Willis Carto, a proponent of far right-wing causes who published books and other publications that called the Holocaust a “hoax,” died Oct. 26 at his home in Virginia. He was 89.
His death was announced by a newspaper he helped found, the American Free Press, and confirmed by his wife, Elizabeth, who said he died of heart failure.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist organizations, described Carto as a “white nationalist” who espoused “pro-Nazi and rabidly anti-Jewish views.”
He was a major figure in the so-called Holocaust revisionist movement that claimed many of the factual details concerning the Nazi extermination of Jews during World War II were not true, and he helped organize conferences on the topic.
“He tried to take the movement from the gutter to a higher plane to make it seem like it was legitimate,” said historian Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University professor and author of several books, including “Denying the Holocaust” (1993).
“He tried to dress up the movement in respectable clothes,” she said, “when in reality it was nothing but hate.”
Carto was involved in numerous court actions, including a highly publicized case in Southern California.
The Torrance-based Institute for Historical Review, closely associated with Carto, claimed that poison gas was not used to kill Jews in concentration camps during World War II. In 1979 it went so far as to offer $50,000 to the first person who could prove that Jews were gassed in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Auschwitz survivor Mel Mermelstein, a Long Beach businessman whose mother and two sisters were killed in the camp’s gas chambers, took up the challenge.
When the organization refused to pay up in the face of his documentation, he sued, naming Carto and the institute among the defendants.
Not long before the matter was to go to trial in 1985, the defendants settled, agreeing not only to pay Mermelstein nearly twice the award but also to make a public apology that was entered into the court record.
The case was made into a 1991 television movie, “Never Forget,” with Leonard Nimoy as Mermelstein.
In 1993 Carto had an acrimonious break with the institute, now based in Orange County. The organization’s current director, Mark Weber, declined to comment on the record, saying a court settlement between the institute and Carto prohibited it.
Carto was born on July 19, 1926, in Fort Wayne, Indi.
Other organizations with which he was involved included the Liberty Lobby and Barnes Review.
He is survived by his wife.