Climate change, Holocaust denial and the ‘lies of our times’

Heinz-Christian Strache © Jakob Polacsek/FT

In a recent interview, Heinz-Christian Strache, Vice-Chancellor of Austria and leader of the radical-right Freedom Party of Austria, noted, that ‘Environmental Protection is Homeland Protection!’. Concerns over the environment along these lines are in no way new to the radical right and have been articulated by both anti-liberal and outright anti-democratic members of this political spectrum for a while. However, and not for the first time, Strache went on to question the effect humans have on the climate, pointing to the Sahara as having once been ‘Rome’s granary’. Such scepticism towards climate change, towards what might well affect the ‘homeland’ in unprecedented ways, is in fact in line with many other radical-right actors. In the following CARR article, I contribute to investigations in radical-right climate-change communication by looking at the curious (though fringe!) link between climate-change scepticism and Holocaust denial.

Radical-right scepticism towards manmade climate change and/or responses to it is motivated by a variety of reasons; fear of a liberal, ‘globalist’ new world order is maybe the most fundamental one. As such, responses to climate change, for example, infringe ‘our’ sovereignty and hold ‘us’ down economically. Such responses, in addition, serve as yet another example of how ‘liberals’ and ‘the left’ limit freedom of speech given that climate change has allegedly become a ‘dogma’. It is – along the lines of these claims – that climate-change scepticism can be connected to the denial of the Holocaust, especially in Austria and Germany. After all, the Holocaust too, it is argued by such revisionists, is a plot to hold the nation down, both morally (through guilt) and economically (through continuous payments).

On the one hand, some members of the radical right who have communicated climate change have protested against the use of the word ‘denier’/‘denial’ by those warning against manmade climate change. Indeed, it has been recognised by academics working in the field of climate-change communication, that the label ‘denier’/‘denial’ carries connotations which are widely perceived as divisive. As no general link between climate-change scepticism and Holocaust denial exists, these concerns have to be taken seriously and talk of climate-change denier/denial should thus be avoided.

On the other hand, this does not imply that climate-change scepticism and references to the Holocaust, and indeed Holocaust denial, cannot go hand-in-hand and are not connected. For example, in issue 5/2009, the extreme-right Recht & Wahrheit linked the German paragraph 130, which deals with incitement to hatred and thus also covers the denial of the Holocaust, via the theme of a ‘lie’ to the greenhouse effect:

‘As long as paragraph 130 of the Penal Code is not extended to cover denial of the greenhouse effect, I can only say: given all known and comprehensible facts, it is a lie, which was begotten in order to talk uninformed humans into feelings of guilt and to squeeze money from their pockets.’

Let me illustrate this link between the Holocaust and climate change by introducing what might well be the most coherent and long-term ‘campaign’ connecting the two: the case of the Austrian historical revisionist Walter Lüftl. At the beginning of the 1990s, Lüftl was president of the Austrian chamber of engineers. At the same time, the Austrian parliament discussed amendments to the country’s Verbotsgesetz 1947 (Prohibition Act 1947), a law dating back to the birth of the Second Republic, which resulted in the criminalisation of Holocaust denial. Against this background, Lüftl put together a report in 1991, Holocaust, Glaube und Fakten (Holocaust, Belief and Facts) in which he questioned the technical possibility of National Socialist mass murder through gas, in particular Zyklon B. The report was subsequently re-published under the title ‘The Lüftl report’ (1992) in the historical-revisionist The Journal of Historical Review and its author became a well-known figure in revisionist circles. While Lüftl’s claims resulted in a trial – he was ultimately acquitted in 1994 as a Viennese court did not view Lüftl as a member of the extreme-right, revisionist scene with propagandist intentions, enabling the extreme-right Austrian monthly Die Aula (1994) to proclaim that: ‘The laws of nature hold for Nazis and Antifascists’.

His denialism has since then taken a somewhat counter-intuitive spin. For example, in 2001, Lüftl discussed ‘Die Lügen unserer Zeit’ (‘The lies of our time’) in the historical-revisionist Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung (Quarterly for Free Historical Research). The short piece starts with the following observation:

‘It is a phenomenon of our time that citizens are made insecure through „lies“ (…), that anxiety is spread. (…) Citizens are prompted to pay for totally pointless meassures (…).’

Lüftl’s list of lies includes waldsterben, the melting of the polar ice caps/rise of sea levels, the hole in the ozone layer, manmade climate change, the idea of Earth as a greenhouse, greenhouse gases, the push to save energy, problems with nuclear energy, mad cow disease, foot-and-mouth disease and ‘the historical lie’. Although addressing different issues, these ‘lies’ are structurally similar: indeed, climate change is yet another lie, like the Holocaust, to hold down ‘the people’.

This structural similarity and allusions to it have been a theme in many more articles and letters to the editors written by Lüftl in a series of radical-right publications, some more mainstream (Zur Zeit), others more extreme (Die Aula, Die Umwelt, Huttenbriefe). In these contributions, Lüftl capitalises on his ‘background’ as an engineer, drawing heavily on science-inspired arguments and numbers. As in his initial ‘report’ dealing with the industrial mass murder of Jews, so does Lüftl now speak of laws of nature and mobilises the authority of the natural sciences in his rejection of mainstream climate science and policy responses. There is thus the performance of counter-science – not anti-science. This is the science of ‘the people’, science which resists lies and dogmas which prevent ‘us’ from seeing the truth and become liberated.

In sum, and although situated at the fringes, the link between climate-change communication and Holocaust denial arises out of a much more general, conspiracy-theory driven view of the world. Here, climate change is viewed as a plot by the ‘liberal elite’ which serves these powers and their agenda – as does ‘the historical lie’. Thus, we can see how a way of perceiving the world shapes both climate-scepticism and holocaust denial.

Dr. Bernhard Forchtner is a Senior Fellow at CARR, and a Lecturer in Media and Communication at the University of Leicester. See his profile here.

© Bernhard Forchtner. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).