Who knew that the New York Times could still offer up a hot take without actually making the take? Who knew that pointing out that a Nazi (self-avowed Nazi, not just throwing the name around here) lives a pretty normal life would be so controversial. See, they interviewed Tony Hovater, a guy who was recently interviewed, who likes to cook with garlic, lives in Ohio, is a welder, and, oh yeah, is a Nazi. Any guy who would be found around the likes of Matthew Heimbach should automatically be suspect. But even Heimbach makes an interesting statement in the article, the one I want to focus on:
“We need to have more families. We need to be able to just be normal,” said Matthew Heimbach, the leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party, in a podcast conversation with Mr. Hovater. Why, he asked self-mockingly, were so many followers “abnormal”?
Mr. Hovater replied: “I mean honestly, it takes people with, like, sort of an odd view of life, at first, to come this way. Because most people are pacified really easy, you know. Like, here’s some money, here’s a nice TV, go watch your sports, you know?”
He added: “The fact that we’re seeing more and more normal people come is because things have gotten so bad. And if they keep getting worse, we’ll keep getting more, just, normal people.”
I think this is what makes us so uncomfortable, deep down, when reading about the relatively normal life of an American Nazi. We don’t like hearing about his wedding planning, his trips to the store, or even that he’s polite. See, he’s a Nazi and therefore he’s one of “them.” He’s not part of “us.” He’s so much of an other that can’t let him be normalized, we can’t let him actually be someone who would blend in with our social circles. Nazis must remain monsters, not human beings with complexities surrounding them, and they must be purely evil.
And trust me, I’m not saying the above mockingly or trying to say, “C’mon guys, Nazis aren’t bad!” I mean, my last name is Borofsky…or (((Borofsky))) according to them. My point in the above is actually to point out something much more sinister; Nazis, both in 1937 and 2017, are relatively normal people. It’s not comforting to think that your friend, your boss, your co-worker, your firefighter, you neighbor, could be a Nazi; it’s even worse to look in the mirror and realize that you could also have those tendencies.
“NO! Not me! I’m perfect!”
Yes, you. All of us are susceptible to tribalism in one form or the other. All of us are, then, susceptible to committing ourselves to an ideology that would strip human beings of any dignity. We don’t like thinking of Nazis as being normal human beings because if they are normal human beings who have committed themselves to a disgusting ideology (one that deserves them a well-earned punch from time to time), who’s to say that we wouldn’t or haven’t?
It’s not popular to think about it, but Nazi camp guards, the people who rounded up Jews and others, were normal men. They didn’t have mental defects. They could have been your next door neighbor, your co-worker, your friend, your boss…you. And the same is true today. If the government actually took a far right turn, how many of us would actually rise up against it? How many would be upset, but would still go along, lying to ourselves that it’ll get better? Just look at the “Black Lives Matters” protests and how those have been handled. Sure, most people are sympathetic, but how many are passively sympathetic? How many just look at the systematic racism and go, “yeah, that’s wrong, it’s a shame” and then go about not doing a thing to change it. If you won’t rise up now to stop it when you have every right and the power to do so, what in God’s name makes you think you would have under Nazi Germany or under some not-so-fictional future United States? If you can’t even do the right thing when it costs you nothing, why would you do the right then when it costs you everything? And being apathetic to such actions does not absolve you of the guilt. For every German who stood guard in a death camp, how many knew of them just outside of town and did nothing?
We don’t like news articles that possibly normalize Nazis or put them in a context we’re familiar with because it makes us realize there’s a very thin line between us and them.