My 24 (ineffective) hours of fighting fascism

Last Friday I read that discredited historian, holocaust denier, racist and all round arsehole David Irving was due to give a talk in central York.

Irving was demolished as a historian in 2000. He lost a libel case against historian Deborah Libstadt, who had called him a holocaust denier. The judge described him as someone who “makes … unfounded assertions about the Nazi regime which tend to exonerate the Nazis for the appalling atrocities which they inflicted on the Jews” and “he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism”. He was even jailed in Austria in 2006 for publications he’d made 15 years earlier.

That’s not someone I wanted preaching hatred and selling books in my home town.

I started a Twitter account to see what I could gather about the man’s appearance, and to co-ordinate a protest. We discovered quickly that the tip was false – the landlord of the Blue Boar pub strenuously denied he was hosting. Irving was clearly speaking, but we didn’t know where.

We met up regardless, and I bonded with a lovely bunch of strangers, the first time I’ve done that in a while. There were 15 who were ready to meet at a moment’s notice, and defend their town against fascism. They were all smart, working and politically engaged. If there is a next time, I might be quicker off the mark.

Tracking and shutting down rats like Irving was going to be exhausting and emotionally draining. He sent me a sneering email the day after his talk, hoping that I had made “lots of new friends” at the “homosexual haunt” at which we’d met [what, that sounds quite nice]. There were pot-shots from a couple of supporters on Twitter. You want to snap and sneer back, but I can see how that kind of bile takes over your life.

We needed a journalist’s instinct to research, some planning ahead of time. Even though we failed, Irving and his nazi-sympathising supporters already know that they will be run out of town if they met in public. It seems like he successfully pulled the same trick in Newcastle, putting out a false lead and causing a group of anti-fascists to meet in a random pub. Without those false leads put out to anti-fascist groups, nobody would even have known he was coming (judging by Twitter searches). So this is some bizarre attention-seeking, serving only to bring anti-fascists together, and draw attention to himself. I’m led to understand this is in character.

I did notice that Irving’s web site and email were at a reputable US host, Dreamhost. I asked whether they were comfortable hosting his far-right hate speech, which is illegal in Germany and Austria. Pleading the first amendment, they declined to take it down. I’ve asked the Vienna police to help make the point to Dreamhost, but I have to leave it there and go back to the day job now.

I was glad to find the UAF, particularly that they appear politically neutral and avoiding the traditional anti-fascist language of “comrades” etc. This ought to be a fight for everyone across the political divide, and I always thought it a shame that the loudest voices were politically divisive in other ways. Good luck with all your efforts, and I’ll work harder next time if fascism comes back to York.

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