Former Klan Leader David Duke Arrested in Czech Republic for Holocaust Denial

280px-david_duke_belgium_2008Former Klan leader David Duke has been detained by police in Prague on suspicion of denying the Holocaust. Despite the universal loathing of Duke and other Holocaust deniers, the arrest hits a difficult issue for civil libertarians. Criminalizing a viewpoint is a fundamental denial of free speech and allows prosecution for unpopular thoughts or views.

Countries like Germany have long criminalized Holocaust denial as well as the use of Nazi symbols. The problem is that such laws do not defeat unworthy ideas or theories. They merely force them below ground and give these people a status as victims. It also breeds conspiracy theories that they feed on in their recruitment campaigns.

An analogy can be drawn to the prosecution of religious criticism and criticism of homosexuality, here.

In the Czech Republic, you can go to prison for three years for uttering such theories. There is a reluctance to be seen defending Duke, who has led a thoroughly indefensible life. However, the West cannot claim to defend free speech while exempting certain unpopular or intolerable theories. It would be better in my view to allow good ideas to defeat bad ideas in the free market of speech.

For the story, click here.

40 thoughts on “Former Klan Leader David Duke Arrested in Czech Republic for Holocaust Denial”

  1. From a German standpoint: Holocaust denial and using nazi symbols is a cultural taboo that is enforced by criminal law.

    The best analogy for the USA would be public nudity, which is also a cultural taboo enforced by law.

    “(…) But how does a coherent legal system define with any precision the set of circumstances under which the denial of a fact should constitute a crime? (…)”

    Section 130 Agitation of the People
    (3) Whoever publicly or in a meeting approves of, denies or renders harmless an act committed under the rule of National Socialism of the type indicated in Section 220a subsection (1), in a manner capable of disturbing the public piece shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine.

    (Section 220a defines genocide)

  2. Bron, it would depend on the circumstances. Shouting it on a street corner in inflamatory language would seem likely to incite violence. But statements made at a private academic seminar in scholarly terms would not be fighting words.

    But this only applies in the US, where there is a First Amendment. The 1st does not apply in Europe.

  3. Gnome:

    thanks for the info. And wouldnt Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire apply to David Duke denying the Holocaust? I can bet a bunch of German Jews would want to kick his behind. This was kind of my original point, but not being a lawyer I am hamstrung.

  4. Bron, Mike A. is correct. Te situation you describe would constitute “fighting words,” that is, words in public that incite hatred and violence. They are not protected by the 1st Amd under a line of cases beginning with Chaplinsky.

    The dilemma arises when the words are spoken in an abstract and theoretical forum without any incitement.

    Mike S. I agree with Mike A. that your posting is eloquent, and we cann all learn from it.

  5. Mike A.,
    Thank you. My take on the “look forward” remarks are that it is part of a political strategy whose end result will be the exposure and prosecution of these horrific crimes. We’ll see though if I’m right. On your point we cannot as a Nation truly look forward by ignoring what has been done, any more than the new German government after WWII could have had the attitude of “Well those guys are gone, we’re different let’s just proceed with a clean slate.”

    I think though we must not just focus on torture when we are dealing in retribution. We engaged in an unprovoked war, killing perhaps a million Iraqi’s and replaced a secular despot, with religious fanatics and oppressors. We’ve also distributed millions to private companies who have cared badly for our troops and imposed an oil treaty that cheats the Iraqi’s. The Bush/Cheney administration has much more to answer for than just torture and at stake is whether we continue with a Foreign Policy that would have made the Roman Emperors proud, or one that doesn’t see us as the
    country of hegemony but of peace.

  6. Mike S., yours was a truly outstanding post on this topic. And I also agree with your antidote. The battle over an accurate history of our own country continues, particularly as it relates to our treatment of Native Americans and of African-Americans subsequent to the conclusion of the Civil War. This is one of the reasons I am disturbed by the comments of those who believe that the proper response to the issue of torture is to “look forward” rather than confront the reality of what we have done. The best test of a nation’s character is the willingness of its people to honestly assess moral failures. But the criminalization of speech does not advance the truth; it merely makes martyrs of liars.

  7. MikeA & MikeS:

    excellent thoughts. I am convinced. Although for a moment I thought MikeS might have made the point I was trying to make.

    I guess the government cant really control speech no matter how bad or outrageous.

    And I agree about the Life Boat Morality that they teach in schools, bad idea.

  8. FFLEO, thank you for your kind words. I do indeed feel strongly enough about it that I would not turn down Mr. Duke as a client. However, I suspect that he will receive the services of a legal team much more competent than I in this area.

  9. Gee thanks, Jill. I’ll be sure to make frequent mention of you in my prison diaries.

  10. Mike Appleton,

    Those are excellent arguments characterizing the quality of your posts on this site. I think most rational, decent people dislike what Mr. Duke says and represents, but they would also agree that he has the right to make those statements.

    Hypothetically, are you strongly enough committed to First Amendment/free speech rights that you would defend Mr. ‘KKK’ Duke as his legal counsel—how about other attorneys here?

  11. This presents one hell of a problem for me and in that sense it highlights that on any free speech issue there will arise a situation that exacerbates it to the limit.

    Part of the European problem about the Shoah is that while it was perpetrated by the Nazi’s, there existed much enthusiastic assistance from the occupied peoples. This was especially true in Poland, Serbia, Croatia and the Ukraine. The resistance in France too became mythologized after the was but was less widespread than many would have you believe. The RCC was quite anti-Jewish before the war as was the Pope of the era and the hierarchy. The Dutch and the Danes were generally heroic in their trying to protect Jews and others. The difficulty though that Europeans in general faced was that while the “Final Solution” was a horror to most, there was before and during the war much anti-Jewish feeling that given the Nazi’s results engendered guilt. To feel guilty about something breeds resentment towards that which makes you feel guilty.

    Germany, was faced with a larger problem. The seeds of Hitler were born in the settlement of WWI and in the myth that Germany had lost the war due to treason. Right after WWII, there began to spring up in Germany many who applied the same reasoning to WWII as to WWI, i.e. We lost because of traitors. THe German government had to take action or begin to face the re-rise of Nazism. Indeed today there is a small but vocal pro-Nazi movement in Germany and its’ like exists in other European Countries.

    Now how best to demonize the Jews in this modern world than to make the Shoah a figment of Jewish Propaganda? This de-legitimizes Jewish suffering and underlines the myth of Jewish duplicity. The Saudi’s have been especially clever in this by financing PR campaigns that simultaneously deny the Shoah, but at the same time accuses the Israeli’s of being Nazi like.

    Finally, this all happened more than 65 years ago. Most survivors have died out, as have most perpetrators. The teaching of painful history is difficult in most country’s, think of slavery and the extermination of Native Americans, or the refusal of turkey to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. As time goes on truth becomes fragile and apologists gain cachet.

    On the other hand “Free Speech” is the main artery of free societies. Censoring speech is difficult because who oversees the censor? So we have this tension between irresponsible and hateful people, using a basic freedom in service to their own evil. To me, even as a Jew, censorship must not be imposed. The only answer to it, in fact the supportive artery to a free society is an educational system that is rigorous intellectually, available to all financially and so well funded that it draws the best talent. As we all know the problem is that there are those among us, who though not in Mr. Duke’s league, do not want an educated public so that they might control them.

  12. Bron, I agree that there are limits on speech based upon the imminent threat of harm (e.g., crying “fire” in a movie theatre, the classic example). I also would not stand on a street corner in Harlem and preach to the crowds about the dangerous radicalism of Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, even if I firmly believed in what I was saying, because I do not wish to have my ass kicked. But extreme examples are always used to justify bad policy (e.g., the captured terrorist and the ticking time bomb scenario routinely posited by advocates of torture). Politicians love to regulate behavior based upon extreme examples, much like teachers who keep the whole class after school because some unidentified miscreant stole the erasers.

  13. MikeA:

    very good points. However if I go into Harlem and start telling the residents that I think MLK was full of s***, wouldnt I run the risk of getting my behind kicked and possibly starting a riot. Could something be so objectionable that it is not the speech that is being condemned but the possible outcome caused by such speech? And could this be similar to slander except on a different level?

    Personally I think people need to keep remembering the Holocaust so it does not happen again and it is a constant reminder of the lengths that the state can go if placed in the wrong hands with the wrong philosophy. The negation of which could lead to another disaster of the same or worse. The spectre of Hitler, has I think done some good in restraining the appetites of like minded individuals. Humans as a species have a very short historical memory.

    I dont know if I am stating that well enough although it looks like fire in a movie theatre but that is not what I am looking for.

    Anyway just some thoughts.


    I think that what we conservatives dispute is whether or not global warming is a man made or natural phenomenon. Generally I think the sun is the cause since it “powers” our planet and has the most impact on temperature and weather systems. If there was no sun there would be no weather.

  14. There is a lot of denial going on in the USA about torture and it is difficult to see and hear the right wing morality crowd not only denying torture but also attempting justification spread through free speech.

    Even that torture is unlawful seems to make no difference. I don’t want to put this in a religious context but how can some conservative right-wingers wrap themselves in the flag and religion and then smugly pronounce torture is ok if they deserve it?

    Bush conjured hate for Muslims for oil. Attempting to justify torture of enemy combatants based on acts that are war crimes is insane.

  15. Mike, here is the difficulty with your position. All rational people understand that the Holocaust occurred. Therefore, to deny the reality of the Holocaust is to deny what is factually irrefutable. What you are suggesting is that it is appropriate to criminalize the denial of irrefutable facts under certain circumstances. But how does a coherent legal system define with any precision the set of circumstances under which the denial of a fact should constitute a crime? Does it require that the fact be especially abhorrent? Is it sufficient that groups or classes of people are offended by the denial? Does the denial become less criminal over time as those most deeply offended gradually die? Is demonstrable sincerity on the part of the offender a defense? Where is the line of criminality to be drawn? Of course, it would be frivolous to start rounding up members of the Flat Earth Society? But could we criminalize the assertions of young earth creationists? How about those persons who continue to argue that the story of men landing on the moon was a gigantic hoax? I view the criminalization of stupidity as a dangerous proposition, one that openly invites abuse and oppression of unpopular views at the whim of the majority.

  16. Interesting view Mike. I still think that even though it is still an open wound, denying an event happened should not be a crime. I think that someone as dirty as David Duke deserves to be in prison, but not because of his beliefs. Allowing a law like that to stand opens the door for another law that makes it a crime to believe that global warming is a hoax. If that kind of law was passed here in the states, there would be alot of Republicans who would be guilty. However,the only thing that they are guilty of is being stupid and that shouldn’t be a crime.

  17. Context, Jonathan. You’re applying the judgement of an American to a situation which is uniquely European. The Holocaust happened in our own backyard, to people’s neighbours, friends and families; to some extent, it is still an open wound.

    To ban Holocaust denial is only censorship in the same sense that it is censorship to forbid shouting “Fire!” in a crowded place; it is technically correct that free speech is being infringed, but punishment for it is reasonable.

  18. So do it like the Bush administration did. Suppress the publication of the story. And if you can’t suppress the story have the editor fired and if you can’t do any of the above. Have the IRS visit the, the paper and audit everyone involved m and if that does not work have the CIA buy them. This seems to have worked so far.

    And don’t forget, if this get out it batter not be traced to me or I will deny it.

    And you think I make this stuff up?

  19. Dear Czech Republic,

    You need to fix your law on this. It is bad.

    Someday this bad law will be used to suppress the truth.

    Just because it is suppressing a lie at them moment is not dispositive.

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