A salient point in the backstory to this letter occurred in August 2015 when Dr. Anthony Hall and Dr. Kevin Barrett held a book promotion event in Edmonton. The book, We Are Not Charlie Hebdo, was edited by Dr. Barrett, and contains an article by Dr. Hall. Amanda Hohmann, of the B’nai Brith, tried to have the event cancelled, but was unsuccessful. Two officers of the Edmonton Police Service’s Hate Crime Unit showed up, but found the event unproblematic. Amanda has probably had her sights set on Professor Hall ever since, and quite possibly earlier.
Over the summer of 2016, several very slanted articles appeared in the media which tended to damage Professor Hall’s reputation. For example, on June 19, 2016, the Lethbridge Herald published an article, headlined Conspiracy Theories, which has subsequently been taken off its online version of the paper, but can still be found here.
On July 28, 2016, Amanda, identifying herself as the National Director of the League for Human Rights, wrote to the president of the University of Lethbridge, the provost, and the Minister of Advanced Education, in which she slandered Professor Hall as “one of Canada’s foremost Holocaust deniers”. Click here to see a photograph of the letter.
Then, on August 26, 2016, faked evidence mysteriously appeared for a few hours on Professor Hall’s Facebook wall, opening with the sentence:
“There never was a ‘Holocaust’, but there should have been and, rest assured, there WILL be, as you serpentine kikes richly deserve one.”
Had this actually been a post Professor Hall put up, or approved of, it would have served perfectly as evidence that he is “one of Canada’s foremost Holocaust deniers”. But it is fabricated evidence. (To see the whole post, go to the Home page.)
Just one day later someone wrote a letter which went to the president of the university, to the Premier of Alberta, the Minister of justice, and the Minister of Advanced Education, which said that the anti-Semitic post was put up by Professor Hall. This was extremely defamatory. I do not know the identity of the person who wrote that letter, but President Mahon knows, and in my Open Letter to the U. of L. Community – Sep. 14, 2017 I asked him to request an apology from that person for having written it. The letter was one of several defamatory letters written on behalf of the B’nai Brith to President Mahon, to holders of high political office in Alberta, and to various members of the university community, such as those belonging to the Students’ Union Executive Council.
I don’t remember how it was that I became aware of what was going on, but the more I paid attention the more it seemed to me that a classic case of groupthink was transpiring. The B’nai Brith was putting up posts on its website which were unfair to Professor Hall. Commenters to these posts, many of whom seemed to know nothing of Professor Hall, began to pile on with vituperation. By mid-September I was writing comments trying to give the B’nai Brith community pause. I posted half a dozen of these, hoping for at least some critical evaluation, but my comments were all removed from the B’nai Brith website. This was typical groupthink behaviour. (My comments can be seen at My comments removed from the B’nai Brith Canada site – Nov. 15, 2016.)
I grant that Amanda Hohmann, and the B’nai Brith, see themselves as doing a good thing – standing against anti-Semitism. I stand with them on this. Nevertheless, the upshot of the groupthink behaviour has been an orchestrated hatchet job against Professor Hall, which, if allowed to prevail, will lead to extreme damage to the principle of academic freedom and the role that universities play in supporting a free and democratic society.
That is why I have written the following letter to Amanda Hohmann, which outlines the difference between education and indoctrination, and requests that she apologize on behalf of the B’nai Brith for the damage being done to all.
Amanda, or anyone else at B’nai Brith, is welcome to reply to this letter, either by email to me, or by posting a comment in the comment box at the end.
I am writing to offer you a response to the letter you wrote on July 28, 2016 to President Mahon, Provost Hakin, and Advanced Education Minister Schmidt. These officers of public institutions are responsible in different ways for the sort of education that students at the University of Lethbridge receive. I am writing on behalf of these students (in an unofficial capacity), of whom my son is one.
This letter is an open letter published on the web. It contains some hyperlinks. If you have received this letter in paper form you may access the links by going to https://academicfreedomanthonyhall.ca/open-letter-to-amanda-hohmann/, or, to the more easily typed tiny URL: http://tinyurl.com/http-Amanda-Hohmann.
This will be a long letter, so it may be helpful to indicate at the outset what are the two things I hope to communicate:
- To offer a sketch of some of the differences between you (Amanda) and me regarding the nature of education, especially liberal education. This should give you an opportunity to respond, if you wish, and perhaps to give me, and others, insights that we do not currently have.
- To request that you apologize for the role of the B’nai Brith in wrongdoing related to damage done to the principle of academic freedom and to the defamation of Professor Anthony Hall.
I have had a lifelong interest in indoctrination, and how it differs from education. As a sessional instructor to pre-service teachers I facilitated classroom discussions on this topic at various universities, but mostly at the University of Western Ontario between the years 1985 and 1995. A corollary interest of mine has been the rise of Nazism, which I see as the ascendancy of groupthink indoctrination over education. “Never again” is a slogan which calls me.
The topic of education and indoctrination is much too large to be entered into here in much detail, but the essential difference is this: someone who is well educated understands why she believes as she does and is prepared to change her mind when given good reason to do so. She becomes more committed to the sort of collaborative discussion and reasoning that leads to the truth than to any particular belief she regards as true. In contrast, someone who is indoctrinated has fixed beliefs and is unprepared to change his mind when given good reasons to do so. He is more committed to the fixed beliefs than to the sort of discussion and reasoning that leads to the truth.
Supporters of liberal education sometimes appeal to Horace’s slogan “Sapere aude,” which means, roughly, “Dare to think for yourself,” which Immanuel Kant popularized in his essay What is Enlightenment? One of the difficulties of following this admonition is that so much of what we know must be based on what other people tell us. We cannot work out everything from scratch for ourselves. Science, for example, is a collaborative enterprise. If the likes of Johannes Kepler had not been able to rely on the observations of Tycho Brahe we would all be living in a pre-15th century world. Nevertheless, we can still think for ourselves by assessing for ourselves who we can rely on to tell us the truth.
One of the major themes of a liberal education program should be the fostering of independent thought by encouraging students to think about how to assess those who claim to be authorities. This is not just a matter of detecting when we are being deliberately deceived, but, more importantly, of detecting when someone who is perceived to be an authority has failed to be sufficiently skeptical of ideas he or she has received from still other supposed authorities. Human societies are susceptible to groupthink, of which Nazism is one of many examples. When young people are enculturated they are sometimes driven into an indoctrinated state of mind in which they cling to certain ideas and will not consider, or even be willing to hear, reasons for why they should change them. Liberal education should be designed to help people overcome such indoctrination.
In your letter you say that the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada has received dozens of complaints about Professor Anthony Hall. Fair enough, but much depends upon the interpretation of the complaints. Perhaps you could tell us more about the nature of the complaints, because, without knowing more, you cannot assume that we will just accept that the complaints indicate something odious about Professor Hall. There are numerous instances of complaints against professors which indicate that the professor was swimming against the tide, but acting responsibly.
Take the case of Professor Hermann Oncken, which in some ways resembles that of Professor Hall. Oncken was a highly respected German historian before the Nazis rose to power. After their rise he found himself in ideological conflict with the regime, and used parallels with previous periods in history to warn against aspects of Nazi culture. In particular, he argued against the distortion of history for political purposes. One of his students, Walter Frank, who went on to become director of the Reich Institute for History of the New Germany, complained about Oncken in an article in the daily newspaper of the Nazi party, the Völkischer Beobachter. Frank’s complaint was a duplicitous smear job, but it succeeded in getting the Nazi state to force the retirement of Professor Oncken in 1935. This was one of many supports for liberal education that were pulled out from under German society and led to Nazi groupthink. “Never again”, say I. (For further a little more discussion of the removal of the pillars of support for liberal education see my response to Brenner, under Accusation 1: Professor Hall has been teaching Holocaust denial, which insults you as someone whose family was murdered in the Shoah.)
You go on to say that Professor Hall is on the record as supporting 9/11 conspiracy theories. This is true. It is also true that the United States government literally supports a 9/11 conspiracy theory. The 9-11 Commission Report contains a theory about how “Islamic terrorists” conspired to take down the World Trade Center towers. I assume, however, that when you use the term “conspiracy theory” you intend something more than its literal meaning. You intend to use its connotation of being out of touch with reality, and I suppose that you would not make this claim about the official narrative. So let’s be explicit about this: you are not simply saying that in disagreeing with the politically established conspiracy theory Professor Hall is expressing dissent, but you are also saying he’s some kind of crazy person. There are a lot of crazy people in the world, and Professor Hall could be one of them, but the question needs to be asked: Are you making this claim just because you are going along with the politically established narrative, or have you researched this enough to be able to tell us why you think someone who does not go along with it is somehow out of touch with reality? Do you know of any academic studies that would support you in this (as opposed to simply presupposing the truth of the official conspiracy theory, which many academic studies do)?
You also say he is “on the record” as “denying the Holocaust”. What do you mean “denying the Holocaust”? I have heard Professor Hall say many times that there have been many Holocausts. As for the Jewish Holocaust, the Shoah, I have never heard him deny that it occurred, and I have been researching his views for over a year now. What record are you talking about? Perhaps you are referring to the 2 minute youtube video Why Anthony supports open debate on the Holocaust. That’s a call for open debate, and not a denial of anything. If that’s what you are talking about then you are misrepresenting what Professor Hall is saying. Can you point us to some “record” I have missed?
To me, the call for open debate is a call for students to be genuinely educated. One of the things that I have found most helpful in getting a thorough understanding of anything I believe is to consider all the arguments that can be brought up against it, and to show why those arguments fail (if they do). This is true even of beliefs which I believe to be so certain that it seems ridiculous to question them. For example, one of the arguments against my belief that every day the sun rises in the East and sets in the West is the claim that in the Arctic the sun neither rises nor sets for many days on end. It is not hard for me to reconcile my belief with this claim, but thinking about the argument helps me imagine the three dimensional geometry of the earth and solar system that coheres with my belief, and it adds to what I already know. Thinking about this helps me to understand what trajectory the sun takes during the day in the Arctic sky in the summer, and how this trajectory differs depending on how close you are to the pole. Is belief in the Shoah somehow different? Is there nothing to be learned from considering arguments and counterarguments from all perspectives?
You go on to say:
“The murder of approximately six million Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during the Holocaust is an established historical fact, and an event that continues to shape global politics and institutions. Continuing to employ Dr. Hall as a professor of Globalization Studies is akin to employing someone who believes in a flat Earth as a professor of Geography. Any university which follows such a course of action inevitably loses much of its academic credibility.”
You seem to be assuming that Professor Hall does not believe the six million figure. Why do you assume this? I interpret his call for open debate to be a willingness to revise the figure in the light of new arguments or evidence. What is the problem with that? What is the issue for you? Are you complaining about what he believes or about his failure to adhere dogmatically to an approved narrative? As for what he believes I myself do not know, but I suspect that if you asked him he would answer that he does not know how many were killed in the Shoah. Why should he? It is not his area of study, and he has never claimed to be knowledgeable about it. But he is a historian, and he does have a knowledgeable basis on which to say something about historiography in general.
As you well know, the claim that there were not six million Jews murdered by the Nazis is one of the claims of the so-called “revisionists”. Although the revisionists do not deny that the Nazis perpetrated mass murder and many atrocities against Jewish people, they do think that the six million figure is an exaggeration. The analogy between revisionism and flat earth theory is one made by Deborah Lipstadt, as well as yourself, and it seems to me to not be very apt. There are numerous differences between the two. For example, revisionism pertains to the past, whereas flat earth theory pertains to the present as well as the past. Revisionism concerns complex human behaviour and institutions, whereas flat earth theory is a comparatively simple theory about the physical world. Revisionism includes a wide range of tangled conjectures about what happened in the past, whereas flat earth is a single hypothesis that is simply at odds with the alternative spherical earth theory. These differences are related to what I regard as the most important difference, which is how someone who wants to think for himself might be able to assess the reliability of those who tell us that the six million figure is fact, in comparison with the reliability of those who tell us that the earth is spherical.
I have recently had several conversations with my son about flat earth theory. Sometimes he tends to see science as arrogantly authoritarian, and wants it to be overthrown. He had come across some flat earth videos on Youtube, and was thinking about arguments that made the flat earth view seem plausible to him. He asked why we should accept the orthodox view. I said that his underlying anti-authoritarian attitude was the right one, but that science was on his side. Scientists, I said, are the opposite of authoritarians. They welcome attempts to disprove their theories. They encourage others to come forward with arguments and evidence against them. If these attempts fail to undercut their theories the theories become provisionally accepted as true, but they are always open to revision in the light of new discoveries.
We proceeded to consider some of the simple tests of the flat earth hypothesis that I have done myself and that he could do too – for example, to look up flight times on the internet between various points on earth to see which hypothesis is the most compatible with them. We talked about the wager made by Alfred Wallace (to whom Darwin gave credit as co-discoverer of natural selection as a driver of evolution) with flat earther John Hampden, and the experiment he did to prove that the surface of a body of water had a noticeable convex shape over a distance of 6 miles. By this time in the conversation my son was no longer interested in doing such an experiment himself. He was satisfied that others had done such experiments and that as long as we didn’t have to accept what they said without question we could take their word for the results of their experiments. He began to throw the two theories up against some of what he knows about history, and began to see how the flat earth theory does not make sense in light of the methods of navigation used by early explorers. (E.g., Magellan’s crew was amazed to discover that despite their meticulous care their calendar was a day out when they returned from circumnavigating the globe. This is easily explained using the spherical earth theory but not flat earth theory.)
It also so happens that my son has never yet come across the revisionist point of view on the internet. I expect it to happen some day. He may ask why we should accept the orthodox view. What should I say? What tests are open to an independent thinker to check on whether those who affirm the six million figure are reliable authorities? When you refer to that figure as an “established” fact, do you mean that it has become widely accepted as true, or do you mean that there has been a careful process of subjecting the claim to objections and considerations from the many perspectives of those who know something about it, and that it has survived all reasonable counterarguments? If what you mean is the latter, how do you know that such a careful process has occurred? How do you know that its widespread acceptance has not occurred in the way many beliefs become widespread – by transmission without sufficiently skeptical check from one person to another? Remember the story of Galileo, or Semmelweis, or Vavilov. My questions may sound rhetorical, but coming from me they are not. I myself do not know how the six million figure was “established”, though I have put enough effort into studying it to know that it is hotly contested and that my putting more effort into it would be time-consuming, complicated, frustrating, and unlikely to yield a clear answer. So the answer to these questions remains unknown to me, and if you could provide me with helpful answers I would be most appreciative.
There are further questions to be asked. Should I conceal from my son some of the things I know about revisionists having been defamed, dismissed from their employment, imprisoned for trying to propagate their beliefs, physically beaten, and their homes firebombed? Should I say, without evidence for it to be true, that these people must have been hateful anti-Semites for these things to have happened to them? Should I tell him that their books cannot be found on Amazon.com? It does not, of course, follow from the fact that such bullying tactics have been used against them that the orthodox view is false, but as Raul Hilberg said: “it is a sign of weakness not of strength when you try to shut somebody up.”
You and I would agree that a hypothetical professor who claims that the earth is flat is incompetent. But why do we think this? I would not think him incompetent just because I think flat earth theory is false. Is that why you think it? I think it because it is an indication that the professor has not been able to think clearly and with an open mind about the many arguments that can be brought against his position. So if a professor were to believe that the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis was, say, somewhat less than 4.6 million, even if I knew it was 6, I would not conclude that the professor was incompetent. It would depend on what sort of reasoning he was using to arrive at the figure of 4.6 million. Suppose, for example, he was a close friend of Gerald Reitlinger, who estimated the figure to be somewhat less than 4.6, in his book The Final Solution (p. 501). Suppose further that out of some irrational devotion to his friend the professor would not even listen to anyone who gave arguments for a different figure. I might then think him incompetent for refusing to listen to these arguments.
I expect that you would agree with me that someone who fanatically holds to a fixed belief, like John Hampden did in his legal quarrel with Alfred Wallace, cannot rationally be persuaded to change his mind. Despite that it has never been necessary at a university to make belief in the spherical earth theory an official requirement for retaining tenure. Why is that? If you think that belief in the six million figure is like believing that the earth is flat then why do you think such a requirement should be necessary for the former when it isn’t for the latter?
If adhering to the figure of six million were to be a criterion of academic competence how would you explain the validity of such a criterion? Would there not be other “established facts” to which professors must adhere? What would these be? Who would decide them? Or is there something very very special about that figure of six million? What is that? It is true that there are some religious institutions that require adherence to orthodox doctrine, but it has long been recognized that such requirements are inappropriate for publicly funded universities. Would you advocate a return to the days when Jews were excluded from higher education? Or to the time when the poet Shelley was expelled as a student from Oxford for distributing arguments in favour of atheism? Can you provide some reasons for why we should return to that bygone era?
Although you do not explicitly lay out what your notion of an educated person is, your analogy suggests that you think of an educated person as someone who has absorbed a whole lot of facts from officially recognized authorities. I suggest that a better way of thinking of an educated person is that she is one who knows why she believes as she does, is able to assess who is a competent authority, and is capable of changing her mind.
To highlight my point let me say that I would much prefer a professor who happens to teach some false beliefs, but nurtures educated minds, than a professor who indoctrinates young minds with true beliefs. The former makes it possible for students to uncover the false beliefs they have been taught and so to discover the truth. The latter leaves students with inert ideas, which, though they may be true, are not helpful in fostering active, creative minds capable of learning new things in a spirit of honest inquisitiveness. Teaching true belief is, of course, preferable to teaching false, but the priority in liberal education should be the manner in which the beliefs are arrived at, and adhered to, not whether they are in agreement with what an officially recognized authority has deemed to be true.
Thus the application of the analogy you make between Professor Hall and flat earthers fails on two counts. First, he isn’t a “Holocaust denier”. He has not said that it is false that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis. Second, in appealing for debate on all subjects, he is advocating for liberal education, as opposed to adamant adherence to some fixed belief. Your comparison is not well-considered. We are all facile at times, myself included – no crime in that – but an ill-considered comparison offered as a reason to have a tenured professor investigated for hate crimes is one that should not be taken seriously.
It is important to ask what the importance of the six million figure is. Whatever the real figure is those who were murdered cannot be brought back to life. Suffering experienced in the past cannot be undone. The important question to be asked is: What can be learned from the Shoah? How can we apply what we learn in order to respond to the call “Never again”? I agree with Santayana, that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But what, exactly, is it that we need to remember about the Shoah in order to avoid repeating something like it?
I do not think that I shall ever be able to explore the area in enough depth, even relying on those who have studied the matter intensely, to be confident that I know very well how or why the Shoah occurred. The intentionalists, e.g. Lucy Dawidowicz, say that it was all planned out by Hitler. Functionalists, e.g. Christopher Browning, say that it gradually evolved out of the interplay of bureaucratic decisions made in a chaotic polity.
Despite all the controversy, almost everyone who has studied the Shoah, including the revisionists, e.g., Germar Rudolf, agree that institutional arrangements undermined the capacity of ordinary people to think for themselves, thus encouraging them to go along with established authority and peer pressure, and that this is one of the many factors that led to mass murder.
As you say, the Shoah is “an event that continues to shape global politics and institutions”. So I say let us heed the warning of Hermann Oncken, issued four years before the war, not to distort history for political ends. To require all professors to hold the figure of six million as a fixed belief, not open to question, can only serve to distort the academic discourse and thus our understanding of why the Shoah occurred. In the absence of a fuller understanding let us at least preserve the principle which was cast aside in order to silence Oncken: academic freedom.
I do not believe that a trade-off between combating anti-Semitism and upholding academic freedom is necessary. They are not in conflict. In fact, in doing research for this letter I have come across many comments on the internet that indicate to me that the insistence on fixed beliefs about the Shoah actually provokes an anti-Semitic reaction. Such research is, of course, very informal, but I believe that the kind of letter you wrote is counter-productive.
If keeping Professor Hall on as a faculty member should happen to undermine the academic credibility of the University of Lethbridge, as you suggest, I say that it is the responsibility of the university to put academic integrity over its perceived credibility. You may be right about credibility in the short term, but in the longer term standing firm on academic freedom will serve its credibility well.
I do not see how the university can, on the one hand, say that it is promoting a liberal education program, and, on the other hand, dismiss Professor Hall. Unless this is resolved soon I will be driven to the conclusion that the university is perpetrating a fraud upon its students.
This is not just a minor squabble in a backwater town in Alberta. As I write the drums of war are beating in the United States with regard to North Korea and Iran. We Canadians should be doing what we can to become intelligent independent friends of the U.S., supportive but critical when appropriate. The kinds of things that Professor Hall has been considering should be welcomed to the academic discourse about what to do. Without such considerations we are just sheep being herded about by war propaganda.
There is much more I could say about your letter, but for now I will spare you further analysis. My summary opinion is that it is a wrong-headed and bullying letter, but without knowing you better I will give you the benefit of the doubt as to whether you are knowingly doing wrong. I grant that you see yourself as doing something good, namely combating anti-Semitism. However, you do not know the harm that you are doing to academic freedom and to the role of the university in underpinning democratic decision-making. Should you wish to explore my perspective on this further you might look at my opinion piece, Peace, Democracy and Academic Freedom, which was published in the Lethbridge Herald.
Let me now turn to the second item I mentioned at the outset of this letter, the matter of an apology. As wrong as I think your letter is I do not ask you to apologize for writing it if that’s the way you think. However, there is the additional matter of the extremely anti-Semitic post planted on Professor Hall’s Facebook wall. The timing of its appearance is rather curious. First, on June 19, 2016, an article appeared in the Lethbridge Herald about Professor Hall. It was a very slanted piece of journalism, obviously intended to damage his reputation. Then you wrote your letter, on July 28, 2016, to the president of the university, the provost, and the minister of advanced education, in which you unfairly, and without evidence, slandered Professor Hall as “one of Canada’s foremost Holocaust deniers”. On August 26, 2016, false evidence mysteriously appeared for a few hours on Professor Hall’s Facebook wall, opening with the sentence “There never was a ‘Holocaust’, but there should have been and, rest assured, there WILL be, as you serpentine kikes richly deserve one.” If that were not fraudulent, it would prove your claim perfectly wouldn’t it? Just one day later someone wrote a letter which went to the president of the university, to the premier of the province, the minister of justice, and the minister of advanced education, which said that the anti-Semitic post was put up by Professor Hall. As I said in my open letter to the university, this was a crime of extreme defamation. Even if this sequence of events is not absolute proof of an orchestrated hatchet job, surely on behalf of B’nai Brith you owe us all an apology for its role in this.
You owe the premier, the minister of justice, and the minister of advanced education an apology for the role that the B’nai Brith played in getting someone to write a deceptive letter to them. You owe the president of the university and provost an apology for pressuring them to shatter the principle of academic freedom, thus creating division at the University of Lethbridge, and putting their own selves in a very embarrassing situation. You owe Professor Hall an apology for defaming him. You owe my son and all the students at the University of Lethbridge an apology for damaging their ability to get a true liberal education. You owe me and all the citizens of Canada an apology for slashing at one of the pillars of a democratic society, namely a university education in which the narratives supporting the prevailing power structures can be questioned. You owe the people of the world an apology for increasing the risk that the prevailing power structures, without the restraining forces of an educated populace, will fumble unintelligently into war.