SPIEGEL Online: Mr. McVay, the Nizkor project initiated and led by you has become the most comprehensive online source of information about the Holocaust. You make and encourage use of the material to refute revisionist claims denying the historical reality of the Holocaust. Is this not like trying to teach the unteachable?
McVay: No. I have never held much interest in converting Holocaust deniers, that is, changing their minds. What they think is of little consequence on the Internet (or anywhere else, for that matter) – what everyone else thinks, however, is of paramount importance.
Nizkor exists to expose Holocaust denial for the fraud it is, and to expose deniers for the charlatans they are, not to change their minds. By educating folks about the dishonest techniques employed by Holocaust deniers, we help to arm them against those whose political agenda has more to do with Hitler-cleansing than historical research.
SPIEGEL Online: In Germany Neo-Nazi and revisionist claims are considered and treated as criminal. On the Internet and especially in the US there is a strong tendency to promote free speech against any legal restrictions. Your strategy of confronting lies with historical fact seems to rely on the possibility of your opponents to express their views. Do you share the willingness to grant freedom of speech even to the enemies of freedom?
McVay: Yes, I do. What possible good comes, for instance, from forcing these Nazis underground? Will that make them stop hating? Has it ever stopped the hate? As a people, we must start taking responsibility for our behavior, and for our problems, rather than expecting “government” to do it for us. In short, we need to learn to carry our own baggage, and to face our social problems squarely.
McCarthy: Since censorship on the internet is impossible, there is no alternative to freedom of speech.
In fact, Germany’s latest governmental action has been a denunciation, but phrased in the language of censorship. This “symbolic censorship” does nothing to keep people from reading the ugly material, yet it publicly martyrs the authors. Its only effect is to increase their exposure. Ernst Zündel wrote that after recent reports of “banned” documents:
…our visitor count has jumped 50%, and our document count has nearly tripled.
What better publicity could Nazis want? They are unaffected, but they still get to wear the cloak of the martyr. Why doesn’t the government just give them a million Marks for advertising?
SPIEGEL Online: Is the activity of rightwing extremists gaining importance and power in North America?
McVay: I don’t think it’s gaining either, I just think it’s being exposed more often because our media, and the internet in particular, have made it easy to “get the message out.”
SPIEGEL Online: You very often receive threats. Does that weaken your resolve sometimes?
McVay: No, it convinces me that I’m on the right track. That’s why we call our “encouragement” pages “encouragement pages,” rather than “threats.”
SPIEGEL Online: Do you get support from Germany?
McVay: Indirectly, yes, in that we operate a mirror site in Germany. I often wonder if the German government will move against us because of that – they seem to think that they can censor hatred out of existence, which seems pretty naive to me.
McCarthy: That’s an interesting point – we have much of the same material as the Nazi apologists do. Yes, some of our pages have responses and analysis, but many don’t: many are identical to the original Nazi propaganda!
If Nizkor wants to archive a copy of the Leuchter Report, is the German government going to look over our shoulder and tell us what we have to do to make it legal? Will we be forced to write “this is wrong” at the top of every page? Or will we be shut down and fined, or worse?
I think this is a serious problem which needs to be addressed, before we find that the law has to be applied in a way which was never intended.
McVay: If the German government really wanted to do some good, they would quit wasting time chasing their tails on the net, and start digitizing their National Archives – the government has tons of incredibly valuable documentation, sitting in warehouses, going to waste. If they would take a positive role in making that material available to the world, Holocaust denial would be dealt a fatal blow.
I would be happy to do this, if the German government would rather not – all they have to do is provide Nizkor with all the microfilmed material they have – we’ll digitize it and store it on the net.
SPIEGEL ONLINE 43/1996 – Only to be duplicated with the consent of the SPIEGEL publishing company.
The original interview is available on http://www.spiegel.de/.