While he was best known as an activist for open inquiry on the Holocaust issue, Bradley Smith's life was a varied and colorful one. He was a deputy sheriff, a construction worker, a soldier in the Korean War (twice wounded), a bullfighter, a playwright, a book store owner-manager, an ice cream truck vendor, an author and a merchant seaman. And for many Americans, he was the introduction to a skeptical view of the Holocaust issue.
For more than 30 years he worked to promote public awareness of the Holocaust issue. In spite of privation, relentless smears and many setbacks, he persisted in this daunting effort with exemplary dedication, calmly confident of ultimate victory and vindication. In his personal life as well, he endured poverty, recurring illnesses and many disappointments with buoyant stoicism.
Bradley R. Smith was born on February 18, 1930, to a working-class family in South Central Los Angeles, where he lived the first 18 years of his life. After service in the US Army, he lived and worked in New York City, and then, throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, in Hollywood. In 1989 he moved to Visalia, California, along with his Mexican-born wife, their young daughter, his step-daughter, and his mother. In 1997 he moved with his family to Rosarito, Mexico, not far from the US border.
His life-long devotion to the principle of intellectual freedom was not just rhetorical. During the early 1960s, he was arrested, jailed and prosecuted for selling Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer from his book store on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. (The book was banned in the US at the time.) The case attracted considerable media attention.
In 1979, when he was 49 years old, his life changed dramatically after he read a leaflet by Robert Faurisson, "The `Problem of the Gas Chambers'." For three months he looked into revisionist claims about "the Holocaust," and then resolved to devote himself to countering the taboo against dissident views on this emotion-charged issue.
Through his efforts in the years that followed, millions of Americans learned for the first time about Holocaust revisionism and the scholarly debate on this chapter of history.
In the mid-1980s, he published Prima Facie, a newsletter aimed at journalists and editors that focused on cultism, suppression of free inquiry and censorship on the Holocaust issue. For more than 20 years he was active as director of the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH), a group dedicated to defending free speech and free inquiry on the Holocaust issue, to encouraging greater public access to revisionist scholarship, and to promoting awareness of the controversy regarding the Holocaust story.
Smith mounted a major campaign to place full-page essay-length CODOH advertisements in student newspapers at colleges and universities across the country. His effort defied a well-organized campaign of threats, intimidation and smears. On one campus after another, these ads touched off a furious free speech debate, in some cases provoking physical attacks, bitter resignations, boycotts, and threats of law suits.
In the 1991-92 school year, CODOH advertisements or statements appeared in 17 student newspapers, several at major universities. During the 1993-94 academic year, his ad -- headlined "A Revisionist Challenge to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum" -- appeared in at least 35 college and university campus papers, as well as one major metropolitan daily. By the end of the 2000-01 academic year, his ads had appeared in more than 350 student papers.
The Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, along with other powerful Jewish-Zionist groups, devoted considerable money and effort to countering Bradley's modestly funded campaign. The ADL called him as one of America's "Ten Top Extremists," and published a booklet, distributed to student newspapers around the country, attacking Bradley and warning against his supposedly dangerous campaign. On one occasion ADL officials and staff members flew to a campus to cajole and pressure student editors there into rejecting his ad.
Deborah Lipstadt, a Jewish academic and a prominent figure in the Holocaust lobby, took aim at Bradley and other "Holocaust deniers" in a front-page article in the May 1992 newsletter of the US Holocaust Memorial Council, a taxpayer-funded federal government agency. "In recent months," she wrote, "a lone denier, Bradley Smith, has garnered incredible amounts of attention with a tactically brilliant but devious maneuver: the placing of advertisements in student newspapers arguing there was no Holocaust."
Smith spoke about these issues as a guest on some 400 radio talk shows and news broadcasts, as well as on nationwide television, including a March 1994 appearance as a guest, along with Michael Shermer and David Cole, on the widely viewed Phil Donahue Show. A portion of an interview with Smith was aired nationwide on the CBS television program "48 Hours" in February 1992 as part of a sensational report on an alleged "rising tide of hate." The broadcast, which included segments on the Ku Klux Klan, Al Sharpton, and an anti-homosexual group in Oregon, predictably portrayed Smith in a maliciously distorted way. In fact, the only bigotry and intolerance displayed by anyone in the segment about him was by a mob at Ohio State University that screamed against Smith's ad.
Bradley's effectiveness was due in large measure to his obvious sincerity and earnestness, which came across well in television appearances, campus talks and broadcast interviews. Unable to plausibly portray him as a "hater," "neo-Nazi," or "white supremacist," Jewish-Zionist groups and their allies in the media attacked him with a barrage of smears and lies, which he calmly accepted as an inevitable "part of the job."
Smith's efforts generated news reports and commentary in such prominent periodicals as The New York Times and Time magazine, and editorials in The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
For more than 20 years, he published a newsletter, Smith's Report, which informed readers about his work and its impact, and included news and commentary items.
Smith devoted much effort to publicizing the anti-free speech laws in some European countries that criminalize expressions of doubt about the orthodox view of Second World War history, and especially “Holocaust” history. He wrote:
“Throughout the Western world people are being prosecuted for writing about World War II and the Holocaust. Historians, researchers, authors, and publishers are being fined, imprisoned, placed under gag orders, expelled from their native countries, and denied entry into others. Those who are prosecuted are routinely prevented from mounting an effective defense, because witnesses who testify on their behalf often find themselves arrested. In some cases, even the defense lawyers are prosecuted!”
“Countries that have laws that limit the scope and substance of World War II and Holocaust research include France, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, and Spain. These laws make it a crime for anyone, regardless of their credentials or the factual basis of their views, to question or revise any aspect of the history of World War II or the Holocaust in a manner that goes beyond the somewhat arbitrary standards established by the governments of those countries.”
In 1986 Bradley wrote about the Holocaust claims of Mel Mermelstein, a California businessman who had been a prisoner in the Auschwitz camp complex during World War II. He reviewed Mermelstein's incredible claims in an item published in the IHR Newsletter, and referred to the businessman as a "demonstrable fraud," a "vainglorious prevaricator," and a "false-tale spinner." Mermelstein responded with an $11 million suit for defamation (libel). On Sept. 19, 1991, Mermelstein was obliged to drop what remained of his suit after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed a substantial portion of it. Although it ended in a clear victory for Bradley (and the IHR), coverage of this important legal battle predictably received almost no coverage in the mainstream media.
In December 2006 Smith delivered a talk at the International Holocaust Conference in Iran, a gathering that attracted worldwide media attention and vehement criticism.
Smith had a long association with the Institute for Historical Review -- as a contributor to IHR publications, as a speaker at IHR conferences, and, during the late 1980s, as its Media Project director, a role that generated numerous radio and television interviews.
He was the author of many articles, some of which appeared in the IHR Journal, and several books. His first, Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist, was praised by Canadian journalist Doug Collins as “fascinating" and as an "amusing walk through the valley of the shadow of doubt…” Another book, Break His Bones: The Private Life of a Holocaust Revisionist, is a witty and thoughtful 315-page memoir that looks back on the challenges, disappointments and joys of Smith's years-long battle against taboo and censorship. Break His Bones details the organized campaign to suppress free speech and intellectual openness on the “Holocaust” issue, showing how skeptics are blacklisted, and their works banned. In it Smith gave a human face to the much-maligned “Holocaust deniers.” “It might be said,” he wrote, “that Break His Bones is an exercise revealing the subjective life of a thought criminal.”
The Holocaust story, he also wrote in Break His Bones, has been "the instrument, the contrivance, that was used to 'morally' legitimate Jewish claims to Arab land in Palestine ... It remains the instrument used to morally legitimate the ongoing colonization of Palestinian Arab land by Jewish settlers ... The Holocaust story, with all its fraud and falsehood, continues to be used to support Israeli policies in Palestine, and to secure the funding of the Israeli military by the US Congress."
What drove this incorrigible idealist and modern-day Don Quixote? "Simply put," he once explained, "I do not believe in thought crimes, in taboos against intellectual freedom. I do not believe it is thought crime to express skepticism about the 'gas chamber' stories. I do not believe it is thought crime to question US support for Israel and its brutal and foolish policies toward Palestinians."
Smith died on February 18, 2016 -- his 86th birthday.