By Jonathon Van Maren
Gavin McInnes is not a Holocaust-denier, and he is not a neo-Nazi. It’s necessary to make clarifying statements like that due to a video released a couple of days ago, which rapidly attracted the attention and approval of alt-right neo-Nazis such as David Duke and Richard Spencer, which resulted in McInnes shooting a video at Pearson Airport in which he declared, “No offence, Nazis—I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I don’t like you. I like Jews.”
Let’s back up a bit. Gavin McInnes, as many of you will know, is a right-wing media personality who hosts both his own gig—The Gavin McInnes Show—on Compound Media, as well as delivering commentary regularly for Ezra Levant’s Canadian outfit, The Rebel. I first heard of him when he began showing up on various blogs and online commentary outlets declaring that he’d had a change of heart on abortion—something I interviewed him about at the time. Since then, he’s worked at FOX News, hosted his own show, and is now a star member of Levant’s lineup. His shtick is to be simultaneously hokey—think cheap costumes and terrible imitations of left-wingers, like a bad knock-off of Steven Crowder—and as intentionally offensive as possible. He also does not seem to be particularly well-versed in many of the subjects he expounds on, most notably Israel.
That brings us to this weekend. McInnes, Levant and a few of The Rebel stars—including social conservative Faith Goldy, resolute enemy of Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown, and Sheila Gunn Reid, a hero to many of my Albertan friends for her relentless reporting on Rachel Notley—were on a tour of Israel, producing video commentary along the way. McInnes produced his standard fare, much of it pro-Israel, some of it quite funny. Then, towards the end of the trip, he shot what appeared to be a very late-night, end-of-the-trip, stream-of-consciousness commentary for The Gavin McInnes Show. Clips of that commentary—the full show is behind a paywall—were released, and the alt-right rejoiced online that another commentator finally “got them.”
Even completely accepting Gavin McInnes’s follow-up video—which I do—the commentary was pretty disgusting. I’m not talking about the “out-of-context” bits that people are using to claim that he’s a neo-Nazi, which he obviously is not. I’m talking about what he did say, after expressing his frustration with the fact that his whole tour of Israel was “a brainwashing trip.” For example:
“The opposite is happening. I’m becoming anti-Semitic.”
He’s obviously assuming that no one will take him at his word here, although he does his best to see if they will by promptly trotting out a number of common anti-Semitic tropes. For some bizarre reason, McInnes was extremely irritated to have a tour guide at Yad Vashem express disgust for Holocaust denial (what on earth else did he expect to hear at a Holocaust museum?), and he explains that people need to remember that lots of genocides have happened, and those people don’t seem so hung up on it. He even says that the tour guide’s comments—again, remember that this is literally at a museum dedicated to commemorating the Holocaust—irritated him so much, he felt like defending neo-Nazis. I think most people can agree that instinctual contrarianism, in this context, is stupid. And it got worse:
“But there’s been a lot of genocides…[like Stalin]. But the Russians don’t talk about that. They don’t even necessarily see it as a horrible thing. Holodomor…I think it was ten million Ukrainians that were killed. That was by Jews. That was by Marxist, Stalinist, left-wing, Commie, socialist, Jeeeews. [laughs] You see what this f*****g place [Israel] is doing to me?”
Even World War II, McInnes mused—wasn’t that sort of brought about by the Treaty of Versailles, “and wasn’t that disproportionately influenced by Jewish intellectuals?” It’s not hard to see why David Duke and Richard Spencer—who quoted the Holodomor comment—were so pleased. Claiming that the Jews are responsible, in one way or another, for every historical catastrophe in recent memory is a foundational belief in alt-right and neo-Nazi circles. McInnes didn’t deny the Holocaust, but he did tell the Jews to get over it, already. Other people faced atrocities, McInnes says obliviously, and they casually chat about it rather than getting all worked up—“Hey, those were some crazy times!”—and some victims, like North Koreans, even like their dictator. To which the only reasonable response can be: Huh??
I’ve been to Yad Vashem twice, and McInnes’s reaction to the museum bewilders me. Why does a Holocaust museum give him the instinctive urge to clarify the beliefs of Holocaust deniers and tell the Jews to stop obsessing over history? McInnes seems not to realize that Holocaust denial was not something that just occurred after six million Jews were murdered—it was one of the central tools used to perpetrate the Holocaust in the first place. It was only because the so many Europeans across the continent could so steadfastly ignore the horrors taking place in their own backyards and deny to themselves and their neighbors that such things were happening that the Nazis managed to murder so many people in such a short period of time. That is why the Jews are so determined to ensure that people do not forget what happened. Denial is not a clever intellectual debate for commentators who enjoy taking on dangerous topics and offending people. Denying the Holocaust is what allows such horrors to take place again.
It’s strange that McInnes would be irritated by a national focus on the Holocaust in Israel—a nation full of Holocaust survivors and their descendants—considering that these atrocities happened within living memory. My grandparents remember the Nazi occupation. I’ve seen survivors roll up their sleeves and display the faded Auschwitz tattoos on their forearms. I’ve interviewed people who spent years in concentration camps, watching their family and friends get murdered and suffering indignities too horrifying for words. This didn’t happen hundreds of years ago. This happened, historically speaking, just yesterday. You can still speak to the last survivors. You can still visit the camps and see the claw marks on the gas chamber walls. Six million people died in agony, and those who suffered are supposed to shut up already? We can’t even wait for this to pass from memory into history? And that’s not even getting into the fact that Israel is surrounded by Jew-hating countries that have put the Arabic translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf onto the bestseller lists.
To reiterate, I don’t think Gavin McInnes is a Holocaust denier. What is true is that despite the fact that he might be pro-Israel, he is certainly willing to parrot some of the alt-right’s favorite talking points. Perhaps this is simply the commercial pressure people like McInnes are under. The alt-right is an enormous online community, and besides Richard Spencer’s website AlternativeRight.com (he served for a time as the editor of Taki’s Magazine, as well) and a few sites like Reddit and 4Chan, the alt-righters have no media home. Breitbart was one of the first large online media ventures to court them—even while fielding Jewish journalists and opening an office in Israel, they referred to conservative commentator Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew” in a headline, with former editor Steve Bannon calling his site a “platform for the alt-right.”
McInnes appears to be trying the same thing over at The Rebel. To give one example, he actually interviewed Richard Spencer. Does Gavin McInnes believe any of Spencer’s racial junk theories? Probably not. But he knows that by hosting Spencer, legions of Spencer’s alt-right followers will migrate over to his show because of his willingness to give their man a platform. Online media ventures can thus escape the criticism of being labeled alt-right, while still interviewing guests that will allow them to tap into the alt-right market.
This is dangerous for several reasons. On Twitter, I’ve had people accuse me of attempting “censorship” by suggesting that people like Richard Spencer should not be given a platform. This is nonsense. Spencer has every right to spew his anti-Semitism, but does not have the right to access the audiences organizations like Breitbart and The Rebel have built for themselves. Most of the people who make up these audiences are disenfranchised and frustrated conservatives who are furious at left-wing politicians, political correctness, and a political culture that treats their concerns with hostility and condescension. Allowing Spencer to articulate his racist theories for why things are the way they are to this audience gives him the opportunity to proselytize—and it sometimes works. In the Facebook comments beneath one of my articles criticizing the alt-right, for example, one fellow went from saying that the alt-right wasn’t all crazy, to saying that they made some good points, to admitting he now thought the Jews did run everything—in one conversation. To bring Richard Spencer from AlternativeRight.com to The Rebel gives him a bridge to the mainstream that he otherwise would not have access to.
People seem to have forgotten how poisonous anti-Semitism really is. Again, the Holocaust still lives on in the memories of survivors who experienced it. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, and is rife across the Islamic world. Ezra Levant and others have spilled gallons of ink condemning anti-Semitic incidents here in Canada. So why on earth would a neo-Nazi be considered a worthy interview? My critics inform me that we need to confront people like Spencer to debunk him. But is that really where we’re at? Are we at the point where we need to relitigate these trash racial theories, and reaffirm that anti-Semitism is a wicked ideology with a horrifying conclusion? Are there really hordes of viewers who are tempted by neo-Nazism, and need to see a calm, pleasant conversation with a Jew-hater in order to reaffirm their commitment to rejecting genocidal ideologies?
That scenario doesn’t seem likely, or even plausible to me. Flirting with the alt-right is dangerous, because anti-Semitism is dangerous. Commercial pressures faced by online conservative ventures may be enormous, but commentators like Gavin McInnes need to ask themselves what sort of audience they want to attract. McInnes, as he himself says, loves the Jews. Good. Then why throw a bone to the alt-right by articulating some of their worst blood libels? Why have pleasant chats with a neo-Nazi, as if he was the sort of respectable person who deserved a place in conservative discourse? Why create a gathering place for the sorts of people who thrive on hatred and viciousness?
Questions, I think, that deserve thoughtful answers.