Note to the reader: This article, written by Michelle Betz, was published in the March 9, 1995 issue of The Jewish Western Bulletin. It is reprinted here, in HTML format, by permission of the publisher.
At the question why, Ken McVay laughed. "I'm laughing because that's the first question everybody's been asking me for six months." But he quickly became serious and answered. "They're offensive. They're deeply, deeply, offensive," he said in a Bulletin interview. "They make me look at a side of myself that I pretend is not there."
"They" are a handful of people, mostly men, who disseminate anti-Semitic, Holocaust denial and other racist material to a global audience on the Internet.
And Ken McVay is fighting back.
The Internet is rife with virulent racism of all types, but McVay preoccupies himself almost solely with Holocaust deniers. Again, the question, why? Of all the repugnant racist activities on the "'Net", why would McVay, a non-Jew, choose to fight Holocaust deniers rather than defend blacks, or Asians, or homosexuals, or any of the other multitude of groups constantly harangued on the 'Net?
"Primarily because I don't have the time or the energy to take on the whole world," McVay responded. "Everybody has to decide sometime in their life what's important and what's not. For me, this [Holocaust denial] is important."
That's as close to an answer one can get in trying to understand the motivations behind this man. Originally from California's Silicon Valley, McVay keeps a $300 a week job he "detests" - working at a gas station and convenience store on Vancouver Island.
He keeps the job only to pay the bills. If he could, he would fight the 'Net Nazis full-time, he told JWB.
"These people are serious. This is real, this is just like the 1920's in Munich,", he warned. "It could happen again if we don't do something."
The 54-year-old Vancouver Island resident expressed his dismay at the general inaction of the Jewish community thus far, but he hopes this is changing.
Lion's Gate Lodge of B'nai B'rith asked him to speak at their Feb. 20 meeting in Vancouver, which was attended by about 150 people. McVay, in one of his rare public appearances, seized the opportunity to try and mobilize the Jewish community. In May, he'll spend his holidays in Montreal as a guest speaker at Canadian Jewish Congress' Plenary Assembly.
"Generally speaking the Jewish community hasn't had anything to do with fighting this," he lamented. But, he added, "if the Jewish community organized its research, these guys would be toast in a few years."
Sheer numbers alone should be reason enough to do something, he said.
"As of a month ago, metered observations suggested that there were 48 million people on the Internet. A year from now there will be 100 million users [growing at a rate of 8.5 percent annually]; two years from now there will be 250 million people on the Internet.
"Within 10 years every home in the world that has access to cable TV, satellite TV or a telephone line can be on the Internet," he pronounced. "That should put this effort in a totally different perspective," he said, referring to his ongoing battle.
"There are 25,000 people known to read alt.revisionism [one of the more popular Internet discussion groups for Holocaust revisionists and neo-Nazis], but there probably aren't more than 100 who participate in the discussions."
But he and everyone else engaged in the struggle are in a race against time.
"We have maybe 10 to 15 years to deal with the issue of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and fascism on a broader scale. If we haven't done it by then ... it's too late," he warned.
But it's not just because of the numbers involved that McVay takes this issue seriously.
"This is the one venue where you can't piss around. You say something and within five minutes people have jumped on it from all over the world. And all the people who saw what you said also see what I say."
The Internet has become an instant forum. But, even more importantly, according to McVay, it's an accurate forum. McVay admitted he wouldn't debate Holocaust deniers on television but, he said, stressing every syllable, to adopt the same attitude on the Internet would be "an unqualified disaster of the first magnitude."
His part in preventing this disaster is to spend 50 to 60 hours a week monitoring Internet to refute Nazi propoganda. But, he added, "that's changed in the last six months - the media has eaten up a lot of that time."
McVay's Internet work, now known officially as the Nizkor Project, began as a one-man show, "where one person's sort of trying to do it all and run a gas station at the same time. It's sort of amazing that it works at all. That's why it takes so much time."
McVay uses his own outdated and old computer equipment. Until a public appeal, McVay had been assuming all costs himself and had little, if any, outside financial support. Last autumn, worried that his system might die, the media launched an appeal.
Things have changed.
McVay now has a scanner donated by the Vancouver-based Committee for Racial Justice, which means he doesn't have to input all information by hand. A company owned by Jews in Nova Scotia (McVay doesn't want the name released publicly) has donated some equipment to help his faltering hard drives.
A former computer salesman, McVay believes that to do the job properly would cost a minumum of $30,000 in addition to an annual cost of about $10,000 for an Internet connection. But, he said, the expensive part is his personal time.
McVay has also paid a physical price. As a direct result of the hours of typing, he suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome and was forced to wear braces on both his arms a couple of years ago.
McVay has also found some outside backing - an American who will provide "some pretty solid financial backing for the project." A 77-year-old businessman and Holocaust scholar from Texas will fund legal expenses incurred in setting up the project. McVay will then further establish the Nizkor Project in Canada.
"We are in the process of establishing a non-profit organization in the U.S. That should be operational within a month or six weeks and that foundation will undoubtedly fund the establishment of the Canadian foundation by the same name," he explained, referring to the Nizkor Project.
The project's ultimate goal is to provide educational materials to the 350 million people that will be on the Internet in the next few years.
According to McVay, "we're talking about the education or re-education of an entire society. People have to change the way they view archiving and using historical material," said McVay. If data goes to a museum, it's buried from the public's view, "but give it to me for a week and I'll give it to the world to see."
Is McVay the project's sole warrior?
"Energetically working in a formalized way, [there are] 65-70 people on a daily basis - this is the basic research team. Perhaps four or five times that many in that I work with a lot of lurkers on the 'Net who never get involved publicly, who can't deal with the issue publicly. These are the people who feed me information and type in articles from Australian newspapers and so on," he explained.
But the more the word gets out, the more people McVay has around the world helping him accomplish his goals.
"Every individual has resources and talents that others don't have. You don't have to participate [in these discussion groups] but get used to the players ... If you gave me an hour a month of transcription time it would increase my archives significantly," he said.
"If Jewish students, just at SFU - nevermind worldwide - gave me an hour of their time just imagine what we could do. Just get involved and accept it as a part of being Jewish or accept it as part of being human. Do something and understand that if you don't do something you're going to pay a very heavy price.
McVay said he'll do this for the rest of his life. Is he satisfied with what he's accomplished?
"Knowing that if I drop dead on the way home tonight that the work would not stop, that the archives are all over the world, the job's been done, the seeds have been planted," then yes, said McVay, he is satisfied.
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