An Open Letter to a University About About Hate Speech

by Jamie McCarthy

To whom it may concern,

I'm writing about the WSU website maintained by the "Lawrence Pauling" pseudonym.

I'm an amateur researcher of the Holocaust, and I've been fighting against internet Holocaust-deniers such as "Pauling" for the past five years. I believe his work to be not merely wrong, but also a vicious and insidious attack: an attack on history, and an attack on the people who lost their lives or their families in the Holocaust. If you're interested in the work I've done on the subject, I can recommend many online essays I've written; a good beginning might be these three:


In fact, my 1996 correspondence with your student is archived on their site at, though I note for the record he still refuses to admit the existence of my reply at

In short, I'm no friend of so-called "revisionism."

Having said that...

I urge WSU to consider carefully any regulations which will be placed on students' use of webservers, if the intent is to find a way to remove "Pauling"'s website. There are two issues which I believe should be kept in mind.

First is the practical outcome. "Pauling"'s material, if it is forced off the university server, will simply be moved to a commercial server where it will be exactly reinstated except with a large banner at the top reading "Banned At WSU." He'll get publicity from all the denial groups on the net, because there is nothing they enjoy so much as having one of their fellow sites shut down. An email and Usenet flurry will swell up for a week or a month, with the end result being that the website will get a large jump in traffic for some time.

Deniers have very little of worth to say, so they tend to focus on the times when an authority censors them. The argument is that, because somebody doesn't want them heard, therefore they must be saying something valuable or at least interesting. Fallacious, of course, but very persuasive to many people.

I hope that WSU will not regulate "Pauling" off its server with the hope of decreasing the world's exposure to his hateful material, because exactly the opposite will be the effect.

(I should comment that your history department seems to have taken exactly the right approach by ignoring this fellow. Arguing with pseudohistorians is not their responsibility, any more than the biology department needs to become embroiled in discussions with creationists. Leave the endless debunking to us amateurs.)

Second, and more importantly, is the ethical issue and the reverberations that such a move would cause for present and future students.

The university is, and has been, a place where ideas which are elsewhere unpopular can be voiced. Indeed, a university that does not allow its students freedom of speech might be said to be no university at all. The last few times I wandered through university campuses, I'm pleased to say I walked past small groups of students proselytizing all sorts of unpopular causes: a student Marxists' association, the Nation of Islam, and a group supporting animal rights. I happen to disagree strongly with two of those groups and I think one of them is antisemitic. But on a university campus, it would be terribly wrong if any of them were censored.

I think it's wonderful that there are still places in the world where unpopular groups can get together and peaceably try to sway others to their cause -- and, importantly, where opposing groups can do the same. I don't think the ideas themselves are all wonderful. I think the forum is wonderful.

A university website is such a forum.

I don't know what WSU's policies are regarding student webpages. It sounds like those policies may be about to change anyway. Perhaps will remain much like a campus Quad where students can say anything they want, or perhaps it will become more like a bulletin board where each flier must be approved by the administration.

I submit that the world-wide web is the campus Quad of the next generation, and that students should be allowed to put up whatever they want on it. (Enforcing legal boundaries is a given, and forbidding pages which directly generate personal profit is also a reasonable restriction.) If the university feels that is not the appropriate place for untrammeled student speech because it will dilute the image of the university in general, it should provide a different machine name for all students, at which it is understood that free speech is tolerated: or or somesuch.

But I caution that hastily enacting regulations to stamp out one obnoxious antisemite will have unwanted consequences for all students, and for the notion of free speech at your institution in general. If new rules prohibit veiled racism and antisemitism, consider whether students will be forbidden from putting up webpages about the Nation of Islam or reviewing _The Bell Curve_. If new rules prohibit pseudonyms, consider whether students will feel comfortable putting up a complaint about a professor, or worse, discussing their experiences with child abuse.

And above all, consider that if unpopular and, yes, hateful ideas cannot be discussed in public even at a university, then our society is a lot less free than we might think.

I will be happy to discuss these matters in detail if you wish. Thank you for your time.

Jamie McCarthy is a software developer and Internet activist based in Michigan.