Holocaust denial may be down, but it’s not out. Just ask Charles “Skipp” Porteous, a New York writer, activist and investigator targeted in a lawsuit by an author who calls the Shoah a “myth.”
Historian Deborah Lipstadt recently triumphed in a similar case in London, in which a judge not only denied David Irving’s accusation of libel but branded Irving an anti-Semite and racist before ordering him to pay millions in court costs.
But Porteous believes that Lipstadt’s vindication is only a momentary, if resounding victory in the long fight against those who question the Holocaust.
“There is nothing that is going to convince these people that the Holocaust did happen because their theories are based on hatred and prejudice, not fact,” said Porteous, 56, a former Pentecostal minister and Reform convert to Judaism who divides his time between Manhattan and Housatonic, Mass.
Porteous said although the Lipstadt case dealt an international rebuke to those who deny the Holocaust, his own case has garnered far less attention.
“My case is kind of unknown,” acknowledges Porteous, who founded the Institute for First Amendment Studies with his wife, Barbara Simon. “On the other hand, it is right in our backyard.”
The $34 million suit against Porteous and two other Berkshires-area residents, to be tried in U.S. District Court in Springfield, Mass., alleges that the three conspired to scuttle a series of lectures by Eustace Mullins of Virginia, the author of numerous books and articles espousing government conspiracy theories and anti-Jewish rhetoric. His books include “The Biological Jew,” “The Federal Reserve Conspiracy” and “The World Order.”
In his own biographic material, Mullins says he is a World War II veteran of the Army Air Corps and a “direct descendant of William Mullins, a signer of the Mayflower Compact.” The Anti-Defamation League considers Mullins an anti-Semitic activist with a track record that dates back to the 1950s.
“He is a great popularizer in America of the idea that Jews run the Federal Reserve,” said Mark Kaplan, an ADL researcher. “He traces the ‘Jewish conspiracy’ back to Babylonia 5,000 years ago. He is off the map as far as extremism goes.”
In a December 1987 article in a Christian Defense League journal, Mullins laments that “anyone seeking public office” in the United States “must make a ritual obeisance to the Myth of the Holocaust and swear eternal belief in the doctrine that six million Jews were killed by the Germans during World War II.”
Mullins did not respond to several messages seeking comment left at his home in Staunton, Va.
In his complaint, Mullins cited the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and accused the three of “acting as agents for both domestic and foreign terrorist groups,” intending to cause Mullins to suffer a heart attack or stroke, according to the Berkshire Eagle.
The codefendants are Carol Szulc, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Great Barrington, and John Vosburgh, director of the Lenox Community Center. Appearances by Mullins were canceled at both places.
Porteous admits that he threatened to rally the Jewish community of the Berkshires, on the New York-Massachusetts border, to picket two speaking engagements by Mullins. He said the church was not aware of Mullins’ background.
“I made them aware of who Eustace Mullins was and what his positions were,” said Porteous. Backers of the Lenexa center event also backed down under the threat of protest, he said.
Judge Frank Friedman is reviewing motions for summary judgment in the case. No trial date has been set.
Porteous was sued in 1996 by Andrew Sansone of Egremont, Pa., for speaking out in the Berkshire Jewish Voice about a Mullins lecture hosted by Sansone. He also sued the Eagle for its reporting on the event, which included a front-page story labeling Mullins an anti-Semite. Both suits were unsuccessful.
Unlike the huge outpouring of support Lipstadt received from Jewish groups and survivors, Porteous said he and his codefendants are largely alone in fighting their battle. Porteous said he initially had support from the Anti-Defamation League in 1998, when the suit was filed, but that the case has since fallen “off the radar screen.”
“The Jewish community in the Berkshires is either unaware or not that interested,” said Porteous.
Gail Gans, director of the civil rights division for ADL, said: “We have confidence in the lawyers representing Skipp Porteous and are interested in the outcome.”
Far from being cowed by the verdict in the Lipstadt case, Holocaust deniers have come up with several theories to explain the outcome, said Ken McVay, a Canadian activist who founded the Nizkor Project on the Internet.
Popular theories include “The Jews bought the judge” and “the judge was afraid of the Jews,” said McVay, whose organization monitors and combats Holocaust denial.
He added that the “major players” in Holocaust denial have “long ago retreated to the Web, where they were not subject to embarrassing questions and confrontations.”
“Some push ‘Christian Identity’ but don’t identify their particular affiliation, some pimp for [Florida white supremacist Internet consultant] Don Black and [Louisiana politician] David Duke, some for CODOH [the California-based Committee for Open Debate On the Holocaust], and some for one and all. They are two-bit racists who don’t need a reason to express hatred for Jews,” he said.
A former member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, Michael Berenbaum, believes the next step in combating Holocaust denial should be identifying and exposing their funding. A judge has ordered Irving to pay at least $250,000 by June 16 to Lipstadt’s publisher, Penguin Books, to cover court costs.
Berenbaum notes that those who helped Irving fund his suit may soon be forced to pick up the entire tab and thus may be identified in court documents.
“Now that there has been an intellectual and legal demolition of Holocaust denial, it is time for us to understand the financial basis of their support and, hence, more of their political agenda,” he said.