Friday, February 24, 2006

A brief History of Net.NAZIs

The jailing of David Irving for three years in Austria has resulted in the predictable defenses of freedom of speech.

The jail term is certainly a bad move, but none of the articles I have read on the net have made the one argument that everyone other than Irving and his supporters can agree with: sending Irving to jail is a bad idea because that is exactly what he wanted.

Let me clarify that, I would not be at all surprised if Irving is now having second thoughts about martyrdom. He did attempt to recant his claims at the last minute. But the trial in Austria is merely the latest act in a long history where Irving and his supporters have invited prosecution as a political tactic. Without the gift of state prosecution Irving's ideas would have attracted considerably less publicity.

The publication of the first edition of Irving's Hitler's War in 1977 coincided with Ernst Zundel's self published Did Six Million Really Die, both are founding texts for the modern holocaust denial movement.

Irving disputed the minutiae of the history of the holocaust, whether details of first hand reports could be trusted, whether the atrocities were directed by the high command or the result of mid-ranking bureaucrat's working on auto-pilot. By this time Irving had become established as a writer of populist histories for the mass market. Few academic historians read them, let alone considered them worthy of rebuttal. Individually the claims made by Irving were not particularly surprising: history is messy. Taken as a whole however the book was an outright apologia, its claims only sustainable if there was a widespread conspiracy to create a false history.

Zundel took the direct approach: outright denial. Despite the inflammatory nature of the claims Zundel remained practically unknown outside far right circles and the anti-hate groups that track them until 1981 when his postal 'privileges' were withdrawn for publishing hate speech. In 1984 Zundel was charged with "disseminating and publishing material denying the Holocaust", David Irving and Fred Leucheter testified for Zundel at trial. At the time Leucheter was acting as a consultant on execution methods for a number of US states, a position he was later discovered to have absolutely no qualifications for.

There can be little doubt that Zundel would have remained an obscure crank but for the prosecution. Very few people have heard of, let alone remember Dan Gannon, the net.NAZI behind Banished CPU.

Banished CPU began spewing holocaust denial propaganda in August 1991 and continues posting today. Despite being the first major hate site on the Internet, the earliest and for a long time the most prolific poster Banished CPU is no longer prominent even in hate group circles.

Gannon started spamming USENET before the name had even been invented. A trickle of posts under a variety of pseudonyms quickly became a flood. The most frequent posters were Pete Faust, Ralph Winston together with Maynerd, the Main Nerd. Occasionally Maynerd's 'girlfriend' Foxy Roxy would appear claiming to be a 'reformed' Jew.

The banished CPU incident was the first of many that demonstrate the problem of debating in an open forum where the only qualifications required of contributors is to have a keyboard and an opinion. As people quickly tired of Banished CPU, the question was asked 'is it time for the Usenet death penalty?'.

Which was of course Gannon's game. Virtually the material he was posting was a byproduct of the Zundel trial. If there had been no trial there would have been no material.

Irving's subsequent history shows the same pattern. After the Zundel trial Irving was eclipsed. He can hardly have expected the Libel case he brought against Lipstadt to result in anything other than to be forced into bankruptcy. The Austrian case would never have been brought unless Irving had decided to deliberately court prosecution by returning.

In the end Irving and his ilk are simply a more offensive form of that well known net phenomenon the troll. Unlike the ordinary troll their egos are not satisfied by a mere IP block. Only a prison sentence garners them the validation and publicity that they seek. Prosecution breaks the cardinal rule: troll, do not feed.

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