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Every year, during Holocaust Remembrance Week, the people of the United States promise to “never forget” the six million who perished in Hitler’s death camps. I make the same promise. Then I add my own personal vow—to never forget Dr. Revilo P. Oliver, a classics professor from the University of Illinois and a founding member of the John Birch Society. Using an energized, anti-Communist right wing network, Oliver peddled his revised history of World War II; one in which the Jews invented the Holocaust and foisted the story of their imaginary persecution on an unsuspecting world. I heard Oliver spin his vile “Holohoax” ideas right in my parents’ living room.
In late 1958, my parents became the first two members of the John Birch Society in Chicago. They were welcomed into the brand new organization by founder, Robert Welch, who introduced them to Oliver. Welch and Oliver were personal and professional friends. Over the years, Welch often described Oliver as one of the “ablest speakers on the Americanist side.”  

Any friend of Welch got a warm welcome from my parents. The first time I met the man, however, he gave me the creeps. His long face was exaggerated by black hair slicked back with greasy pomade, bushy eyebrows and beady eyes and wide handlebar mustache. I never saw Oliver smile. But his lips often curled in a nasty snarl, especially when he was berating someone who dared to disagree.  

Oliver was a frequent contributor to National Review, William F. Buckley’s magazine, and to the John Birch Society’s magazine, American Opinion. In the pages of these journals, he expressed some of his most controversial positions including a 1965 slam against the United States for “an insane, but terribly effective, effort to destroy the American people and Western civilization by subsidizing . . . the breeding of the intellectually, physically, and morally unfit.”

Oliver peppered his speeches and his articles with racial slurs and discredited historical assumption. In his role as a member of the John Birch Society speakers’ bureau, he railed against Communist subversion inside our government while insisting that President Roosevelt tricked the United States into World War II in order to help his friend, Joseph Stalin, the Russian dictator.  

Along with this interpretation of World War II, Oliver peddled his version of the Holocaust, one in stark contrast to everything I’d learned from our Jewish neighbors and my own father. Gone were the yellow stars and the death camps. Gone were the gas chambers and crematoria. Even the witness of American soldiers who liberated Buchenwald and Dachau was repudiated. Instead, Oliver said that there were no gas chambers and no exterminations.  
My parents parroted Oliver. The Holocaust stopped being so terrible, the death camps turned into detention camps. Jews were imprisoned because they were traitors, not because of their faith. The “Final Solution” became fiction, and the Nazis were loyal military men following orders.  
I’d met Jews with tattoos on their arms. I’d seen photographs from Buchenwald. I knew that millions of men, women and children were gassed and their ashes coated everything when the fires roared. I knew all of this as well as I knew my name. I was not even 14 and I thought my parents had lost their minds. Dr. Oliver had helped them
No matter what Revilo Oliver said, he continued to serve (with my father) on the John Birch Society National Council, the inner circle of the organization. My parents drank in everything he said and repeated most of it, almost verbatim. Robert Welch heaped praise on Oliver for his outstanding contributions to the Birch cause.
All of this Oliver devotion stopped abruptly in July of 1966, when Oliver headlined the New England Rally for God, Family, and Country, an annual Birch-sponsored festival held in Boston and billed as a reunion for conservative Americans. In his speech, “Conspiracy or Degeneracy, Oliver talked about “vaporizing” Jews as part of the “beatific vision.”
Oliver’s statements generated an avalanche of negative press, followed by internal Birch turmoil on how to respond. Oliver had said all of this and more for years and every single member of the Birch leadership had heard him. But time this was different. Oliver’s public and blatant racism sounded like it echoed John Birch Society policies. And the press covered it.  

In early August, Welch told council members that Oliver had resigned. In a split-second, he vanished from my parents’ conversation. They pretended that Oliver had never been a Birch leader or a personal friend.

Revilo Oliver lived the rest of his life as a hero to neo-Nazis, skin heads and white supremacists. His views never moderated. In 1982, twelve years before his death by suicide, Oliver wrote that democracy would only be possible by “deporting, vaporizing, or otherwise disposing of swarms of Jews, Congoids (Africans), Mongoloids and mongrels (mixed-race) that now infest our territory.”

Oliver put an indelible mark on the John Birch Society, built a network of Holocaust deniers and recruited countless followers to spread his message of hate.  This year, the theme of the Holocaust Remembrance is “heeding the warning signs.” There is no warning sign of more significance than the continuing presence of Holocaust denial in our public life. We can’t begin to understand today’s deniers if we don’t take a hard look at the man who fueled the denial movement.
My father was a national spokesperson for the John Birch Society for more than thirty years; my mother was also a staunch follower. I hold a degree in English from the University of Dallas and a graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin. My book, Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right, (coming in July from Beacon Press) is an inside look at one of the most radical right-wing movements in American history and shows how it impacts our politics today.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I had a friend who was raised in a Birch following (6+ / 0-)

    family. His mother, too, was friends with Welch. He told me that anti-Semitism was not allowed in the Birch society, because I thought it was strongly anti-Jewish / anti-Catholic. I guess that is not true from what you are saying.

    "You can die for Freedom, you just can't exercise it"

    by shmuelman on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 10:21:50 AM PDT

    •  The John Birch Society claimed (8+ / 0-)

      that anti-Semitic messages were not allowed. But, remember that Revilo Oliver was on the National Council and spread these ideas for years.

      •  apparently even John Birchers were too lefty (0+ / 0-)

        for this guy. From the WIkipedia entry about him:

        In 1955, Oliver's friend, Professor Willmoore Kendall, discussed plans for the journal which was eventually called National Review. Kendall "desiderated a 'conservative' antidote to the New Republic, etc.," and had among his pupils at Yale, William F. Buckley, Jr. Kendall convinced Oliver to write on political subjects for the journal.[5]

        In 1958, Oliver joined Robert W. Welch, Jr. in being one of the founding members of the anti-Communist John Birch Society. Oliver wrote frequently for the Birch Society magazine American Opinion, his most widely-noted piece being a two-part article called "Marxmanship in Dallas" that asserted that Lee Harvey Oswald had carried out the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as part of a Communist conspiracy. In Oliver's opinion, the Communists wished to eliminate Kennedy as a puppet who had outlived his usefulness. Oliver testified before the Warren Commission on the basis for his assertions but was unconvincing. He was reprimanded for his remarks by the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees, but they did not try to unseat him.[6][7][8]

        In the 1960s, Oliver broke with American conservatism and, having become convinced that Welch had either cozened him from the start or sold out later, he even severed his connections with what he called "the Birch hoax." He thus came to openly embrace an essentially far-right worldview, and eventually to assist William Luther Pierce in forming the National Alliance, a white supremacist organization, a significant portion of whose supporters and members would re-form under the name National Vanguard.

        Oliver was an editorial advisor for the Institute for Historical Review, an organization devoted primarily to historical revisionism of World War II and the holocaust. He was also a regular contributor to Liberty Bell

        He retired in 1977 and committed suicide in 1994 in Urbana, Illinois, aged 86.

        There's a photo of him here: http://upload.wikimedia.org/...

        and he appears to be one of those nasty-nice 1950s pseudo-intellectuals who believed the swill the anti-Semites always spew.

        I am sorry that you had to put up with being in the same room with this cretin as a child. From the photo he looks like the kind of guy who'd give anybody the creeps in short order. Why is it that people listen to guys like this, when they're clearly mentally ill?

        LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

        by BlackSheep1 on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 10:08:07 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I would point out that Limbaugh claims his (7+ / 0-)

      broadcasts are not racist in their content and defies anyone to catch him using racist terms.  You can be a racist and rely on dogwhistles and winks to communicate your message.

      http://www.beggarscanbechoosers.com/...

      I would argue the Birchers are stealth anti-Semites

  •  Thank you for the important essay (8+ / 0-)

    Thank you. Important reading in this age of Tee Parties, Limbo-casts and rampant censorship of dissent on the Internet and elsewhere.

    Way things are going in this land, your essay might even be grounds for arrest in five years, God forbid.

    A cat food nation? That's the fate of millions unless we soundly defeat the Entitled 1% in the 2014 and 2016 elections. Let's get to work!

    by catfoodnation on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 10:52:10 AM PDT

  •  Glad you wrote this book (9+ / 0-)

    I look forward to reading it. As a side note....I used to visit the Ozarks when I was a kid...and we'd always drive past a large hand-painted sign along a rural road that read "Get US out of the UN" and underneath it "The John Birch Society". The "N" in UN was backwards. Even at a young age...seeing that backwards "N" was all I needed to know about The John Birch Society. Though that sign is long gone...nothing I've learned in the past forty years has proven me wrong.

    "Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous Communist plot we have ever had to face?" - General Jack D. Ripper

    by wilder5121 on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 11:13:08 AM PDT

  •  I met some survivors along the way and I talked (9+ / 0-)

    with veterans who had liberated the camps while I was at the VA.  While we rode the shuttle bus from the hospital to the main campus, many would not contribute more than a few words while a few were graphic in what they saw.

    I remember a few years ago, Dr Death, the guy who repairs electric chairs and gas chambers, was in a documentary where he "disproved" Auschwitz to be a death camp.  He went into bankruptcy over his pseudo science.

    Of course we all remember "Hitler's Diaries" as Holocaust denialism has become a cottage industry.

    I am expecting a resurgence of this denialism as the generation that suffered through the camps die out with each succeeding year.  We have already witnessed the RW attempt to rewrite the history of the Civil Rights movement though many participants are still around.  I expect David Barton to come out with a volume discounting the Holocaust or Michelle Malkin comparing the Holocaust "scam" with the Japanese internment camps, which the RW also denies (not to equate the two experiences in any shape form or fashion on my part)  

    •  Michelle Malkin thought the internment camps (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueoasis, Buckeye Nut Schell

      were a peachy idea. Can't wait to see her book defending the Holocaust. That should be a real page turner.

    •  entlord, as an American I'm ashamed of the (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Buckeye Nut Schell, entlord

      Japanese internment. It was, perhaps, not a holocaust-level event.
      However.  It was theft and murder, and the people subjected to it should not have been so mistreated by a government claiming to promote liberty.

      Our government today claims it promotes liberty via its wars, but at home its nest is very fouled. The lack of real dedication to the simple proposition that every human being comes with, at birth, equal rights (in the eyes of the Constitution, never mind whatever name you want to call some deity you consider all that and a bag of chips this week), and that those rights are not subject to racial discrimination, religious discrimination, financial discrimination, or discrimination because of some physical or mental disability, is profound in the USA these days.

      Profound.

      Driven by the likes of that loudmouthed loser on Clear Channel and those compleat idjits on Faux.

      LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

      by BlackSheep1 on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 10:14:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  An important, heartfelt diary (8+ / 0-)

    My sympathies for an adolescence spent within the bell jar of RW extremism. I had an uncle who was a member of the JBS and my state sent JBSer Larry McDonald to Congress.

    One important point though. The Nazi genocide against the Jews wasn't motivated by religious difference but by ethnic hostility. The Nazi's Anti-Semitism wasn't religious but racist in character.

    Nothing human is alien to me.

    by WB Reeves on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 12:28:31 PM PDT

    •  Ethnic and Religious? (8+ / 0-)

      Yes, It was ethnic. At the same time, the Nazis were able to build on the religious hostility of the Christians to those who "killed Jesus." So, in a sense, the Nazis used both religious and ethnic hatred to further their goals.

      •  Undoubtly so. (4+ / 0-)

        Nevertheless, Hitler himself repudiated religious Anti-Semitism in the pages of Mein Kampf, substituting a pseudo biological theory he described as "scientific" Anti-Semitism. It was this vicious canard that led logically to the attempted biological extermination of an entire people. Otherwise, as Hitler put it, "a splash of baptismal water would save the business."

        Nothing human is alien to me.

        by WB Reeves on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 12:43:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  a lie writ large, founded on another lie (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Buckeye Nut Schell, WB Reeves

        writ far larger far longer. The notion that the Jews killed Jesus predates the Thirty Years War by a long shot.

        Try to get a bunch of "prosperity gospel" or "AoG" evangelicals to admit that Jesus was a Jew, sometime. ... but be sure you've got the right PPE because when their heads explode it makes a huge (and probably toxic) mess.

        LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

        by BlackSheep1 on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 10:16:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Try getting them to admit... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BlackSheep1

          he wasn't lily white.

          Talk about exploding heads.

          "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour..."

          by Buckeye Nut Schell on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 12:22:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  yeah, I know (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            WB Reeves, Buckeye Nut Schell

            the Jesus photos are of a blue-eyed blond guy .... sometimes snub-nosed and freckled!

            He probably looked a little more Apache, or Arab, than that.

            LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

            by BlackSheep1 on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 01:33:36 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I saw those when I was a kid (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Buckeye Nut Schell, BlackSheep1

              Of course, since I had Jewish classmates who were blonde as well as redheaded and freckled, I didn't immediately recognize the absurdity.

              Nothing human is alien to me.

              by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 01:40:03 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  see, I didn't have Jewish classmates (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                WB Reeves, Buckeye Nut Schell

                or even Apache ones, in a town with a main street named Cherokee.
                The school's football team was the Indians.

                I was in junior high, and back in Texas, before any of my classmates weren't WASP kids.

                LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

                by BlackSheep1 on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 01:52:41 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Well it was an advantage of growing up (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  BlackSheep1, Buckeye Nut Schell

                  in a predominately Jewish neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1960's. We also had Greek American and Latino neighbors. A far cry from the rural farm and mill town of my parent's childhood.

                  OTOH, our High School football team was the "Gray Knights".

                  Nothing human is alien to me.

                  by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 02:01:05 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  when I moved back to Texas in 7th grade (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Buckeye Nut Schell

                    ours was the Broncos, and then I moved to Denver City the next year, where the team was the Mustangs.

                    We were not urban folk then; my children grew up in town, and don't know how to ride horses or milk cows or even gather eggs. I am not sure whether I failed them or not, though both have at least one college degree; the older is an IT specialist and the younger studying to be a teacher.

                    LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

                    by BlackSheep1 on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 02:17:29 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

        •  As I indicated above (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BlackSheep1

          traditional religion based Anti-Semitism certainly provided fertile ground for the Nazi's racist Anti-Semitism. However, we make a fundamental error if we fail to recognize the distinction between the two.

          The fact is that while Jews were the primary victims, they were by no means the sole targets of the Nazi's genocidal policies. Others murdered in service to their racist ideology included the Romany, Poles, Slavs and others. These numbered in the millions.

          This is the ideological perspective that Revilo Oliver was promoting.

          Nothing human is alien to me.

          by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 01:37:04 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I need to find a better term (0+ / 0-)

    for what I've always heard referred to as "gypsies," because I'm not sure that is exactly the same thing as the Romany people. That said, the damage done to those folk, and the LGBT people, and the Slavs, and all the other people Hitler and his crazed National Socialist Party leaders deemed to be inferior and defective, doesn't get talked about as much as it needs to get talked about.

    The denialists don't even mention the damage done those folks, because, of course, they don't think that happened either.

    While the internment of Japanese-extraction US Citizens during the war was, and is, imnvho, a war crime which the US government got away with (Daniel Inouye's war wounds came from service for the same government, in the same war), it did not rise to the level of what was done throughout the lands occupied by the Axis powers, from France to Africa.

    That we even entertain in public these days notions of denial is sickening.

    LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

    by BlackSheep1 on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 02:26:26 PM PDT

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