We Must Not Let Neo-Nazis Rebrand Themselves As Thought Leaders
“We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.” — Karl Popper
If two years ago you told me that in one day, The New York Times would try to hire a Nazi sympathizer fond of homophobic slurs and the n-word on her Twitter feed, while Politico would publish a long-form proposal for letting Americans hire immigrants as indentured servants in their home sweatshops, I would’ve laughed and asked what country you’re talking about. But having witnessed it, all I can do is ask in horror what kind of country America is very rapidly becoming. Inviting Nazi sympathizers on editorial boards, and toying around with bringing back Slavery-lite for foreign-born residents? Are we living in a modern nation, or some bizarre throwback to the 1930s?
One of the reasons why this is suddenly happening is the mainstreaming and codification of racism and nativist populism into official government policy. This shifted the Overton Window, or the range of ideas deemed acceptable in public discourse. When angry old men who hate immigrants and those with darker skin are making punitive laws in response to racist conspiracy theories and ideologies, we have little choice but to talk about them. Nazis and white nationalists piggyback on this opening to introduce their dogmas, ostensibly in the name of “free speech” and “competition in the marketplace of ideas,” playing victim when they encounter obvious resistance.
Since playing Devil’s advocate is now the hottest thing since both sliced bread and perforated toilet paper, let’s consider the argument made by both the bigots and those willing to give them a pass. What’s wrong with letting a few people speak, even if their ideas are vile? Surely, if what they have to say is so bad, they’ll just be ignored, right? Maybe this could be our chance to try and engage Nazis and white supremacists and understand them! They could see we’re all people and how unpopular their ideas are, and rethink their lives in the process! Surely you’re not going to advocate for less speech, right? Why wouldn’t the answer to hate speech be more speech?
To these people I ask, are you serious? We had a war about Nazi ideas; there was a whole world involved. We had well over a century of terrorism aimed at ethnic and racial minorities. We know what the bigots think: That being the right skin color entitles them to life and death decisions over all others, that any problem they have is caused by minorities, and any gains minorities make must come at their expense or are due to those minorities gaming the system. You see, in their minds, virtually all non-whites are incapable of achieving success or being productive members of society, at least not honestly. There are no grand mysteries of Nazi and white supremacist thought.
Really, the only reason why they want attention now is because they’re busy trying to rebrand themselves as “conservative pragmatists” who would rather you not call them racist, as they find this offensive, and would like to describe themselves as “race realists” who instead of genocide, would like a “peaceful ethnic cleansing” in which they will round up and deport any non-whites and Jews instead of just sending them to a death camp. See, aren’t these people so nice? They’ll kick you out of your home and send you to a foreign land where they think you belong instead of just killing you. Why I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want to give them a platform and explore their ideas in depth!
As Trump was planning his inauguration, Politico wrote a long-form primer on their efforts to present themselves as a legitimate political movement fueled by something other than hate, managing to fall into every single trap they set to get their message out with a patina of respectability. Countless other think pieces and soft focus exposes on the Nazis and white nationalists among us in the past year proceeded to do the exact same thing, marveling that one could manage to be a bigot in favor of ethnic cleansing without a bald head, combat boots, and swastikas etched into their skin. But while the Nazis are trying to clean up with the media’s help, their goals and methods haven’t changed.
The Republican establishment has been playing right into their hands with their incessant lies about immigrants and how they affect the economy or fit into America, so they obviously feel that the time is right to do some massive recruiting by putting dark suits over their swastika tattoos and letting their hair grow into short, tidy crops. And we’re now being expected to assist them in their membership drives because something something free speech? Karl Popper predicted a situation exactly like this in his Paradox of Tolerance. If we become so tolerant that we tolerate bigotry, hate, and intolerance, we would be aiding in our own demise. Or, as he put it…
[F]or it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.
Nazis do not want to engage with us for anything other than to bolster their ranks. They do not want to listen to reasons why immigrants are not ruining their lives, but their entitlement is. They refuse to believe that those with dark skin aren’t subhuman savages, that not all Semites want to conquer the world and enslave them, that mixed marriages produce more genetically diverse offspring instead of being a sign of “white genocide,” and that “race science” was always about making white colonialists feel good about being white, not a legitimate field of scientific inquiry. They are demanding the microphone so they can explain why they should keep it and others need to be silenced.
And in response to 90 years of that, The New York Times decided that what we really needed was a soft focus profile about how Nazis are just like us, aside from all that dreaming about genocide and forced deportation business. And after that backfired, they hired a good friend of one of the most outspoken Nazis on the web, who liked using racial and homophobic slurs and telling us that her feelings on her Nazi friends were “complicated” as if her thoughts on their ideology were a goddamned Facebook relationship status. With what were they thinking? Because it obviously wasn’t with their brains.
Ironically, they’re repeating their own history. In 1922, they wrote how Hitler was just using his anti-Semitism for votes and that while he advocated some “out there” ideas, he was simplifying them for the benefit of his followers. Their clear implication was that he was merely leading along bigoted rubes fed up with the Weimar Republic’s aloof elites who didn’t understand the struggle of the working man. And even if you learned your mid-20th-century history from the History Channel — which by now is probably wondering if Hitler and Nazi leaders were replaced by aliens trying to get humans to wipe themselves out — you know he wasn’t feigning his feelings on Jews and foreigners.
What’s even more disgusting is that while Quinn Norton probably thought she handled the backlash with grace and style, she had the gall to cast herself as a victim in this, in a thread of self-pitying posts about the power of the web to change lives and warning readers to use it wisely for the sake of how they will be remembered by history. I’m pretty sure history already rendered its opinion on Nazi sympathizers at Nuremberg. No amount of whining by those deluded that they are entitled to an absolute right to say anything they want without consequence, and massive platforms to say it, will change that.
Look, I’m not about to advocate that we all need to celebrate every immigrant to the United States with a ticker tape parade, and we certainly need to do our best to encourage assimilation. As an immigrant, I can tell you right now, life is a lot easier when you engage with the culture of the country in which you live and know its language by heart, and that it’s really the least you can do to respect your new home. And I’m also not going to say that every immigrant is guaranteed to be a great person who’ll never pose a danger. Immigrants can also be sexist, racist, or religious extremists.
They are — and I know this will come as a massive shock to xenophobes and Nazis — people who can be good or bad, open-minded or bigoted. But lying about what they can do and what they’re like statistically, sorting them based on hateful, self-edifying pseudoscience, demanding they live where you tell them to live, or suggest making it legal to treat them as virtual slaves to turn the native population into legal slumlords and sweatshop owners? This is to what we’re to clear the podium? To bigots ecstatic to dish it out because they think of themselves as edgy, incisive geniuses, but who’ll whine the minute they’re faced with pushback from those of us with a sense of decency?
We do not owe it to Nazis to hear them out. We know their ideology, and we know that all of their arguments are made in bad faith and lead to dragging people out of their homes, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. We’ve seen this movie, and we know how it ends. We’re not going to hold back from calling out despicable proposals for modern-day slavery of immigrants for what they are because we too know what horrors this brings. And we do not owe apologies for our vocal rebukes to those who describe themselves as friends of those bigots and their apologists. These people need better friends and consider why they’re surrounded by Nazis, racists, and their buddies.
It took centuries to mainstream the idea that people, regardless of skin color or ethnic origin, deserve to be judged as individuals and allowed the same basic rights everyone around them enjoys, rather than be segregated, used for indentured servitude or slavery, and discriminated against. We cannot allow disingenuous pleas to open-mindedness and free speech from those who want to close our minds and silence dissent to drag us back into the dark, abusive, bloody past. We owe these people exactly what they think they owe the rest of civilized society: absolutely nothing. Especially not the courtesy of sitting back and politely listening while they vocally fantasize about subjugating us.