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Common Methodologies of Fringe Groups
In examining the revisionists’ history and literature I am struck by the similarity of their methodologies with other fringe groups. Since they are not consciously modeling themselves after, for example, the creationists, this may be an evolutionary sequence and ideological pattern of many, if not most, fringe groups trying to move into the mainstream.
- Early on, there is a wide diversity of thought and members, representing the extreme fringes of society. They have little success in entering the mainstream (creationism in the 1950s; revisionism in the 1970s).
- As the movement grows and evolves there is an attempt by the more conservative members to disassociate themselves and their organization from the radical fringe and establish scientific or scholarly credentials (creationism in the 1970s when it became “creation-science;” revisionism in the 1970s with the founding of the IHR, and their recent break with Carto).
- During this drive toward acceptability there is a change in emphasis away from anti-establishment and toward a more positive statement of beliefs (creationists abandoned the anti-evolution tactic and adopted the “equal time” rhetoric; revisionists are at present trying to divorce themselves from their racist, anti-Semitic past).
- To enter public institutions such as schools, fringe groups will use the First Amendment and claim their “freedom of speech” is being violated when they are not allowed to be heard (creationists legislated equal-time laws in several states in the 1970s and 1980s; Bradley Smith’s ad campaigns in college newspapers).
- To get the public’s attention they shift the burden of proof from themselves to the establishment, demanding “just one proof” (creationists asking for “just one fossil” that proves transitional forms exist; revisionists demanding proof that even one Jew was killed in a gas chamber).
Common Fallacies of Fringe Groups
The parallels between the fallacies of reasoning of revisionists and other fringe groups, especially the creationists, are also eerily similar.
- They attack their opponents’ weak points, concentrate on their mistakes, and rarely say anything definitive about their own position, so they cannot be attacked (creationists hammer on the gaps in the fossil record; revisionists on the inconsistencies between eyewitness accounts).
- They find errors made by scientists or historians and exploit these as if all their conclusions are wrong (creationists love the story of the pig’s tooth that was wrongly labeled as Hesperopithecus, or “Nebraska Man;” revisionists adore the human-soap myth; they cling to Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer’s reinterpretation of the Wannsee conference as only a “stage” in the Final Solution; they call attention to the historians’ reduction of the number killed at Auschwitz from four million to one million, calling it “the incredible shrinking Holocaust,” as if historians never make revisions).
- They quote, usually out of context, leading mainstream figures to buttress their own position (creationists quote Gould, Eldredge, Mayr; revisionists quote Hilberg, Bauer, and even leading Nazis).
- They mistake genuine, honest debates between scientists and scholars for a debate about the veracity of the entire field (creationists cite the gradualism–punctuated equilibrium debate as an argument about whether evolution happened or not; revisionists use the intentionalist–functionalist debate about the development of the Holocaust as an argument about whether it happened or not).
- They focus on what is not known and ignore what is known, lly selecting data that fit, and ignoring data that do not fit (creationists continually ask for new transitional forms and pass over those that are discovered; revisionists concentrate on what we do not know about the gas chambers and disregard the eyewitness accounts and forensic tests that support the theory).
Albert Speer: A Fallacy Test Case. A classic example of this last fallacy is how the revisionists treat the testimonies from the Nuremberg Trials. Nuremberg confessions are unreliable, they claim, because it was a military tribunal run by the victors, and we all know how biased war trials can be. The evidence, Mark Weber claims, “consists largely of extorted confessions, spurious testimonies, and fraudulent documents. The postwar Nuremberg trials were politically motivated proceedings meant more to discredit the leaders of a defeated regime than to establish truth” (1992, p. 201).
First of all, Weber has not proved that most of the confessions were extorted, spurious, or fraudulent. But even if he were able to prove that some of them were, this does not mean that they all were, and thus we must always seek corroboration from other sources. But, amusingly, revisionists do use Nuremberg trial testimonies when it suits their cause. For example, they will reject the testimony of Nazis who said there was a Holocaust and they participated in it, but accept testimony of Nazis who said they knew nothing about it, such as Albert Speer. But even here, revisionists overlook a deeper analysis. Speer did say at the trial that he did not know about the extermination program. But his Spandau Diary speaks volumes (1976, p. 27):
December 20, 1946. Everything comes down to this: Hitler always hated the Jews; he made no secret of that at any time. He was capable of tossing off quite calmly, between the soup and the vegetable course, ‘I want to annihilate the Jews in Europe. This war is the decisive confrontation between National Socialism and world Jewry. One or the other will bite the dust, and it certainly won’t be us.’ So what I testified in court is true, that I had no knowledge of the killings of Jews; but it is true only in a superficial way. The question and my answer were the most difficult moment of my many hours on the witness stand. What I felt was not fear but shame that I as good as knew and still had not reacted; shame for my spiritless silence at the table, shame for my moral apathy, for so many acts of repression.
In addition, Matthias Schmidt (1984) has demonstrated that Speer not only knew about the Final Solution, he indirectly participated in it. Among other things, Speer organized the confiscation of 23,765 Jewish apartments in Berlin in 1941; he knew of the deportation of more than 75,000 Jews to the east; he personally inspected the Mauthausen concentration camp where he ordered a reduction of construction materials and redirected supplies that were needed elsewhere; he was present at Dora in 1943 when preparations were made to execute inmates as a warning against sabotage in the construction of A-4 rockets; he was apparently present at the October 6, 1943 Himmler speech when the SS- Reichsfuehrer said, with regard to killing Jewish women and children “we had to reach the difficult decision of making this nation vanish from the face of the earth” (though he claims he left before Himmler began to speak); and in 1977 he confessed in a newspaper interview: “I still see my guilt as residing chiefly in the approval of the persecution of the Jews and the murder of millions of them” (pp. 181-198).
Shermer, Michael. “Proving the Holocaust: The Refutation of Revisionism & the Restoration of History,” Skeptic, Vol. 2, No. 4, Altadena, California, June, 1994. Published by the Skeptics Society, 2761 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena, CA 91001, (818) 794-3119.