San Diego Ingrid Rimland sees herself as a "determined, hardworking German mother." The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sees her as a "ferociously anti-Semitic pro-Nazi apologist" - a characterization Rimland dismisses with impatience.
"I am not a hateful person," she sighs. "My neighbors are Jews. I have no problem with them. I leave them my house key when I'm away. They collect my mail for me."
If Rimland's neighbors were ever to open the mail they collect, they might find one of the $3000 monthly checks Rimland receives from Ernst Zundel for maintaining the "Zundelsite" on the World Wide Web. Zundel, according to the ADL, is North America's premiere Holocaust revisionist. Among many ambitious aims, Zundel seeks to "debunk the Holohoax" and to promote a positive reappraisal of Hitler and of the national socialist cause in general. Rimland shares his concerns. Teaching about the Holocaust in our nation's schools is, she writes, the "rape of the mind of America's children."
Rimland's and Zundel's views have attracted attention. The Anti-Defamation League devotes six pages to them in "High Tech Hate," the ADL's most recent report on anti-Semitism and racism on the Internet. A civil complaint now before the Canadian Human Rights Commission charges that Zundel is in violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act because his Web site uses "telephonic communications to expose a person or persons to hatred." Zundel argues that the site is based in Carlsbad, California, and is therefore outside Canadian jurisdiction. Besides, he says, the site has been written by Ingrid Rimland since January 1996.
Reached at her Carlsbad home, Rimland is tentative and sounds put-upon and tired. She rises at 2:00 a.m. every morning to spend 16 hours maintaining "Zundelsite." She types up new material. She polishes her weekly column, her "Z- gram," to the site. She peruses the 300 to 400 pieces of daily e-mail the site receives, answering a few of the messages, but only a few. It seems many Jews find the site objectionable. Rimland is baffled by the "viciousness" of the tone they take in their letters. To respond to them would be, she feels, a "waste of time."
Sixty-one years old, Rimland, a child psychologist, has led a difficult and varied life. Born into a family of ethnic-German Mennonites living in the Ukraine, Rimland and her family fled after the war first to Germany, their "devastated homeland," and later to a Mennonite community in rural Paraguay, where they raised cattle and manioc. Rimland describes herself as a "brainy child" who from early on felt at odds with her faith's strictures. Still, she enjoyed the community's closeness and even today misses the "simplicity and wholesomeness" of primitive agrarian life. At 14 she fell in love with the Mennonite boy whom she later married - "I was 20 years old. An old maid by my community's standards."
Rimland, who speaks with candor about how she views the Holocaust, is vague about the event that gave form to her adult life. In 1959 she gave birth to a son who was brain damaged by an overdose of ether while in infancy. Rimland hints that her Mennonite community interpreted her son's injury as divine retribution.
"Why," she asks, "would God harm a child because his mother wore lipstick?"
Despite his brain damage, Rimland was convinced her son was educable. In 1967, she and her husband moved to Wichita, Kansas, to have the boy diagnosed and treated at the Institute of Logopedics, a world-famous residential school for the handicapped. It was in Wichita that Rimland discovered "the miracle of American public libraries." Having been educated only to the third grade in the Mennonite's Low German dialect, Rimland taught herself English by reading "Dear Abby." In time, she graduated magna cum laude from Wichita State University and in 1979 was awarded a doctorate by the school. Her son did well, too. His treatment at the institute was so successful that he went on to finish his education at a public high school.
Her son's disability remains a cumbersome and painful issue for Rimland. In 1984 she published a book, The Furies and the Flame, about the extreme difficulty of raising and educating her son. When asked about him now she becomes evasive, elliptical. Her voice drops, she mutters. She returns again and again, by reflex, to her son's difficulty at reading - a difficulty that must have uniquely frustrated a mother who prided herself on her language skills, her flawless English, her clean American prose.
When asked how she squares her great admiration for the Third Reich with the regime's program to euthanize the disabled, she says she finds the issue "sad."
"Frankly, I haven't really studied what happened with that program in any great depth. From what I've read, however, the numbers of those who were euthanized have been vastly exaggerated. And I'm also aware that Germany was not the only country to carry out such a policy. Many other countries had similar policies, too.
"Looking back to my own life, I think that if I had it to do all over again, I would have let my son die while he was a baby. He nearly died so many times. I should have let nature take its course. He's now 38 years old and lives in a senior citizens' complex and is on full disability. He runs errands for the seniors, he walks their dogs. He has an IQ of 85, which means his mental function is that of a 12-year-old. He can be very sweet and accommodating, but still.
"While I certainly don't think the state should dictate the fate of the disabled, I believe family and physicians should have a role in deciding things such as euthanasia and sterilization. My son, for example, is incapable of supporting a child or a family either mentally or financially. I don't see the point of bringing babies into the world, especially those with genetic defects, when the result is hardship and so much heartache. Then there's the issue of finding money to support them."