WASHINGTON -- It so happened that this week, on the day I wrote about Holocaust denial in the Middle East, a homegrown denier took a rifle into the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum -- an institution where I sit on the governing board. The museum counts about 1.7 million visitors each year who learn about the history of murderous racism -- and now one who decided to add to that history.
That day, out of curiosity, I did something I rarely do. I read the Internet comments on my column from different sources. In addition to the normal political vituperation, the level of anti-Jewish feeling was appalling. The European genocide, some contended, was exaggerated by Jews for political purposes. Jews were behind the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise of Hitler and the outbreak of World War II. They control the newspapers, radio, television and book publishing. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is right to expose the Holocaust myth, and Israel is perpetrating the real holocaust against the Palestinians.
Of course, these are the views of a small, self-selected group of the unbalanced -- hundreds out of millions. But the Internet allows these obsessions to gather in fetid pools, as James W. von Brunn (a prolific Web author) knew and exploited. The Internet has helped to create communities of malice.
The anti-Semitic community is varied in background and ideology. It includes both Internet Nazis and campus leftists carrying signs that read, "Jews (equals) Nazis." The Rev. Jeremiah Wright recently blamed "them Jews" for blocking his access to President Obama. A conservative Web site recently included a forum on Holocaust denial (before it was exposed and removed). One posting read: "The same blinded people that believe that the Germans intentionally killed Jews -- also believe the myth of the Anne Frank Diary."
Marginalized Western anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers have gained influence in unexpected places. In 2002, Libya's dictator Moammar Gaddafi awarded his (less than coveted) Gaddafi International Human Rights prize to Roger Garaudy, a French Holocaust skeptic. Ahmadinejad's 2006 conference of deniers featured David Duke as a keynote speaker.
For some Americans, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are akin to a shameful hobby -- like collecting old racist knickknacks or Nazi memorabilia. But these ideas are not harmless, because they can inspire an angry, obsessed bigot who sets out on a June morning to kill Jews -- and murders an African-American man who had a wife and young son.