The fatal shooting at Washington's U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum four weeks ago is a grim reminder that white supremacists and Holocaust deniers are dangerous fanatics -- domestic terrorists, if you will.
The assailant James von Brunn's hatred for Jews and African-Americans was fueled by the vitriol he spewed out on his Web site and that he absorbed from similar internet sources. "The Holocaust is a lie," he wrote in a note found in his car after the attack. "Obama was created by Jews."
I do not know whether Patrick J. Buchanan's official Web site was one of von Brunn's regular haunts, but it easily could have been.
Buchanan is a former senior White House official in the Nixon and Reagan administrations, erstwhile arch-conservative candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and now a highly paid political commentator on MSNBC. He is also a patron of Holocaust deniers.
Almost two months ago, on May 12, I disclosed in a New York Daily News article that his Web site was sponsoring a Holocaust denial forum entitled "Disinformation, Deception and Other Tricks: Discussion about 'The Holocaust'" (with The Holocaust in quotes). Within hours, the forum vanished without explanation from Buchanan.org, and the link to it was disabled. However, no one at MSNBC has asked Buchanan a single question about this forum on the air.
Among the postings on the Buchanan Web site's forum were "Most historians believe it was logistically impossible to gas 6 million Jews and reduce their bodies to ashes"; "We have known for some time that the Auschwitz myth is of an exclusively Jewish origin"; "The same blinded people that believe that the Germans intentionally killed Jews -- also believe the myth of the Anne Frank diary"; and "A lot of Jews fled Germany in the late 1930s. The United States was not very anxious to accept very many. This was when white Christians still had a little control of our nation."
Buchanan has long championed the cause of a succession of Nazi war criminals, including most prominently John Demjanjuk, the former SS guard at the death camps of Sobibor and Majdanek, who was recently deported from Cleveland to Germany to stand trial on 29,000 counts of murder. He has called for the abolishment of the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, which prosecutes and seeks to deport Nazi war criminals from the United States, because he considered the unit to be "a shark force... running down 70-year-old camp guards."
Buchanan considers World War II to have been "unnecessary," and once wrote that "though Hitler was indeed racist and anti-Semitic to the core, a man who without compunction could commit murder and genocide, he was also an individual of great courage, a soldier's soldier... a political organizer of the first rank, a leader steeped in the history of Europe, who possessed oratorical powers that could awe even those who despised him." He also wrote in his March 17, 1990 syndicated column that it would have been impossible for Jews to be killed in the gas chambers of the Treblinka death camp, and dismissed the Holocaust survivors' experiences as "group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been excoriated for convening a December 2006 international pseudo-academic conference of Holocaust deniers in Tehran. Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI was widely criticized when he sought to rehabilitate an obscure renegade Roman Catholic cleric who had declared that he did not believe that Jews had been murdered in gas chambers during World War II. In sharp contrast, Buchanan has been given a pass by both his employers and his colleagues at MSNBC.
Even though Buchanan has appeared repeatedly on at least three MSNBC news programs since his Web site's Holocaust denial forum became a matter of public record, he has not been challenged about it even once.
When Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) questioned the patriotism of her fellow members of Congress on Hardball with Chris Matthews during last year's presidential campaign, Matthews cross-examined her mercilessly. However, Matthews has not asked Buchanan to explain why he provided a platform for Holocaust deniers.
Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, has been sharply critical of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's contention that certain right-wing talk show hosts and columnists have given "aid and comfort to dangerous extremism." But Scarborough has not confronted Buchanan with the anti-Semitic, Holocaust denying screeds that were posted on his Web site.
Speaking at the Buchenwald concentration camp five days before the Holocaust Museum shooting, President Obama said that Holocaust denial is "a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful. This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts; a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history."
So far, MSNBC has shirked this duty. Buchanan has a constitutional right to hold offensive, even reprehensible views, and the news channel's executives have the right to retain him as a fixture on their programs. MSNBC does not, however, have the right to insulate Buchanan from hard questions that risk shattering his veneer of respectability. He must once and for all be held publicly accountable for facilitating the dissemination of toxic hate speech that, as the Holocaust Museum shooting reminds us, can have tragic consequences.
Menachem Z. Rosensaft is general counsel of the World Jewish Congress, vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, and Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell Law School
(This article was first published in the New York Jewish Week)