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A Look Behind the Headlines Reveals "The Passion of Christ" as Propaganda for a Fascistic Cult

by Shlomo Svesnik

The debate around Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ" has gone on too long. Not only is the film bad history that even deviates sharply from the gospels (contrary to all the empty hoopla about its supposed accuracy), not only is it a transparent exercise in "blood-libel" Jew-hatred, not only does it indulge in extended pornographic sadism that makes a mockery of the very "Christian" values it is supposedly promoting--but a dispassionate look at the facts reveals it as a piece of propaganda for a reactionary religious cult that intersects with the new networks of European fascism while literally claiming to be more Catholic than the Pope.

The Traditionalist Church and Clerical Fascism

By now most followers of the controversy are aware that Gibson has ploughed $2.8 million into a church he is building hear his Malibu home for followers of the "Traditionalist" Catholic break-away sect. The Traditionalists broke from Rome after the Second Vatican Council of 1962-5--Vatican II--and reject the reforms then instated. They hold mass in Latin, and abstain from meat on Fridays. The French Archbishop Marcel Lefevre (also rendered Lefebvre) set up the Society of Pious X, the first Traditionalist order, to keep the old rite alive. He was excommunicated by the Pope in 1988 after appointing bishops without Vatican approval.

Many Traditionalist practitioners are simply nostalgic for the Latin mass. For others the attraction is more sinister: it was with Vatican II that collective Jewish responsibility for the death of Christ was first officially rejected as Church doctrine.

The movement, claiming a few hundred thousand followers worldwide, is now fractured, with strains assuming different degrees of distance from the Vatican--and of open nostalgia for the clerical fascism of Franco and Mussolini. The most hardline Traditionalists consider all the popes since Vatican II "precursors to the anti-Christ," and subscribe to conspiracy theories about manipulation of the papal elections by sinister forces.

Recent media reports have overlooked some unsavory episodes in the movement's history. In 1989, Paul Touvier--a key aide to Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, the "Butcher of Lyon"--was arrested by French police at a Traditionalist priory in Nice. Touvier, charged in the death of several Jews, was the first Frenchman to be accused of World War II atrocities. He had been sheltered for 44 years by a network of convents and monasteries--most recently by Traditionalists.

Le Monde reported in 1985 that in some Swiss cantons, Lefevre followers make up the support base of the anti-immigrant Vigilance movement. In 1982, Traditionalist priest Juan Fernandez Krohn was arrested in a knife attack on the Pope at Portugal's Shrine of Fatima. He was later disavowed by Lefevre.

The movement's name recalls the Traditionalist party that supported Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Also known as the Carlists, these Traditionalists upheld a pretender line to the Spanish throne, considering the crown too liberal. After the war, they became a pillar of Franco's dictatorship.

Sins of the Father

Mel Gibson's father Hutton Gibson is a leader of the "sedevacantist" (or "empty seat") Traditionalist sect, which strongly rejects the authority of the Pope. He recently returned to the US, having moved the family to Australia in 1968 to escape corrupt American society. In Australia he published the extremist Traditionalist newsletter "The War Is Now!" He told the New York Times last year that Vatican II was "a Masonic plot backed by the Jews" and that the papal elections that led to it were controlled by shadowy enemies that possibly threatened "to atom-bomb the Vatican City." His favorite epithet for Pope John Paul II is "Garrulous Karolus, the Koran-Kisser." (In this age when Jews and Muslims are at each others' throats, its nice to be reminded now and then that we have common enemies--thanks, Hut!)

Hutton was back in the headlines on the eve of "The Passion's" release, when he was interviewed by the syndicated radio show "Speak Your Piece!" In the Feb. 23 interview, he touched on nearly every anti-Semitic canard. The New World Order conspiracy: "They're after one world religion and one world government. That's why they've attacked the Catholic Church so strongly, to ultimately take control over it by their doctrine." The Communist conspiracy: "The Jews weren't in the army much in World War I because they were fomenting a revolt in Russia." And the Antichrist conspiracy: "They must have revenge. You know they caused the Roman persecutions too... The Jews were notable for getting the wood to burn the Christians... a labor of love you might say."

And, needless to say, the requisite Holocaust-denial: "They claimed there were 6.2 million in Poland before the war and after the war there 200,000, therefore he [Hitler] must have killed six million of them. They simply got up and left! They were all over the Bronx and Brooklyn and Sydney and Los Angeles.... Its all--maybe not all fiction--but most of it is." He then expounded a pseudo-mathematical postulation aimed at disproving the genocide. (As he said in an earlier interview: "Go and ask an undertaker or the guy who operates the crematorium what it takes to get rid of a dead body. It takes one liter of petrol and 20 minutes. Now, 6 million?")

Of course civilized societies do not believe that the sins of the father are visited upon the son. But Mel, one of Hutton's 11 offspring, has fastidiously avoided uttering a syllable to distance himself from his father's beliefs. ("Don't go there," he threatened ABC's Diane Sawyer when she brought it up in an interview.)

Mel the Revisionist

Mel's own words on the Holocaust reveal a great deal more sophistication. In an interview for Reader's Digest, Peggy Noonan, the ex-Reagan speechwriter, asked him: "You're going to have to go on the record. The Holocaust happened, right?"

Gibson's response: "I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century 20 million people died in the Soviet Union."

Very slick. On a quick read, this sounds pretty good. A little examination reveals pure weasily equivocation. The Holocaust was among several "atrocities"--not genocide--and merely "happened." When the active tense is used, it is "the Second World War" that "killed tens of millions"--not identifiable parties such as the Nazis. Without having been nailed down on a clear stance on the Holocaust, he changes the subject to the Ukraine starvation--conveniently carried out by Communists. He'll go on record citing "several million" dead in the Ukrainian genocide, but skillfully avoids doing so on the Holocaust.

Even before "The Passion," Mel Gibson was already trading in historical revisionism. His 2000 Revolutionary War saga "The Patriot" portrayed African Americans fighting for the rebels, having been promised freedom from slavery to take up arms against the crown. This is a precise reversal of the reality. All proposals to offer Blacks freedom in exchange for service in the Continental Army were scotched by the Southern slavocracy. Meanwhile, there are still Black communities in Canada's Maritime provinces, descendants of escaped slaves who fled to fight for the British on pledges of post-war emancipation.

Anti-Semitic Propaganda? Duh!

Genuine Bible-thumpers will note similar deviations from scripture in "The Passion"--for instance, the scene in Gethsemane in which Jesus is confronted by a creepy androgynous figure with shaved eyebrows representing Satan. A serpent slips from his/her robes, which Our Hero crushes to death. Then, in a gratuitous embellishment of the crucifixion scene, Jesus has his arm yanked from its socket as the Roman soldiers stretch him out on the cross. Perfectly charming.

An article by Carol Eisenberg in the Feb. 23 Newsday reveals the source of this hideous imagery as Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), a German nun who, bedridden with stigmata, wrote down her visions in a book called "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ"--with lurid depictions of bloodthirsty and venal Jews. This work was also apparently the source of Gibson's scene in which Jewish priests pass out bribes for false testimony against Jesus.

A 19th century biography of Emmerich by Rev. CE Schmoeger quoted her as saying "Jews in our country and elsewhere strangled Christian children and used their blood for all sorts of suspicious and diabolical practices." Gibson today carries a relic of Emmerich--a piece of cloth from her habit. He defended her to a writer for The New Yorker: "Why are they calling her a Nazi? Because modern secular Judaism wants to blame the Holocaust on the Catholic Church. And its revisionism. And they've been working on that one for a while."

Despite his film's supposed fealty to historical realism, Gibson committed some obvious howlers. At first Mel didn't even want subtitles on the Latin and Aramaic dialogue. Critics and scholars now point out that Latin wasn't even spoken in first-century Judea--the language of the Roman administrators and soldiers was Greek, as they were mostly drawn from the eastern part of the Empire. And according to Dr. Ephraim Isaac, director of the Institute of Semitic Studies at Princeton, the Aramaic is wrong too--being based (and none too closely) on the Syrian dialect rather than that of the Yemeni Jews, believed to be closest to what Jesus spoke.

Then there are the physical impossibilities. The scourging scene is strictly ongepotshcket--nobody could lose that much blood and still be able to stand, much less lift a cross.

But the politics of the film are the most blatant and significant thing. The Romans are the good guys, benevolent protectors. Pilate--who was actually such a tyrant that he would later be called home to Rome for his excesses--is portrayed as a capable and conscience-wracked administrator caught in a tight spot. It is a rabble of blood-thirsty, money-grubbing hook-nose Jews that demand crucifixion. Herod, just for good measure, is a flaming faggot, his court a lascivious, sado-masochistic gay harem-orgy.

The Roman soldiers are sadistic enough in the scouring scene, but even they are seen as just goons enjoying their work. As they flog endlessly away, Shaved Eyebrows appears--bearing a grotesquely deformed baby--and merges with the gleeful Jewish spectators. (When I was watching this at a Brooklyn theater, the middle-aged African American woman seated behind me said, "The Devil walks among them"--and up went my paranoid Jewish hackles.) Meanwhile (in another deviation from scripture), Pilate's wife appears at the scene to comfort Mary and give her fresh linens to sop up the spilled blood.

Biblical criticism scholars point out that the gospels themselves were likely written with the appeasement of Roman power in mind. In the crucifixion, Rome was able to do away with an irritant while foisting the blame onto the collaborationist local ruling class of Herod and Caiaphas--setting the template for 2,000 years of Jew-hatred. But Gibson has even less criticism of Roman imperial rule than the gospels do.

Gibson is (not surprisingly) joined in his fondness for Pilate by Adolf Hitler, who said that the Roman governor stands out "like a firm, clean rock in the middle of the whole muck and mire of Jewry." He was commenting on the production of the Passion Play at the German village of Oberammergau, which he called "a convincing portrayal of the menace of Jewry."

Gibson, it seems, has produced an Oberammergau for our times. The Council of German Cardinals has even come out against the screening of the film, stating that it "could reinforce the anti-Semitic surge in Europe." After the film opened in the US, the sign in front of Lovingway United Pentecostal Church in Colorado was reported to read "Jews killed the Lord Jesus"--condensed from a passage in Paul (First Thessalonians 2:14-5). Below the quote was the single word, "Settled!" So nice to know that it can't happen here!

Jews Get Fooled Again

It also has to be said that official Jewish reaction to the film has been amazingly stupid and counter-productive. It was reportedly under pressure from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) that Gibson dropped the line "His blood be on us and our children" (Matthew 27:25). The crowd does, in fact, shout it in Aramaic, but it goes untranslated. These sanitization demands just legitimize a work of anti-Semitic propaganda--and play into the perception that Jews control the media, can exercise censorship with a wave of their hands (while Arabs, African Americans and others are far more often portrayed in vicious stereotypes).

Such high-profile pressure also indicates the paradoxically symbiotic relationship these groups--increasingly derided as a "Holocaust industry" that whores off Jewish suffering--have with the Jew-haters. Opined the Jerusalem Post: "What is good for the ADL is not necessarily good for the Jewish people. Because while The Passion was getting all that free publicity, so too was the ADL, sharing the limelight with Mel Gibson and co-starring along with him at your local neighborhood news outlet."

But then, the ADL and their ilk have a lot invested in the Empire that Gibson so eagerly embraces. As a nuclear-armed Israel plays Bad Cop with the Arabs, the surly masses of a neo-colonial Middle East once again have a collaborationist Jewish ruling class to hate--while (US) imperial power over the whole region escalates.

Have we learned anything? Maybe there's an unintended message in Gibson's monstrosity. Jews are going to be periodically slapped around by history as long as they keep playing suckers for the Man. Yo, brothers: wise the fuck up.

Reprinting permissible with attribution.