Willis Allison Carto, aged 89, died on October 26, 2015. During his 60 years as an active anti-Semite, he put Holocaust denial on the map. He published a weekly tabloid newspaper, The Spotlight, which at one point had over 300,000+ subscribers, and he helped launch David Duke’s brief career as an electable politician. And he fought continuously in and out of court with former friends and enemies. My book Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, contains the most complete story of Willis Carto’s many enterprises, and his bifurcated political personalities. With William Pierce, who the book also assiduously uncovers, the two men served as Godfathers for a generation of white nationalists that is only now being replaced by younger men.
In the 1950s he published a newsletter entitled Right, which promoted anti-communist, anti-Semitic, and segregationist ideas. At the same time, he also organized an outfit under another rubric called the Joint Council for Repatriation. It was a so-called Back-To-Africa scheme that was far outside conservative, even racist convention.
In 1960, Carto launched Liberty Lobby, which became his primary vehicle to find a wider following. He insinuated his politics onto the edges of Republican Presidential nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater’s following, and found a place in the center of Gov. George Wallace’s 1968 third-party campaign for President. At the same time, he wrote under the pseudonym E.L. Anderson for his own Western Destiny quarterly, a magazine which carried the torch for Francis Parker Yockey, a Nazi-esque character devoted to expanding the intellectual base of outmoded white supremacist ideas. Liberty Lobby and Western Destiny rarely met, and Carto kept himself out of the public eye with each. “E.L. Anderson” would keep resurfacing for the next several decades.
In 1964, Carto took over a corporation, The Legion for the Survival of Freedom. He soon began publishing the American Mercury magazine, which had been started years before by H.L. Mencken. His book publishing operation, Noontide Press, began publishing under the Legion’s corporate imprint as well. By 1979, he spun off American Mercury, and the Legion for the Survival of Freedom began doing business as the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) – its main enterprise: Holocaust denial. Books and journals were published, conferences held, and IHR began an extensive outreach program, trying to bring Holocaust denial into the mainstream of historical thought. Failing that, Carto created an intellectual hothouse for the white supremacist movement, so that every Klansman, Posse Comitatus member, and neo-Nazi knew, or thought they knew, that “Hitler didn’t do it.”
During the same period, Liberty Lobby also grew. Its Spotlight tabloid had well over 300,000 subscribers when President Reagan was inaugurated in 1981. The tabloid treated the growth of armed survivalist camps as if they were neighborhood watch groups.
As the radical right grew, so did the scope of the publication’s readers. Carto also began to be uncovered. A 1971 piece in the National Review expose was supplanted by 1981 investigative articles by Washington Post columnist Jack Anderson, who completely exposed Carto. As a result, Carto sued Anderson, and the case went on and on for years.
In 1984, Carto’s Liberty Lobby launched the so-called Populist Party, which attracted white supremacists and far right activists of every description. In 1988, David Duke, a former Klansman with a past in National Socialist politics, became the Populist’s presidential candidate. Duke received Carto’s blessing, and in 1989 won election to the Louisiana state house. It should be noted that Duke was his own man, and soon ran for statewide seats in 1990 and 1991. In both statewide races he won a solid majority of the white vote. If it had not been for black voters in Louisiana, the United States Senate would have had a onetime neo-Nazi in its midst.
Carto also supported Pat Buchanan’s campaign runs in 1992 and 1996, when he won three million votes in the Republican Primaries. Carto’s support was most avid in 2000, when Buchanan captured the apparatus, but not the votes, of the Reform Party.
Carto managed to devour everything he created. His behind the scenes iron grip on the Populist Party devolved into a series of spats with its nominal leaderships, and the organization folded in the 1990s. His control of the Legion for the Survival of Freedom was challenged in 1993, and his intransigence led to his complete dispossession. The end began in 1999. Eventually he lost both Liberty Lobby and IHR, The Spotlight’s last issue was in July 2001. His former staff at IHR took over the corporation and soon eschewed Holocaust denial in favor of straight up, undisguised anti-Semitic journalism.
After losing The Spotlight, Carto began publishing the American Free Press, and he also organized several conferences to re-write history. But his influence in the white nationalist world was much diminished and he was essentially finished as a major figure. He occasionally showed up at Klansman Thom Robb’s festivals in Arkansas, but he had ceased to be a figure of consequence. His death has been much remarked on.