America has welcomed the Nazis.
I don’t mean Nazis in the sense of “everyone I disagree with is a Nazi.” I mean honest-to-goodness Nazis with swastikas on their flags and chants against Jews on their lips. They are here in today’s America, and they’re on the march.
How did it come to this? How did the United States of America go from nearly 75 years of celebrating the defeat of the Third Reich by the Allies to insisting that one should never, ever punch a Nazi?
I believe that media reaction to the outcome of the 2016 presidential election set the national dialogue sliding down a slippery slope that has now led us to this shameful state of the nation.
Within hours of Hillary Clinton conceding the presidential election to Donald Trump in November, mainstream media reports began to be published and aired that sought to explain to the businessman’s victory to shell-shocked Democrats. From the Guardian to the New York Times, the recurrent theme in opinion pieces in the days immediately after the election was that middle-class, urban, educated Democrats needed to understand the working-class, rural, less educated Americans who voted for Trump.
One problem with this first wave of hot takes was that they tended to gloss over the racist resentment that fueled much of the fervor for the Republican candidate and instead focused almost exclusively on economic issues, as if none of us had seen the black men being beaten at rallies or heard the audiences enthusiastically cheering endless stump speeches inciting hatred of immigrants and Muslims.
Coverage of white nationalist Richard Spencer had already begun to overlap with reporting on Trump supporters before the election, with Mother Jones and other outlets increasingly fascinated with the pseudo-intellectual hipster image presented by the University of Chicago graduate.
The number of articles on Spencer increased exponentially after members of his own audience raised their arms in Nazi salutes as he finished a mid-November speech in Washington, D.C.’s Ronald Reagan Building on with the words, “Hail Trump! Hail our people!” and, “Hail victory!” – English translations of Third Reich slogans with the president-elect in place of the Führer.
The truly surreal cultural moment occurred when Spencer attended Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration and was punched during an interview on the street shortly after the ceremony. Journalists began asking ethicists and college students if it was morally acceptable to punch a Nazi. This is arguably the point at which the U.S. media really turned a corner.
There had been absolutely no legal consequences for the Republican presidential candidate encouraging the beating of protestors and straight-facedly discussing the assassination of his Democratic rival. Yet liberals began to wring their hands and clutch their pearls over the fact that one punch had been thrown at one person who was openly advocating an ideology once considered so pernicious that the Allies killed approximately four million German soldiers to eradicate it.
On Aug. 11, during the “Unite the Right” rally attended by Spencer, Augustus Invictus, David Duke, Henrik Palmgren, Stephen McNallen, and other far-right figures, a 20-year-old white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of anti-racist protestors in Charlottesville — using a favorite tactic of Islamic extremist terrorists — and killed Heather Heyer while injuring 19 others. Heyer’s mother received so many threats from Nazis that she decided to bury her daughter in an unmarked and secret grave.
If the world were sane, Americans of positive intent would be united in facing those fomenting this home-grown terrorism. The world isn’t sane, and the supposedly liberal media denounced by conservatives as hopelessly in thrall to leftist dogma moved to the next logical step in its train of coverage that began the day after the election. Think pieces began to appear arguing that, just as Democrats had to understand Trump voters, we all need to understand Nazis.
The New York Times has led the way here with in-depth pieces such as its feature profile of a white nationalist in Ohio that gave him plenty of room in the nation’s “newspaper of record” to expound upon his hateful worldview. CNN devoted nearly seven minutes to an interview with a former leader of the American Nazi Party who is running unopposed in an Illinois Republican primary for the U.S. Congress. The network gave an actual Illinois Nazi the opportunity to denounce the “Jew’s media” on television screens in over two hundred countries.
If the idea is that giving an international platform to hate speech will somehow cause it to wither away, that’s simply a wrongheaded notion that shows a misunderstanding of how such ideologies spread. Shortly after Trump’s election, NPR’s All Things Considered devoted over eight minutes to an interview with Richard Spencer. His opening statement on the air was, “This is the first time we’ve really entered the mainstream, and we’re not going away. I mean this is just the beginning, and I’m very excited.” He continued, “What I want is influence. And sometimes influence can be invisible. If we can get these ideas out there, if people can see the compelling and powerful nature of them, I think we really can change policy.”
Unbelievably, Spencer repeatedly told his interviewer that she was giving him a megaphone to spread his ideas, and her producer somehow decided that putting him on the network’s primary news program was a good idea. As with CNN, there seems to have been some misguided idea about shining a light. In both cases, major news networks enabled men who were on the extreme fringes of American society just two years ago to broadcast their hate to arguably the largest audience Nazis have head since 1945.
The message is being heard. The number of hate groups has been growing since the 2000 census suggested whites would hold minority status by mid-century, and recruitment of new members surged after the election of President Trump. What seems to go over the heads of mainstream media figures is that one Nazi telling a CNN host that she’s part of the “Jew’s media” live on the air and another rubbing the nose of a seemingly oblivious NPR host in the fact that she’s amplifying his message to the point where he’s “very excited” are propaganda victories that actually raise their status in the eyes of young white men open to what they’re selling.
A watershed moment in the increasing acceptance of Nazi ideology in contemporary America was President Trump’s public response to the violence in Charlottesville, which has had an out-sized influence on multiple segments of U.S. society. After denouncing “the left” for “violently attacking the other group,” he repeatedly insisted that there was “blame on both sides” and notoriously declared that there were “very fine people on both sides.”
The far right celebrated the president’s remarks. Spencer stated that he was “really proud of him” for his comments that “bucked the narrative of Alt-Right violence.” Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke responded, “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.” Asatru Folk Assembly founder Stephen McNallen cited the president’s remarks and wrote, “Trump gave us an opening and we must exploit it to the hilt.”
The influence of the “very fine people” comment has spread beyond the right. The slippery slope of coverage that slid from understanding Trump voters to publishing profiles of white nationalists to handing the microphone to Nazis can be seen as the media’s version of the president’s statements. Yes, these are people who espouse a rhetoric of hate, the articles say, but they are also the nice neighbors who live next door.
With every normalizing feature article published, people become a little bit less shocked by the rhetoric. Maybe modern America simply doesn’t have the attention span or the moxie to sustain outrage long enough for it to turn into direct action. Instead, we share the articles on social media and watch as family and friends comment that, yes, these Nazis are horrible people, but did you hear what immigrants are doing to white women in Sweden?
Recently, statements by “former neo-Nazis” have gone viral through reposts by well-meaning people. A video produced by Al Jazeera’s AJ+ channel features two former white nationalists who insist that Nazis must not be violently opposed or even spoken to in a harsh tone of voice. “We need to treat them with empathy, compassion, and respect,” says one. “We need to uphold their dignity,” says the other.
I have seen an increasing number of white people of moderate and liberal persuasion push this narrative and insist that we must never meet violence with violence, but must instead listen to what white nationalists have to say and engage in thoughtful dialogue with them. It’s totally unsurprising that white nationalists would forward this idea, since spreading their message is an openly stated goal. What has changed recently is the readiness of so many self-declared non-racist white people to fall for this line as hard as the NPR host fell for Spencer.
How we got to this moment seems clear. Media and social media have led us to a psychological space in which it seems completely logical to invite white nationalists over for a beer. They’re Trump voters. They’re disaffected victims of the economic downturn. They’re our next-door neighbors. It’s important that their views be heard. So the argument goes.
Ask a person of color, a refugee, a Muslim, a Jew, or a member of the LGBTQ+ community what they think of all this, and you may get a different perspective. Robert Jones, Jr. has said, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” When your worldview is built on the grossest racism, anti-Semitism, and other pure forms of hate, there is no common ground upon which to build dialogue. There is no middle ground between multicultural democracy and Nazism.
Hate Is All Around
Corporate media tells us we have to hear the Nazis out, give them a voice in the mainstream, and consider their feelings. Conservative politicians continue to pussyfoot around the so-called “alt-right,” following the president’s lead on denouncing “neo-Nazis and white nationalists” while insisting that there are “very fine people” among them. Republicans are canny enough to know which of the two major political parties members of this demographic are likely to support, and they’re not going to throw away all those votes.
Normalization has arguably been an overused term of late, but the shoe fits this foot. What was unthinkable just a few years ago is now commonplace. We see Nazis interviewed on the news networks – not as part of documentaries on fringe hate groups, but as coverage of their campaigns for the U.S. Congress. We hear elected representatives adopt the rhetoric of white nationalism without a blush. We see our family, friends, and colleagues argue that punching Nazis is always bad and that we need to instead listen quietly to their concerns in order to gently change their minds.
Do I think we should all go out into the street and assault Nazis? Absolutely not. I don’t think I’ve punched anyone since about fourth grade. I do wonder what my father would say about all this, having lived through and escaped from extermination camps in the Second World War. He would get furious if he ever caught me watching Hogan’s Heroes as a kid, insisting that Nazis were no joke. He dedicated his adult life to education and standing against nationalistic hate, yet he died of cancer as an American president was insisting that we torture prisoners in the ways that my father was tortured by camp guards as a child.
Even then, as the United States was changing and heading onto a darker path in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, I don’t think many would have predicted the mainstreaming of actual Nazism that we now face. But here we are.
In the last several months, I’ve seen members of the American Heathen community appear to be more comfortable with those who have spent years in Nazi organizations than they are with members of the demographics these groups target.
I’ve heard otherwise decent people insist that inclusive Heathens must focus on “winning over” racist Heathens in prisons and hate groups, that we must welcome them into our religious organizations, our online groups, and even our homes so that they can be weaned away from hate. I’ve watched them salute a far-right extremist for setting aside his hatefulness while at work and being civil to a gay co-worker, as if one deserves a cookie for managing to rise to the level of basic human decency and control his hate just enough to not commit workplace hate-crimes.
When asked about reaching out to African-American and Muslim communities, these same Heathens say, “What, do you want us to start knocking on doors in black neighborhoods?” When asked about supporting Black Lives Matter, they state, “We don’t get involved in politics.” White prison gangs, yes; black neighborhoods, no. Nazi outreach organizations, yes; Black Lives Matter, no. This is a strange sort of inclusivity.
I disagree with this, but people can disagree agreeably. It becomes an insoluble issue when President Trump’s condemnation of anti-Nazi protestors as an equal evil to Nazis becomes internalized and when those who stand against racism – whether in the Heathen religions or in the larger society – are condemned as extremists in a misguided attempt to appear fair and equitable.
There has recently been a noticeable uptick on social media of people stating that they are “against extremism on either side.” This is exactly the position of Trump that was applauded by David Duke and company, because they knew that it gave them a psychological victory over those who oppose their hate. A swathe of the American public has been convinced that standing against Nazism is an equivalent evil to Nazism, that denouncing anti-Semitism is just as bad as espousing it. This is a victory for the worst hatemongers. This is insane.
I reject the idea that opposing hate is somehow as bad as promoting Nazi ideologies. This false equivalency is destructive to the very foundations of a civil society. America’s paralysis in the face of growing native Nazism today denies the sacrifice of all those who died on the battlefield stopping foreign Nazism in the Second World War. For any who claim to respect their ancestors, this is a Schande, a shame that ruins the reputation of any who allow this abomination to flourish in our society.
I reject the idea that we must understand, empathize, and respect those who openly advocate and commit violence against people of color, practitioners of minority religions, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. We must declare this behavior unacceptable. There must be no place for it in our society.
If it is considered extreme to declare zero tolerance for Nazis, so be it. I will honor all those from all nations who stood against Nazi Germany in the past by standing against Nazi America today. You can invite a Nazi over for a beer if you want, but turn around that 1945 mantelpiece photo of your grandfather in uniform before you answer the door.
The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.