Charles Paul Freund
From the February 2000 issue of Reason
The last mystery surrounding the infamous anti-Semitic pamphlet Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion--the identity of the 1904 hoax's author--finally has been solved. According to the Russian historian Mikhail Lepekhine, the Protocols were concocted by a Russian propagandist named Mathieu Golovinski as part of a monarchist scheme to persuade Czar Nicholas II that the capitalist modernization of Russia was really a Jewish plot to control the world. Golovinski's handiwork--24 subversive "protocols" that purport to be the minutes of a secret "Zionist" conclave--was to become a bulwark of anti-Semitic paranoia and an essential text of Nazism. The Protocols remain dear to credulous paranoids throughout the world.
Historian Lepekhine discovered Golovinski's authorship in Russia's long-closed archives and published his findings last November in the French newsweekly L'Express. Golovinski had been linked to the work before: The German writer Konrad Heiden identified him as an author of the Protocols in 1944.
The Protocols have been known to be a forgery since 1921, when The Times of London revealed that they had been largely copied from an 1864 political tract by a Frenchman, Maurice Joly. That work was a commentary on French politics and had nothing to do with Jews. Golovinski, working with such mystical anti-modernizers as the Holy Brotherhood, combined Joly's fantasy elements of world domination with earlier anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic material to produce "evidence" of an overarching Jewish-Masonic plot. Late-Imperial Russia was awash in documentary forgeries, domestic spying, and counterspying, with revolutionaries and the Czarist secret police often involved in complex duplicities. Golovinski himself changed sides after the 1917 revolution, becoming a Bolshevik propagandist.
Of course, a parallel universe of Protocol-believers has continued to claim that the Protocols are authentic, and that any evidence to the contrary is the real forgery. The leading proponent of this view was probably Nesta Webster, who wrote prolifically in the 1920s about purported Jewish conspiracies, and whose anti-revolutionary zeal may have stemmed from her belief that she had been guillotined by French revolutionaries in an earlier incarnation.
The Protocols remain widely sold in the Middle East, are readily available in Japan, and have lately become quite popular in the Balkans. In the U.S., reprints can be found in many Afrocentric bookstores. The Protocols were reprinted in their entirety in William Cooper's popular 1991 conspiracist work, Behold a Pale Horse, though Cooper instructed readers that "any reference to 'Jews' should be replaced with the word 'Illuminati.'"