Biden Should Remove Trump Appointee With White Nationalist Ties
Daniel Jones is a doctoral researcher in history at the University of Northampton, focusing on post-war British fascist and anti-fascist cultures.
Given the many events in the lame-duck period of President Trump’s term of office, it is understandable if you missed the November 19, 2020 appointment of Darren Beattie to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.
The Commission identifies and helps preserve cemeteries and other historical sites across Europe – this remit includes the preservation of sites connected to the Holocaust. Beattie meanwhile was a speechwriter who, in 2018, was fired from the Trump Administration for appearing on a panel alongside Peter Brimelow, an anti-immigration activist, and a woman who advocated for apartheid in South Africa. Beattie has been linked by media to support for Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist, and has himself repeated claims that George Soros is behind attacks on Trump, tapping into well known anti-Semitic tropes.
This three-year appointment drew understandable concern and outrage from progressive Jewish groups like J Street as well as from anti-hate organizations like the Anti-Defamation League. It also raised one really key question: Why would members of the Radical Right want to sit on heritage organizations, especially ones that have a role in commemorating the Holocaust?
One obvious example of this is the Hungarian Government of Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party, in power since 2010. Orbán is perhaps one of the most prominent and vocal attackers of George Soros, to the point of chasing Central European University – which Soros founded – out of Hungary. Hungary also has a tragic history in the Holocaust under its wartime leader Miklos Horthy, with 424,000 Jews deported to death camps in just eight weeks from May 1944 – by the end of the war around 565,000 Hungarian Jews will have been murdered. The rise of Fidesz has, however, not stopped remembrance of this part of Hungarian history, but merely shifted it.
Shortly after his election, Orbán appointed a new head of Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center – Szabolcs Szita. In an interview given shortly after taking up the post, Szita argued that were it not for German direct intervention, Hungary would have been an example to the world, an island of peace until 1944. Given that in the same interview he admits to the Hungarian state looting its Jewish citizens, it is difficult to understand how this version of a peaceful idyll pre-1944 can be upheld.
It ignores, for example, the conscription of 100,000 Jewish men for forced Labour before 1944, resulting in around 40,000 deaths. What Szita did was admit there were evil men, who would be eternally damned, but it was pushed downwards – away from Horthy and decoupled from Hungarian wartime policy that saw it help occupy and dismember neighboring states. Instead, Szita focused blame on Andor Jaross, the wartime Minister of the Interior, and his two deputies László Endre and László Baky.
As well as praising Horthy and the reconquering of lost territories during the Second World War, Orbán’s leadership has also seen statues and plaques commemorating Horthy erected across Hungary. New monuments do not speak of Jewish victims of the Holocaust or acknowledge a different experience that saw Hungarian Jews victimized by their own country, instead, new national monuments are erected like Orban’s Memorial to the Victims of German Occupation.
There have even been new museums erected – the House of Terror remembers the terror of totalitarian regimes, both Nazi and communist. As Politico notes, this museum has a single room dedicated to the Holocaust, but twenty on Hungary’s communist period – and its director was condemned by Holocaust scholar Randolph L. Braham as a ‘nationalist Holocaust distorter’.
Hungary is also not alone in this. A 2019 report by the Holocaust Remembrance Project, supported by Yale and Grinnell colleges, identified several governments in Europe were engaging in this revision of Holocaust history. Particularly of note for inclusion was the Radical Right Polish Government alongside Orbán and the Hungarian Government, both were put into the ‘Red’ category of the worst offenders while Italy was also highlighted as a regressive force in Western Europe, gaining the ‘Yellow’ category.
In Poland, the same narratives as in Hungary have come to dominate, with ethnic Polish victims of the Holocaust mentioned alongside or ahead of Jewish victims, and the role of Polish collaboration is minimized in favor of emphasizing these as Nazi crimes simply occurring within the Polish space.
This narrative is seen to have changed and accelerated under the Law and Justice party (PiS) since its 2015 election win – who identified the incorrect term ‘Polish Death Camps’ as evidence of Poland being framed as perpetrators rather than victims of the Holocaust. Since coming to power, Holocaust education has been reduced within the national curriculum and now requires teachers to discuss the role of Poles in saving the Jews during the Holocaust.
A member of the Government even went as far as to suggest a new museum be set up dedicated to the ‘Polocaust’. The Holocaust Remembrance Project report though was clear to point out that existing heritage structures were promoting learning still, highlighting the role of archives and museums within Poland for continuing Holocaust education.
So, Trump’s appointment of Beattie can be seen not just as part of the Trump assault on societal standards and norms, but as part of a wider Radical Right engagement on this difficult part of European History. That these efforts seek to emphasize the role of Nazi Germany and minimize the roles of other perpetrators, and thus pushing any responsibility away from other nationalists and isolate blame entirely within the toxic Nazi ‘brand’.
As Marisa Fox called for at the end of December 2020, Biden must find a way to fire Beattie and remove him from the commission. Just as Beattie was unrepentant after his initial firing, standing by his participation and comments, he has recently continued praise for Trump hardliners like Stephen Miller – Miller was himself added to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of extremists in mid-2020. Beattie’s continued presence – each and every minute of his service on this commission – presents a real threat of these harmful radical right narratives being repeated on the world stage and with all the weight that comes from an American representative.
The Second World War and the Holocaust served to discredit fascism totally, tarnished nationalism in general, and created an anti-fascist consensus in Europe and the wider West. Therefore, by allowing the Radical Right to simplify Holocaust narratives down to Nazi guilt alone, while expanding notions of victimhood, we risk allowing nationalist identities tied into those wartime regimes to separate themselves from the Holocaust and its delegitimizing impact. As Dan Stone warns, Europe has seen a long unwinding of the post-war Anti-fascist consensus, and acts like Trump’s may serve to help accelerate that.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.