Out Of His League
Eric Butler is dead.
At one time, that simple statement of fact would have excited media commentary, and provided an opportunity for politicians to nail their colours to the mast on issues such as antisemitism, cultural diversity and Australian identity.
His passing in 2006, at the age of 90, went relatively unremarked, most likely due to a combination of ignorance as to his decades of promotion of vile anti-Jewish hatred and the reality that the organisation he founded and shaped in his image, the Australian League of Rights, has had a succession of leaders since his retirement in the early 1990s.
It would be comforting, with Butler’s death, to also be able to mark the death of the racism he promoted.
It is, after all, 61 years since Butler’s World War II writings on our war-time ally Russia being “a Jewish slave state . . . controlled by international Jewish financiers in New York”, and more than 50 years since he ranted that the polio vaccine was a Jewish trick to kill children.
Unfortunately, I am sure readers of this column are only too well aware that while Eric Butler is dead, the hatred he promoted shows no sign of a quick demise.
His magnum opus was the Australian rendering of Henry Ford’s notorious “The International Jew”, but Butler had none of Ford’s standing and was preaching to an audience which either ignored or was not interested in acting on the claim that a Jewish conspiracy was involved in a Manichean struggle against Christianity. (Perhaps the 1946 timing of a book originally titled “Hitler’s Policy Was a Jewish Policy” also played a role in its lack of popular appeal.)
When I first met Butler, he tried to convince me to buy journals of the Institute for Historical Review, which was pumping out quasi-sophisticated Holocaust denial, as well as other texts alleging Jewish deceit, malice and treachery.
Although at least one of the books I was provided with was sponsored by Saudi Arabia, other material, and many conversations with League “actionists”, made it quite clear that non-Europeans were believed to be genetically, and therefore irredeemably, inferior creatures.
The League founder was not too fazed at meeting a young person who wanted to find out about his group’s views, as a legion of the nastiest antisemites who have walked Australian soil passed through his bookshop, lectures and meetings.
Some racists were contemptuous of the League’s campaign of letter writing, lobbying, infiltration of political parties and concentration on words rather than physical action. Others, however, appreciated the way the League was able to distort political debate through deception, promotion of myths and, above all, presenting Jews as the cause of whatever real or imagined problem anyone might be confronting.
A few politicians have been misled into, or made bad judgement calls, participating in League of Rights activities or promoting the League as if it were no different to any other collection of citizens. With very few exceptions, they have subsequently condemned the League’s policies, programs and deceitfulness.
Some individuals seeking audiences for causes close to their hearts have ventured, generally out of ignorance or naivety, into League functions. But again, with the most notorious exception being the one-time Lebanese Muslim Association leader Keyser Trad, they have been embarrassed and appalled when discovering the nature of their hosts.
Despite still publishing action briefings, newsletters, magazines and a tedious website, the League in 2006 is not what it once was.
When the bizarre conspiracy cultists of the Citizens Electoral Council arrived on the scene, the League faced direct competition for activists, financial supporters and in the development of the most contorted interpretations of political events.
The proliferation of free and accessible racist material via the internet, the “virtual” meetings that take place on-line and the developing sophistication of opinion polling have each, in their own way, delivered serious blows to the League of Rights.
The League is more alive than its founder, but barely.