On Civil War monuments, American Nazis, white supremacists and (maybe) necessary limits on free speech

The Thinker by Rodin

Is there a difference between a Neo-Nazi and a white supremacist? My take: not really. A Neo-Nazi may be quicker to raise a Nazi salute and yell “Heil Trump!” (as happened in Charlottesville) while surrounding monuments to Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee. Both seemed happy to chant, “Jews will not replace us” readily enough. Both groups assert that whites are a superior race and should be in charge.

If you truly believe this then there is no room for the democratic process, which may explain why so many Americans like totalitarianism. That’s pretty much what the real Nazis figured out once they decided they were right. Jews and other minorities in Germany weren’t going to “self-deport” themselves. So the final solution of murdering them all seemed an obvious but grisly solution to their so-called problem. There is no reason to think American Neo-Nazis would think otherwise, particularly when they show their seriousness by arming themselves to the teeth during their “protests” and spend the night before hanging outside a Jewish synagogue.

Forgotten among all this Neo-Nazi news is exactly what the Nazis actually believed. If you were a Nazi, you agreed with Germany’s National Socialist German Workers Party. I doubt any of these Neo-Nazis would consider themselves socialists. Socialism means government controlling the means of production, which is far more Alt-Left (if such a community existed) than Alt-Right. Nazi’s believed that you had to have German “blood” to be a citizen. Presumably Neo-Nazis would demand that you have “white” blood to be a citizen, but most Neo-Nazis probably would not qualify there too. Somewhere in their recent genetic past are likely one or more non-Caucasians. Would they self deport themselves from America if true? I think not.

Nazis also wanted to abolish unearned income, like living off your interest and dividends. No Neo-Nazi would go along with that. Many of them live off inheritances already. Also, Nazis wanted the nationalization of German industries. Imagine the government owning GM or Ford! No Neo-Nazi today would ever conceive of doing this. Nazi’s wanted “old age welfare”, government appropriation of private lands, and to kill all “usurers” (moneylenders). So what makes American Neo-Nazis even more appalling than real Nazis is that they are more conservative than actual Nazis were. They want all the Nazi bad stuff without its modicum of good stuff!

Perhaps that’s why a scene from the day after Election Day, November 9, 2016, keeps going through my head. I arose in Nashville and was flying home, transiting through Atlanta. Obviously, Trump’s election was huge news and CNN was everywhere in the airport while I was there. I was riding the subway between concourses and was drawn to watching a black flight attendant. There was no mistaking the anguish on her face that she valiantly but fruitlessly tried to hide. She knew that Jim Crow had won the day. She now knew she had an explicit (rather than implicit) target on her back. She woke up like many of us into an America she no longer recognized. Me? Well, I was white. I would survive. Probably.

In any event, the real Nazis turned out to be a huge problem for the rest of us. It’s largely forgotten but the United States entry into the Second World War was hardly due to a national consensus. Then as now there were Steve Bannons around who wanted to keep us out of the war. We might not have entered the war without the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. (Before the attack, President Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program though showed our sympathies.) By then it was clear what we were dealing with: people so driven by ideology that only war could end them. We entered these wars not just because we were attacked, but also because we could not allow an evil this large stand. It was a completely reasonable to think that if the Nazis and the Japanese succeeded, our freedoms and liberties were in jeopardy.

The irony is that today America is perhaps the most Nazi-sympathetic country on the planet, as Donald Trump’s election attests. A postwar Germany went out of its way to avoid falling into the Nazi trap again. Displaying the Nazi flag in Germany today is a crime, as is doing a Nazi salute, wearing a Nazi uniform, shouting Nazi slogans and giving Nazi greetings. Many European countries have similar laws. Europeans learned the lesson: that National Socialism stuff is dangerous stuff!

Here in the United States though these things are allowed. We saw what a ruckus it can stir up over in the protests in Charlottesville. We allow most forms of civil protest even when these views if implemented would lead to the destruction of our liberal democracy. Curiously, in writing Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler admired the way Americans were separating its races through segregation and by making it hard for non-whites to hold power. Much of it was due to Jim Crow laws, but there was plenty of racism north of the Mason-Dixon line too. The Democratic Party of the 19th and early 20th centuries was largely a white nationalist and principally working class party. Somewhere in the middle of the 20th Century the roles got reversed. The Party of Lincoln is now the party of white nationalists.

This raises the question: should certain forms of free speech like advocating for Nazism simply not be allowed? Nazism literally ripped Germany apart, not to mention much of the world. It killed tens of millions so why on earth would any country permit it? Why play with such a dangerous fire? Our own Civil War supposedly settled the question of whether all of us were really equal before the law. But Charlottesville proves that there are plenty of people who didn’t like the answer. The Civil War monuments erected during Jim Crow and afterward prove that in some ways our bloody civil war was but a major skirmish and we have not quite settled the question.

It’s unlikely that removing these statues of the leaders of Confederacy will extinguish these racists feelings too. It might enflame these feelings instead. It’s worth a try and I hope state and local governments persist in these efforts. There are plenty of admirable Southern people deserving of statues in their place whose actions rests on a higher moral plain.