Cook: What to do about the Nazis

Cook: What to do about the Nazis

April 15th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Pay them not to come.

"Offer those Nazis $15,000 to cancel," one woman said. "Once they get here it can cost over $100,000 in hospital bills, police time, SWAT teams and lawyer fees if any sort of drive-by shooting or ruckus occurs."

Stitch yellow stars on our sleeves. Place long-burning yellow candles in every window of every downtown store, apartment and restaurant.

"The silent witness of yellow candles for the duration of the Nazis' visit," a reader emailed.

Renounce their Nazism with diversity. Black, white, gay, straight, religious, atheist, line up together on the Walnut Street Bridge.

"Since we have the world's longest pedestrian bridge, we can form an unbroken chain of peace," one man said.

In case you haven't heard, we're about to get a face full of hate. The National Socialist Movement, the largest neo-Nazi group in America, is holding its 40th anniversary rally on the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn on April 26.

Their ideology calls for a pureblood, snow-white America. So let's beat them at their own game.

"Offer free ancestral DNA testing for the top 10 officers of our swastika-wearing visitors," one friend said.

What would it look like to counter their racism with an event that builds black-white trust here? Or hold an inter-religious ceremony devoted to Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah. Pack the house (The Tivoli? McKenzie Arena?) full of Jews, Muslims, Christians, anyone, everyone.

"A communitywide understanding and respect for their corporate grief," the reader said.

I'd like to hire some big-chested tenors and sopranos. Drag the speakers out of Track 29, give them more microphones than a Nixon news conference and tell them to let loose until the china bursts. Let them drown out the Nazi rhetorical slopline. Their falseness against our falsettos.

We could also avoid it totally. If a Nazi shouts into a microphone and nobody hears him, does the hate still spread?

Or would doing so signal some tacit approval? Don't we need to match their voices with louder voices of our own?

We must do something, for the neo-Nazis are belching out a dangerous ideology, taking their script right out of 1940 Germany. Yet they are also clownish and warped, like bloated cartoons from a drunken Hateland. Swastikas? Storm Trooper uniforms? Sometimes, evil is seductive; other times, it's idiotic.

They arrive in two weeks. This is the calm before the storm. We have time to think a few things over.

• The neo-Nazis are not monsters.

Yes, they are espousing monstrous thoughts and would be the first to regrease the machinery of evil.

Yet whatever wickedness they are capable of, I am as well. It is this lesson that is of utmost importance: that genocide and great evil are not committed by those with red horns and tails and pitchforks, but by ordinary, unthinking people. You know, good rule-following citizens.

When philosopher Hannah Arendt observed the trial of captured Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann, she wrote about his plainness. The banality of his evil. The psychiatrist who examined him even pronounced him sane.

When asked the reasons for their actions, Nazis often answered: We were following orders, we were just doing what we were told.

Following orders. Just doing what we were told.

Really want to protest the Nazis? Vaccinate our town against conformity and group-think and just-going-along-with-things obedience.

• The neo-Nazis call for job creation, a rebuilding of the middle class and an end to illegal immigration. Ignore the swastika imagery, and they sound like a modern political party.

"Strengthening family values, economic self-sufficiency, reform of illegal immigration policies," their website manifesto reads.

Such bait can hook America's poor. There's been a 56 percent increase in hate groups since 2000, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. So if you can't pull yourself up by your bootstraps, the next best thing is using them to stand on someone else's head.

• If we protest the Nazis, can we please also protest the entrenched poverty in our city?

It would be marvelous to have 1,000 people righteously march in counter-protest. It would be even more marvelous to have an 80 percent voter turnout this fall and citizens who routinely and regularly hold accountable our local and national politicians.

Let's not confuse our dramatic Nazi protest with day-to-day democracy.

We need just as many people lining the seats at the next school board meeting.

Just ask Mizpah Congregation's Rabbi Bill Tepper. Days ago, I asked him what it took to stop hate. He only needed one word.

"Education," he said.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.