(Editor’s note: Much of the background is repeated from our April 19 piece, but this has been updated throughout).
About a dozen white nationalists crashed a Holocaust March of Remembrance in Russellville, Ark., on May 5, part of the ongoing fallout over a controversy where a scholarship named after an alleged Holocaust denier was announced at Arkansas Tech University.
Members of the ShieldWall Network held Nazi flags, and posters which included phrases like “The Holocaust Never Happened But Should Have.”
On Dec. 10, the university announced the establishment of the Michael Arthur Link and May Reid Kewen History Scholarship, in memory of Link, who died in 2016 after teaching at Arkansas Tech for 51 years. In his will, he left $190,901 to the university to establish the scholarship in his name and in the name of his mother.
On April 18, the Anti-Defamation League released an open letter to the president of the university, Robin Bowen, citing evidence that Link had “anti-Semitic passages in his written work,” and “repeatedly espoused Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism to his students and in his writing.”
The letter followed several months of behind-the-scenes discussions. According to the letter, signed by ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt, “The administration of Arkansas Tech has had months to remedy its honoring of Dr. Link at the request of ADL and concerned faculty members, but it has done nothing.”
The letter was co-signed by more than 40 national and international scholars in the field of Jewish studies, including Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University, the world’s foremost expert on Holocaust denial.
In a statement, the university administration said they took the ADL’s concerns “seriously” and spoke to former students and faculty colleagues of Link. “Through our process, we did not find evidence supporting the ADL claims.”
The ADL’s recommendations to the university were to change the name of the scholarship, perhaps to just Link’s mother’s name, have the recipients agree to take a Judaic or Holocaust class at some point before graduating, and delete a comment from the web page of university’s press release about Link’s death.
The comment came from a former student, Billy Roper, who leads the white nationalist ShieldWall Network. Roper praised Link for giving him an A on a controversial paper “about the origins of Marxism” but “as an aside counseled me to be cautious because no other faculty member would have accepted it due its political perspective and conclusions.”
On April 18, that page had been taken down.
On his supremacist and anti-Semitic website, Roper headlined his first piece about the controversy, “Rest In Peace, Dr. Link, You gave the Jews a twist again!”
Sarah Stein, an assistant professor of English at Arkansas Tech, raised concerns to the dean last December after becoming aware of Link’s history through a colleague’s off-handed comment about a scholarship being named for a Holocaust denier.
She spoke to many former students and “found a pattern that he would question the numbers around the Holocaust, or deny the Holocaust happened” in class presentations.
After speaking to the dean, she spoke to University President Robin Bowen in January and February. She was told the university would not be taking any further action.
The ADL letter cited a controversy over a graduate class Link taught in 2005, on Modern European Intellectual History, where there was an emphasis on the Holocaust. Link distributed a list of eight or nine Holocaust-related books for students to select as a way to explore different approaches to Holocaust history. Several books were non-scholarly conspiracy theory works that Link presented “as though they were legitimate historical works.”
One, “Debunking the Genocide Myth,” was published by Noontide Press, founded by Willis Carto, who founded the Holocaust-denial thinktank Institute for Historical Review. That book claims the Holocaust is a Zionist Jewish Communist invention, and that there were no death camps.
Another book on the list, “Made in Russia,” was published by the IHR’s press arm, and emphasized a Jewish conspiracy to cheat Germans out of reparations through fabricated atrocities.
Link also listed Norman Finkelstein’s “The Holocaust Industry,” which argues that the American Jewish establishment exploits the memory of the Holocaust for political and financial gain.
Some students, horrified by the reading list, dropped the class, while others remained. After complaints, Link was suspended from teaching for a semester and barred from teaching graduate courses for 10 years.
After the controversy went public, the author of the 2005 memo about the controversy, a Jewish professor, James Moses, issued a letter defending the university, if not Link.
Moses said that when Link was confronted in 2005, he said he was not attempting to deny the Holocaust, but “to offer the widest possible range of views on the event.” Moses said the department was not satisfied and removed the Holocaust from his courses. He said Link “became an object of close scrutiny by me and the administration from that point until his death ten years later.”
Noting his office was 20 feet from Link’s, Moses said he was “hyper-vigilant in trying to ‘catch’ the professor in espousing or manifesting any anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial, either in his classroom, in the hallway conversations which frequently occur, his office conversations, in any context whatsoever… I never heard anything along those lines.”
While he does not defend Link and said he favors removing Link’s name from the scholarship, “the university cannot do that without the permission of the estate.”
Moses said the money for the scholarships “can be a force for good.”
He said portrayals of Arkansas Tech as “having harbored a known and habitual Holocaust denier for decades” are “simply untrue. I protest the trying of this matter in the court of public opinion absent any input of evidence from the university, and without regard to other relevant available facts.”
Not Just 2005
In addition to the 2005 reading list, the ADL cited Link’s written work. They had “leaders of the Jewish Federation of Arkansas, and international and national scholars in the field of Holocaust Studies” look at the evidence. “All have found it credible and convincing, and all agree that Dr. Link presented hate-filled, non-factual, anti-Semitic misinformation to his students as though it offered a historically-valid point of view,” the letter said. The conclusions were reiterated in a letter to Bowen in early April.
Link’s book, “The Social Philosophy of Reinhold Niebuhr: An Historical Introduction,” detailed Niebuhr’s changing philosophy in the face of Nazism. While he explores topics like fascism, Link completely ignores what was arguably the biggest factor in Niebuhr’s philosophical development — reaction to the Holocaust and the imperative to protect the Jewish people.
In the book, Link also uses Jewish stereotypes to imply that the Germans were justified in dealing with a subversive group in their midst.
Moses said perhaps 120 copies of the book were printed, it was never used in a classroom and was “trashed by reviewers” in the Journal of American History.
Link’s 1966 doctoral dissertation at Mississippi State, “American Periodicals and the Palestine Triangle, April 1936 to February 1947” purports to trace the development of American news coverage of pre-state Israel.
He referred to a 1929 conflict at the “Wailing Wall” which he described as a “Jewish shrine” but also as “Muslim property and part of the wall of the chief Moslem sanctuary in Jerusalem and the third most holy spot to the Sunni sect.”
He also referred to large waves of immigration to Palestine by Jews of Germany, Poland and Rumania in the 1930s, who were looking to escape “restrictions” and “sporadic attacks upon individual Jews.”
He also stated that “it might be foolish to believe that the (Nazi) party’s ‘elite’ believed much of the anti-Semitic material they propagated, they acted as if they did.”
Stein emphasized that Link’s record of Holocaust denial “wasn’t one incident in 2005.”
On April 30, dozens of students held a protest at Hindsman Bell Tower, criticizing the university’s stance on the scholarship’s name.
Despite a call to action, Roper and his group were no-shows that day, but one self-described “white nationalist survivalist” showed up with a T-shirt that said “Death to All Christ Killers.”
Roper’s site identified the white nationalist as Central and Western Arkansas Regional ShieldWall Network Coordinator Julian Calfy, who told reporters his shirt referred to Jews, including current ones.
96-year-old Beryl Wolfson of Lamar, Ark., showed up to bear witness. A New Orleans native, Wolfson was in the 935th Field Artillery Battalion heading to Berlin when they stumbled, totally unprepared, upon the Dachau concentration camp.
In a 2012 interview, he related that there were dozens of boxcars near the gate to Dachau. Prisoners from Buchenwald had been loaded on the trains and shipped to Dachau, and were left to die in the trains. Thousands of bodies were in there.
On May 1, the faculty senate voted unanimously to ask Bowen to approach Link’s estate and request permission to remove his name from the scholarship.
“Those students and professors are doing what is right and standing up against anti-Semitism,” Stein said at the May 5 event.
The May 5 remembrance march was an annual event coordinated by Chaim B’Derech, a “non-proselytizing” messianic congregation in Russellville.
Stein spoke about the need for remembrance and the evil of Holocaust denial, while the protestors heckled her constantly from across the street.
She addressed the controversy, saying “Holocaust denial is a type of misinformation that we must not permit to enter our regular discourse, our classrooms, our universities.”
Wolfson also spoke, as did Jason Dowd, grandson Holocaust survivors and a member of the Holocaust Education Committee.
On his site, Roper characterized the march as “a small but rabid group of Jews and Shabbos Goy held an anti-Christian Holocaust Remembrance March” and claimed there was a “decree that no Christian symbols were allowed.”
Roper also characterized Wolfson as a “very sad war veteran, obviously now realizing that he fought on the wrong side but having gone too far to admit his lies.”
His group chanted “six million more” and “filthy vermin,” and used an Israeli flag to shine shoes.
Russellville Mayor Richard Harris was at the march to present proclamations from the city and from Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson; he was also heckled by the supremacists.
Marianne Tettlebaum, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Arkansas, said as the last Holocaust survivors age and pass away, remembering the “human capacity for hatred and cruelty” becomes more important. “In light of this urgency, the persistence of Holocaust denial is as dangerous as it is tragic, especially at an institution like Arkansas Tech that educated so many of the people who now teach in the area schools.”
She is “saddened” by how Stein has been treated for speaking out.
The university has reiterated that it has no plans to change the name of the scholarship.
Aaron Ahlquist, regional ADL director, said “We are deeply disappointed that the University has refused to change its position after being shown they had honored a Holocaust denier.”