Holocaust denier Irving turns to friends in US

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The Independent US

David Irving's recent life has made him look more like an outlaw than an historian. Broke, shunned and declared "persona non grata" across half the planet, it's been quite a comedown for the world's most notorious Holocaust denier.

His latest comeuppance has been an episode as shabby as any and may force him to spend years in prison.

The 67-year-old writer and polemicist - who, in his younger days won lavish praise from mainstream historians for his exhaustive study of the Second World War from Hitler's point of view - essentially rolled the dice and lost by daring to visit Austria, one of a handful of countries to put him on notice that he risked being arrested on sight.

Denying the existence of the Nazi Holocaust is serious business in the country of Hitler's birth, and what was initially intended as a below-the-radar visit to a far-right student group in Vienna has turned into a legal nightmare.

Not only was Mr Irving arrested and charged on two counts of Holocaust denial following a brief game of cat-and-mouse with the Austrian police on the road between Vienna and Graz but on Friday a judge in Vienna also denied him bail pending trial.

Mr Irving has a number of opportunities to challenge the judge's ruling, starting with an appeal, expected to be heard in the next couple of days. But if he fails to argue against the judge's opinion that his release would expose the world to the risk of him re-offending - by denying the Holocaust all over again - Mr Irving is likely to stay behind bars until his trial, expected sometime next year.

If found guilty he faces up to 20 years in prison. In the past, Mr Irving railed against any limitation on his activities as an infringement of free speech - not an unreasonable argument, although he has been known to lard it with dark hints about Jewish conspirators being out to get him.

But in Austria, perhaps in recognition of the gravity of the charges he faces, he has taken a different tack. His Viennese lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, insists he has changed his mind about "the views he is so famous for" after an examination of Soviet archives led him to accept the Nazi gas chambers existed.

That line of argument may surprise Mr Irving's white supremacist friends in the United States, more accustomed to his view that "more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz". They have extended numerous invitations and organised frequent books sales for him in the past few years.

Among his Stateside sponsors, according to the anti-racist Southern Poverty Law Center, have been the former Ku Klux Klan leader and one-time candidate for the Louisiana governor's office, David Duke, as well as the leading US neo-Nazi organisation, the National Alliance.

Mr Irving's US friends have been a lifeline since he brought a ruinous libel suit in 2000 against Deborah Lipstadt. She had characterised him as anti-Semitic and racist; the High Court found that the criticism was just and ordered Mr Irving to pay court costs estimated to be about £3 million.

Since then, he has reportedly moved out of his home in Mayfair into rented accommodation. He has continued to organise annual so-called "real history" conferences, but his room for manoeuvre has been significantly constrained: he is banned from entering Austria, Germany, Canada and Australia.

Even his trips to the States have been less than comfortable. In 2003, a restaurant in rural Idaho chose to cancel an event of his and close down for the day after finding out who he was and what sort of people his local fans might be. This summer he received a rare invitation to address a left-wing group in Alabama, the Atheist Law Center, only to provoke outrage among the membership and, this week, the resignation of the group president, Larry Darby.

Mr Darby described Mr Irving to his membership only as "an expert on World War Two, the Nazi era and the erosion... of free speech". In an interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mr Darby made some pointed remarks about Jews and suggested that attacking them was consistent with his general anti-religious worldview. "I think it's easy in this country to speak out on Christianity and even Islam," he said. "I think it's more difficult to speak out on things of a Jewish nature."

Mr Daby now plans to run as a candidate for attorney general of Alabama.