How Contemporary White Nationalists Reference Nazi Germany

On Tuesday, November 22, 2016, The Atlantic posted an article entitled “’Hail Trump!’: White Nationalists Salute the President Elect.” It concerns a November 19 National Policy Institute (NPI) conference in Washington, DC, along with video footage excerpted from the speech of NPI president Richard B. Spencer. The NPI is an “alt-right” (i.e. right-wing extremist) white nationalist organization based in Arlington, VA, just outside of the US capital. Though it was founded only in 2005, the NPI is a part of a stream of North American racism, antisemitism, and support for Nazism that dates back to the 1930s, and which has never entirely disappeared. In his speech, Spencer drew heavily on the symbols, language, and ideology of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party. Here is how:

1. “Hail Trump! Hail Our People! Hail Victory!”

When Spencer shouted “Hail Trump! Hail Our People! Hail Victory!” he was directly immitating the famous Nazi slogans “Heil Hitler!” (“Hail Hitler!”) and “Seig Heil!” (“Hail Victory!”). “Our People” is a reference to the ever-present Nazi term Volk, a word the meaning of which encompasses “people,” “nation,” and “racial community.”

Hitler saluting at a 1928 rally. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

2. The Nazi Salute

Immediate after Richard B. Spencer shouts “Hail Trump, Hail Our People, Hail Victory,” many in the crowd raise their arms in the Hitler salute. This is repeated several times during the video. It is in direct imitation of the iconic political salute of the Third Reich. Note that Spencer himself responds to the crowd by raising his glass high in the air, drinking, then raising his glass high—a carefully contrived gesture which enables him to respond to the crowd while ensuring that he cannot technically be accused of making the Hitler salute.

Richard B. Spencer gestures after shouting “Hail Trump! Hail Our People! Hail Victory!” Screenshot from The Atlantic video.

3. “No one will honor us for losing gracefully. No one mourns the great crimes against us. For us, it is conquer or die.”

This idea emerges often in Nazi propaganda. Leading up to his seizure of power in 1933, Hitler campaigned relentlessly against the “Versailles Diktat,” the “dictated peace” of the Treaty of Versailles, signed after the First World War. Hitler railed incessantly against that German defeat, which he and others described as a “stab in the back” by the “November criminals,” meaning the socialists, communists, liberals, and Jews who had “betrayed” Germany. A good example of this kind of propaganda comes from a 1932 edition of Flammenwerfer (“Flamethrower”), in which Nazi propagandists declare that the interwar Weimar Republic, a democratic political system, was brought to power through murder and terror, and then proceed to name the so-called criminals who had set the system in place.

The “conquer or die” language is common in Nazi ideology, with its Social Darwinian view of the world. Essentially, the Nazis believed that the races of the world were locked in a struggle for survival (drawing from Darwinian biological theory), and that Germans would literally either conquer or die. As Hitler put it in a 1923 speech:

Who yields voluntarily? No one! So the strength which each people possesses decides the day. Always before God and the world the stronger has the right to carry through what he wills. History proves: He who has not the strength—him the ‘right in itself’ profits not a whit. … The whole world of nature is a mighty struggle between strength and weakness—an eternal victory of the strong over the weak. There would be nothing but decay in the whole of nature if this were not so. States which should offend against the elementary law would fall into decay.

Quotations such as this abound from the time of the Third Reich.

4. The mainstream media as the “lying press” or “Luegenpresse,” as “leftists and cucks,” followed by, “One wonders if these people are people at all,” and the suggestion that they are “soulless Golem animated by some dark power.”

Hitler regularly slapped labels like “lying” and “criminal” on his political enemies, not least the German press. Already in an early speech from 1923, Hitler railed against what he believed was a Jewish conspiracy which had orchestrated the entrance of the USA into the First World War. Drawing on prejudicial associations between Jews, the media, and Wall Street, Hitler proclaimed, “And so the venal press which depended upon the Stock Exchange kings began an unparalleled propaganda campaign. A gigantic organization for newspaper lying was built up. And once more it is a Jewish concern, the Hearst Press, which set the tone for the agitation against Germany.” In this way, Hitler accused the “lying press” in America and others who opposed him of being “Jewish” and “un-German.”

Note that, during his speech, Richard B. Spencer cracks a sheepish smile after speaking the word “Luegenpresse.” It is a moment that captures his (guilty?) pleasure at invoking this Nazi term.

Spencer Luegenpresse smile.jpg
Spencer smiling after uttering the word “Luegenpresse”. Screenshot from The Atlantic video.

Why “leftists and cucks”? In Hitler’s world view, Judaism and Bolshevism were closely intertwined; references to “leftists” invariable implied “Jews” and vice versa. Indeed, the two terms were often used side by side in Hitler’s speeches and Nazi propaganda to denote Hitler’s chief political enemies. “Cucks” is a term commonly employed in today’s extremist “alt-right” movement. It refers to that old word “cuckold,” the husband of an adulterous wife, a term of derision implying emasculated male weakness. Here it means both weakness and effeminacy, and is simultaneously an attack on soft political enemies and on the presence of powerful women in politics. This mimics the hyper-masculinity of Nazi politics, in which the enemies of Hitler were often referred to as “weiblich” (“female” or “womanly”), which was also a word play on “weichlich” (“weak” or “soft”).

Next, Spencer’s question about whether the press who oppose Trump are even human echoes Nazi racial ideology, in which Jews and other races were deemed “sub-human,” even as the handicapped were described as “lives unworthy of life.”

Finally, the reference to “soulless Golem” is interesting. The Golem is a figure in Jewish mythology, a kind of friendly Frankenstein, a clumsy idiot. The Golem of Prague was a mythical figure who was said to have protected the Jews of that city. In the context of Spencer’s speech, it means essentially a force which is controlled by others, and hints at Jewish conspiracy. And the soullessness of Spencer’s Golem also echoes Nazi propaganda, which described Jews as a materialistic people without any innate spiritual capacity. Here too, the idea that the press is animated by a dark force mimics the way that leading Nazis, not least the ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, referred to the Jews as conspiratorial, Satanic, demonic, and people of darkness.

5. “To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conquerer. We build, we produce, we go upward.”

This reiterates the earlier reference to the Nazi racial hierarchy and Social Darwinian world view. Spencer is asserting white supremacy, and echoing the Nazi claim that Germans were the source of all culture, all achievement in human history, and that Jews were only imitators and corrupters who did not actually produce anything. For instance, Hitler and the Nazis valorized farmers as the productive people of the earth, the core of the German Volk, while Jews were depicted as parasites who produced nothing but lived off the exploitation of others, not least through investment income from the stock market or real estate. Here the implication is that white Americans are the real contributors, the real producers, while non-whites are the people to be conquered, the people who do not build or produce.

6. “The central lie of American race relations: we don’t exploit other groups. We don’t gain anything from their presence. They need us, and not the other way around.”

This follows from the previous point. While regularly proclaiming the greatness of the Aryan race, Hitler simultaneously cast the Germans as a people on the defensive, under attack from Jewish elements and foreign enemies alike. The persecution of Jews through Nazi policy and German law—for example, the 1933 and subsequent restrictions on Jews in the civil service, in schools, in professional occupations, the 1935 redefinition of German citizenship to exclude Jews, and the subsequent attack on marriages or sexual relations between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans—was depicted as a defensive measure designed to preserve the purity of German blood and with it the ongoing survival of the German race.

7. With the very blood in our veins, as children of the sun, lies the potential for greatness. That is the great struggle we are called to.”

Hitler believed that the soul of a people—it’s elemental power and character—was located in the blood. In Mein Kampf, Hitler’s famous ideological handbook, he declared:

Blood mixture and the resultant drop in the racial level is the sole cause of the dying out of old cultures; for men do not perish as a result of lost wars, but by the loss of that force of resistance which is contained only in pure blood. All who are not of good race in this world are chaff. And all occurrences in world history are only expression of the races’ instinct for self-preservation. What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, the sustenance of our children and the purity of our blood, the freedom and independence of the fatherland, so that our people may mature for the fulfilment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe. Those who are physically and mentally unhealthy and unworthy must not perpetuate their suffering in the body of their children.

The Nazi movement was obsessed with this notion of blood power. Here, Spencer invokes it as a way to identify his white audience.

As for “children of the sun,” I would assume it to be a reference to the swastika, the symbol of Nazism, which in its various uses in Asian cultures referred to the sun or divinities associated with the sun, and which in later (pre-Nazi) modern Western culture came to symbolize power or strength.

The Nazi swastika symbol. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Once more, Spencer’s repeated mention of “struggle” is a reference to the centrality of violent competition within the Social Darwinian culture of National Socialism, and suggests the kind of campaign for white power he has in mind.

8. “We were not meant to live in shame, and weakness, and disgrace.”

Yet again, this echoes the Nazi anger at the German defeat in the First World War, and Hitler’s incessant campaigning on a platform of overturning the Versailles Treaty, remilitarizing Germany, and restoring German power. One example of this appears at the opening of the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will, which depicts the annual Nazi Party congress at Nuremberg in 1934 as taking place “20 years after the outbreak of the World War, 16 years after the beginning of German suffering [a reference to the defeat, the Treaty of Versailles, and the Weimar Republic], 19 months after the beginning of the German rebirth.” “Germany Awake!” was an important early slogan of the Nazi movement, and appeared on flags of the SA, or Stormtroopers, the large Nazi paramilitary organization. Here, Spencer’s rejection of the shame, weakness, and disgrace he believes has been imposed upon white America signals his white nationalists’ anger at their lost position of power and privilege within the politics, economy, culture, and society of the United States.

9. Political enemies as “some of the most despicable creatures to populate the planet.”

This is simply another example of the Nazi-style depiction of political enemies as sub-humans.

10. “We were meant to overcome, overcome all of it, because that is natural and normal for us.”

Once again, this is a reference to the Social Darwinian notion of the survival of the racially fittest peoples. “Natural and normal” conform to Hitler’s belief in the innate, biological reality of racial competition, which overrode all conventional codes of morality or ethics.

11. The press is against “the continued existence of white America.”

This is yet another echo of the Nazi notion of global racial struggle as a matter of life and death. The idea that Germans were a threatened race was used to justify all manner of crimes against Jews and other racial, social, or political enemies of the Nazi movement.

12. “America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation. It is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

This echoes Hitler’s notion of “Germany for Germans,” with all other peoples reduced to the second-class status of resident aliens or (ultimately) slaves to serve the “superior” Aryan people. Under Hitler, this idea reached its fullest expression during the Second World War, when roughly 7.5 Eastern Europeans (including Jews) toiled as slave labourers within the massive German war economy. Here it evokes American anti-black racism and the idea of a return to second-class or slave status for non-whites.

In conclusion, these are the many ways in which some in the contemporary “alt-right” (right-wing extremists) draw on the symbols, language, and ideology of Hitler’s National Socialist movement to fuel a campaign for “white power” in the USA.

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