institute, concluding that "Willis Carto was exercising substantial
control over the Legion without any apparent legal authority."

   Still awaiting judgment is the staff's civil damage claim for the fateful
fall day when Carto returned to the headquarters after the senior editors
engineered his termination.

   While the editors were away, Carto notified their attorney that he was
seizing control. Meanwhile, according to the remaining staff members, Carto and
his wife and three men set about disconnecting the office telephones, disabling
the computers and changing the locks.

   "It was hard to keep from laughing," said Hulsey, the staff attorney who
raced to the office after receiving the faxed declaration of war. "It was like
something out of Woody Allen's banana republic. Who would control the
headquarters? The staff arrives, forces the door and then fistfights start
breaking out all over."

   Eventually, police arrived and Carto was arrested along with some staff
members. Charges were never filed against any of them.

   Hulsey's last memory of the melee is an indelible image of Carto with one
foot wedged in the door. Nearby, a staff editor was waving a gun to break up a
wrestling match on the floor. Meanwhile, other institute historians were
struggling mightily to shove Carto out the door.

   The founder's screams filled the room: "You're killing me!"

GRAPHIC: Photo, Willis Carto has filed a lawsuit seeking to regain control of
the Institute for Historical Review.

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