The part Kenny show on news talk with Marter private network during current restrictions. Don't ignore your health concerns. Our expert team is ready to help. Did Hitler really escape to South America in the dying embers of the Second World War? Is there any merit to the protocols of the Elders of Zion? And does it all help people buy into the Kuhnen conspiracy? My next guest is considered the world's leading historian on Nazi Germany, and he's go to highlight the damage that such conspiracies can inflict and the lineage they have at this year's Holocaust Memorial Lecture as part of an event today that's cohosted by the UK's School of History, Regius Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Cambridge and co-author of Journal of Contemporary History.
He's also the author of The Hitler Conspiracies. Richard J. Evans, good morning to you. How are you?
Good morning, Jonathan. I'm fine, thank you. I've had my first job here in the UK and waiting for the second one.
We are all incredibly envious of you as we begin to roll out much more slowly in this country. Let's talk about the book that you wrote, which is fascinating because it debunks all of these conspiracy theories that would have floated in the ether, particularly since the Second World War.
But I wonder, Richard, how much more of a challenge it would be to debunk them in the modern era with the Internet and proliferation of nonsense that people buy into? Well, that's right.
I mean, I wrote this book or the Hitler conspiracies because I work on Nazi Germany. I published some books about it. And it struck me very forcibly a few years ago how wild and unproven unprovable conspiracy theories are beginning to come alive and spread across the Internet. And social media mentioned the idea that Hitler did not shoot himself in the bunker underneath the right answer in Berlin as to red. The Army was closing in in 1945, but somehow escaped to Argentina and lived into a contented old age.
As if you can imagine Hitler being contented in any way without any access to politics, no evidence, but it spread quite widely. There's even been a series of television programs purveying this nonsense. And also I looked in the I was write this book and I looked at a number of conspiracy theories involving in some way involving the Nazis. And as you mentioned, one of them was this forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that purported to be the minutes of a meeting of Jewish elders just before the beginning of the 20th century, planning to take over the world.
Yeah, do these conspiracy theories exist primarily, Richard, because people want them to be true and that they serve a purpose that is beyond the simplicity of what they are? Well, I think there's a lot of different reasons why they exist, so it's mainly people who somehow admired Hitler. It's hard to imagine that there are such people who think that he can't have committed that kind of squalid suicide, but must have fooled the allies because he was a world genius and escaped.
There are others conspiracy theories which simplify complex sets of events and information we live with. Information overload is thrown at us everywhere on 24 hour news media, across the Internet, radio, TV and YouTube and the rest of it. So if you can reduce it all to a simple bad, people are causing bad things. It makes it easier to understand. Conspiracy theories are often purveyed by people who feel shut out from normal political processes or even from mainstream society.
And it gives them a sense of self validation to believe that they know the real truth. Whereas all the thousands of experts and historians, sociologists, politicians, newspapers and so on are all wrong. Somehow they've all been they've all been fooled. And we've lost the traditional gatekeepers of opinion, if you want to put it like that. Newspaper editors, radio and TV producers and magazine editors, all of those people used to stop wild, unsubstantiated ideas and misinformation coming before the public.
But now through the Internet and the social media, you can bypass that. And you can see that in this so-called two unknown conspiracy theory, which you mentioned.
And if we were to dive into Kuhnen even to roll it back a little bit, you successfully debunked the protocols of the Elders of Zion for what it was, which was abject nonsense and a forgery.
But if you go a little bit before Kuhnen started to develop, like George Soros became this bogeyman for everything, no matter what you had in the world, if there was an ill to be found, you'd find a conspiracy theory that George Soros was behind it.
Do you believe that's purely because he is a very successful Jewish man who is a philanthropist, or is he genuinely involved in anything that he's accused of?
I think he's genuinely involved in any conspiracies at all, but he's one of the world's wealthiest men. He's a billionaire, and he uses his money to support liberal causes. So right across the world is Open Society Foundation backs liberal causes of one kind and another. And so people who hate and fear liberalism and the left have made him into something of a bogeyman and he's Jewish. And so that, I think, also brings in a lot of anti-Semitism. But you can find anti-Semitism in many different conspiracy theories today.
It's it's a belief that somehow the Jews are conspiring to destroy Western civilization that was presented in the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which, as you rightly said, is a complete forgery and plagiarized from other sources which are not anti-Semitic. And you can find it. And of course, in driving the Holocaust and you can find it today in and on something, if you look at the mob that stormed the Capitol building in Washington, for example, on six January, you can find Kuhnen supporters.
There were wearing T-shirts with Q on them about if you look at the Charlottesville riots in demonstrations in 2017 as a violent unite the right rally there, which provides another conspiracy theory, the great replacement, where, according to white supremacists, white race is going to be replaced by a non-white races. And they were chanting, Jews will not replace us and you can find it in an anti vaccine movement. There's been a study of 27 anti vaccine groups which found anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in nearly 80 percent of them.
You've got paranoid fantasies of a Jewish plot to destroy the economy by spreading the virus or using the vaccine to destroy the fertility of what the white supremacists call the white race. Or you also have conspiracy theories saying there is no virus, it's all invented. It's all meant to put microchips in us from the vaccine, which are then going to be activated by 5G and we'll all become zombies. And these are completely absurd. And it's very disturbing that this kind of rubbish is believed by by so many people, by anybody.
Richard, if we bring it to our own country. The appropriation of the Irish flag has been something that has happened and a lot of right wing groups have started to use it in a way that kind of runs contrary to the basic premise of the Irish flag, which at its heart has peace between the green and the orange. What the white flag in the middle.
But it is being used more and more by those who will propel and at the risk of drawing them on me, theories that are artifacts are that there are plans somehow to denigrate the people who lived on this island before other people got hurt and so on.
How do we stop that? How do we stop them using symbols that mean something else? To propagate well, yeah, this is very this is a really big, difficult question, how do we stop misinformation coming into the public domain? How do we stop conspiracy theories being propagated which cause real harm by stopping making people think that they should not have the vaccine that they should. And that means that they run a greater risk not only of getting the covid-19 themselves, but of giving it to other people as well.
So it's a real danger. And we face here a dilemma between ensuring a rational and reasonable and well-informed public discourse on the one hand and imposing censorship on the other hand. And I don't think we've solved this problem yet, but certainly social media companies have made us start removing Donald Trump from Twitter, for example, where was, I think, one step. There are many other things. Twitter and Facebook are becoming much more active and taking down posts and in and barring people ask for the flag.
I'm not sure really. You can't ban people waving the flag of demonstrations. Obviously not. So I think that's very much you can do that. It's very into the flags are very important for demonstrations. You saw them the Confederate flag in the January 6th riots that the capital is being flown in the capital. You can see extreme right wing demonstrators in England, interestingly, flying and waving the flag of St George, whereas Oswald Moseley's fascists in the 30s would wave the Union Jack in the sense that the English nationalism has its extreme elements, which are misusing the flag of St George as well.
So I think you just have to I really don't think you can ban people doing that. It's absolutely impractical.
All right, OK, well, the debate takes place this evening. It's a lecture chaired by Professor Robert Kerr Worth, director of the Centre for War Studies. It's on Zoome, of course, because we'd love to have you here. But, Richard, circumstances are otherwise it's available for all members of the public to view.
You can register online as well if you go to the School of History's website.
Richard J. Evans, Regius Professor Emeritus of history at the University of Cambridge, thank you so much for joining us on the Kenny Show.