Civil War Rages Among Holocaust Revisionists Courts: At stake are
control of the Costa Mesa Institute for Historical Review and a
Los Angeles Times – Sunday May 8, 1994
Costa Mesa – On the 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, a stubborn and wiry
man of 67 years who had founded and shaped the obscure Institute
for Historical Review into a right-wing think tank that critics
call the “spine of the international Holocaust denial movement.”
The insurrection finished with a slam of a door and Carto in the
cold. But it did not put a close to the civil war that rages
within a small circle of Holocaust “historical revisionists,” who
are more accustomed to fighting facts like the gas ovens of
Auschwitz or the World War II extermination of 6 million Jews.
Since that sunny autumn day Oct. 15–when the founder and the
institute’s insurgent staff unclenched their fists and laid down
a club, a cement-filled can, wire-clippers, a sawed-off garden
handle 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 in three lawsuits filed 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 share 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 burned the
bonds of the founder and staff of six longtime editorial
– Subterranean forces. Greed. Money. Racism. Inadequate health
“I’m sure this is personally difficult for Carto,” said Kenneth
S. Stern, the 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
divided key figures who promote the movement as a serious
“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 arcane themes such as whether the
diary of Anne Frank was a fraud or the concentration camp gas
chambers possessed the actual capacity to execute 6 million Jews.
In 1985, the institute reaped international publicity and Movie
of the Week immortality after it paid $90,000 to settle a lawsuit
filed by an Auschwitz concentration camp survivor, Mel
Mermelstein. Mermelstein sued after unsuccessfully demanding the
institute’s $50,000 reward offer 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 seeking unsuccessfully to regain control of the institute.
He has also circulated angry letters, linking the rebel staff to
his familiar enemies like 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 religion played a role in the
“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
Clearly, Carto was a man who selected his enemies with care. Over
16 years, he handpicked or approved every one of the rebel staff
members who shared his theories that the Holocaust killings had
been greatly exaggerated for WWII propaganda.
One of the most enduring figures of the postwar right, Carto had
been active in conservative politics since the 1950s when he
organized the Liberty Lobby, a Washington-based group which
publishes a weekly tabloid called The Spotlight that was
supportive of 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
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,” he said. Yet, even with that well-known
reputation, the staff eventually came to view their founder as an
edgy, cantankerous Captain 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 during 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 blamed Carto, too, for economizing on the institute’s fire
insurance coverage, which became a compelling issue after the
group’s former quarters in Torrance were destroyed in a July,
1984, firebombing that caused $300,000 in damages. 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
And in interviews and court documents, they criticized Carto for
botching the handling of the celebrated Mermelstein case, which
later was made into a Movie of the Week with Leonard Nimoy and
Dabney Coleman in starring roles.
“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,” wrote director Thomas J. Marcellus 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
Carto’s intent became clear last April, according Marcellus, who
remembered a table-pounding session of outbursts “a la Nikita
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,” recalled Weber in a letter to subscribers. “In
one written memo, Carto called for an article to appear ‘proving’
the partial African ancestry of President (Dwight) 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 the 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 transforming into little more than a crude racist
In his own 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
The staff didn’t buy the Renaissance argument; they threatened
“Having suffered Carto’s machinations, hair-brained (sic)
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
They quickly devised a strategy, turning for advice to the same
Santa Ana attorney who had defended the institute in the
Mermelstein lawsuit. One of the employees started researching
Carto’s ties to the institute’s parent corporation, the Legion
for the Survival of Freedom Inc. 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
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 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, which 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, eventually splitting the estate in 1990.
During settlement conferences related to the Mermelstein case,
the institute’s attorney, William S. Hulsey, remembered how Carto
acknowledged the existence of the legacy, describing it as
“considerably smaller because it had been contested by various
“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, said Marcellus, the institute, which has a mailing
list of 30,000, had shifted its assets between various
corporations to avoid losing property in an unfavorable lawsuit.
But never had they considered that they would unleash the lawyers
on each other.
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 would
persuade 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 in 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 ahold of it.”
In September, the new board voted to terminate all association
with Carto. At present, the fractured relationship of Carto and
his historians are being sorted out in Orange County Superior
Court where the three lawsuits stemming from the takeover are
In one case, Judge Robert J. Polis already 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 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,” recalled 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
Eventually police arrived and Carto was arrested along with some
of the other staff members. Charges were never filed against any
Hulsey’s last memory of the melee is an indelible image of Willis
Carto with one foot wedged in the door. Nearby a staff editor
brandished 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!”
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From: [email protected] (Big Suprise)
Organization: Anonymous contact service
Reply-To: [email protected]
Date: Fri, 13 May 1994 20:00:33 UTC
Subject: Scn and holocaust revisionism