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Competing Atrocities

The difference between free speech and running off at the mouth

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BITER COULDN'T remember the last time a Holocaust revisionist came to speak at San Jose State University, so we took up Bradley Smith's offer to attend his lecture after meeting him by chance at Gordon Biersch the night before. Smith, 74 with a gray goatee, has been around for a while. He ran a bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard during the 1960s and was arrested for refusing to yank copies of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer from his shelves when the book was banned. As a result, he developed a thriving passion for freedom of speech.

But there's a darker part of this tale. Smith came to San Jose and Berkeley as a practice run for his upcoming book tour; he's campaigning on the platform that there exists a worldwide conspiracy to derail anyone who attempts to revise Holocaust history. He's not denying the Holocaust. He's saying that laws are drafted in several countries to incarcerate anyone who tells a version of the story that contradicts the orthodox version. This, he claims, stomps on free speech.

So Biter infiltrated Smith's lecture in the Costanoan Room of the Student Union at SJSU on April 6. Gordon Biersch regular Jim Nysted hijacked the opening of the event by driving Smith to the campus in a white limousine in exchange for the opportunity to read one of his conspiracy-themed poems. About 15 students and faculty showed up.

Smith began by stating that the greatest American ideal is that of intellectual freedom and that the First Amendment institutionalized our right to dissent. Fair enough, we thought. However, Smith's dissenting opinion is that some of what you read about the atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews might not be true.

One student immediately asked why Smith decided to give this talk during Passover, when Jewish students aren't even allowed to come to campus, let alone attend the lecture. Biter thought this was a good question. Smith said it was just a coincidence.

In grandiose fashion, Smith flatly stated that most historians have singled out and institutionalized the monstrosities of the Germans in World War II and his dissenting opinion is that the Americans and Russians committed equal atrocities. "The Americans vaporized thousands of Japanese with the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima," he said. "We deliberately killed more innocent people in the war than the Germans did." He also argued that the institutionalization of the Germans' atrocities gave moral cause for the creation of the state of Israel. "We had no enemies in the Middle East before the creation of Israel," he said.

Then, Smith said--and we could see this coming from a mile away--that he'd given up on the idea of the gas chambers ever existing. One man in the audience took offense and interrupted. He said his parents had witnessed them firsthand in the war.

"They were eyewitnesses," the man said passionately. "They were there. They saw it."

Smith replied and said, "Eyewitnesses are people just like you and me, and there's fools and liars just like everyone else." The man got up and walked out.

And we followed, escaping out the back door and downstairs into the main lobby of the Student Union, where members of the Church of Scientology were trying to recruit SJSU students. Appalled at the horror of it all, Biter returned to Gordon Biersch later that evening for some Märzen-fired revisionism of our own.

Once again, who should we run into but Smith. He defended his inflammatory remarks but admitted that he had framed his presentation completely the wrong way. "I didn't want to talk about the Holocaust," he said. "I just wanted to talk about freedom of speech."


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From the April 14-20, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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