Dr Kollerstrom emerged from a small but distinct political movement. That should worry us
I don’t imagine that many JC readers had heard of the UCL honorary fellow and Holocaust-denier, Dr Nicholas Kollerstrom, before his sacking graced last week’s front page. But, for various reasons, I had come across his name while researching my book on conspiracy theories (which will be published next spring). He had figured in a 2006 internet film made by the former MI5 desk clerk David Shayler — who has since completed an Ickean transformation from dissident to Messiah — claiming that the 7/7 bombings were an inside job. In that daft movie, he was captioned as “lecturer and researcher”, I suppose to confer some spurious expertise on the enterprise. In fact, I discovered, he was a lecturer on the effects of astrology on alchemy and an author on the subject of crop circles.
Silly old hippy, I thought, whilst wondering once more about the calibre of some of those employed in our universities. Even so, I was amazed by his recent transmutation into a fully fledged Holocaust revisionist, complete with all the necessary astonishing obfuscations, links to neo-Nazi publications and fundamental belief in the capacity of Jews to manufacture and sustain a vast historical swindle. His article, School Trips to Auschwitz (“by Nicholas Kollerstrom PhD”), in which he invokes the image of a Butlinsesque work-camp, complete with swimming-pool and orchestras, is one of the most jaw-dropping pieces of insulting stupidity that I have ever seen — and I have a seen a few. How could he, at the most basic level, talk about the orchestras and have missed out on Fania Fenelon’s diaries? Had he never, even from curiosity, picked up a book by Primo Levi? And if he hadn’t, why hadn’t he? We’ll come back to that later.
In his recent excellent book on pseudo-scholarship, Counterknowledge, Damian Thompson suggests that there is a kind of nonsense mindset, in which someone who buys into, say, homoeopathy or crop circles, finds it easy to make the necessary leap to 9/11 conspiracy theory and — though Thompson doesn’t specifically say so — to Holocaust denial. Kollerstrom starts by seeming to believe in astrology, not as the reader of Russell Grant might, but as a form of pseudo-science, constructing an academic rationale for irrational belief. His next step appears to an acceptance of alchemy; from that he moves to conspiracy theory (9/11 and 7/7); this takes him to historical revisionism; and, in turn, finds him not just dabbling, but immersed, in the most extreme form of Holocaust denial. And all the way along, he convinces himself that he is one of a small band of seers who, almost alone, understand the real underlying patterns of the world.
Thompson is right, I think, but there is also a contemporary political dimension to this, and one that should worry us. In self-exculpation, Kollerstrom (who is probably half-enjoying his notoriety and martyrdom) tells us that, far from being a Nazi or an antisemite, “I have always belonged to things like the Green Party, CND and Respect.” And it is certainly true that, not so long ago, it would have been difficult for someone to both be anti-Jewish and a member of the organised hard left. Not impossible, as the Workers’ Revolutionary Party briefly suggested, but pretty hard. But to be a member of the Green Party and the largest far-left organisation in Britain, and be a Holocaust-denier and never to be aware of any contradiction? That is new.
It’s not as if Kollerstrom’s innocent frolics in the batty archives have simply left him with a few questions about historical method. “Israeli nuclear subs sold by Germany now stand ready to launch their nuclear missiles against Iran,” he writes elsewhere, demanding, “How could Germany have done such a thing? Because it’s controlled by Zion, that’s why.”
“Controlled by Zion” is not some unlucky phrase, but is rather the real McCoy, the full Monty, the ganz anti-Jud. And it emerges, I think, from a unique political movement, made possible by the internet and existing as an informal fusion between far-left and far-right forces; forces which regard themselves as anti-imperialist, anti-war (or, rather, since they have a regard for “resistance” fighters in Hamas, Hizbollah and the Taliban, “anti-Western”) and anti-Zionist.
It is where Gilad Atzmon (the anti-Jewish Jew), the folk of the “pro-Palestinian” Deir Yassin Remembered who sympathise with the old Nazi Ernst Zundel, meet the Socialist Worker’s Party, hook up with Dieudonne Mbala, link to old US lefties like Ralph Schoenman, hobnob with believers in the blood libel such Israel Shamir. The right-wingers at anti-war.com share columns with the supposed lefties at Counterpunch, and are referenced by pro-Milosevic Serbs, Russian nationalists and conspiracy loons.
They are, in electoral or mass terms, insignificant. Whether they poison the minds of too many silly Kollerstroms is another question. I think they do.