On Kenosha and the difficulty of recognising Nazism in the US

Nazis have not disappeared. They have simply said they are not Nazis.

Supporters of the National Socialist Movement,
Supporters of the National Socialist Movement, a white nationalist political group, give Nazi salutes at an undisclosed location in Georgia, US on April 21, 2018 [File: Reuters/Go Nakamura]

It is sometimes said that when someone resorts to making comparisons to Adolf Hitler during a debate they have lost. Comparing mandatory pandemic lockdowns or the near-forced labour of “essential workers” and educators to Nazi policy may indeed, at times, be overly-dramatic.

But when what is being criticised is the instinct to shout “Sieg Heil”, campaign slogans bearing the name of American Nazi sympathiser organisations, plans to stop a “demographic bomb” and prevent the breaking down of “the white, male power structure”, when the society criticised is one in which white supremacists kill protesters protesting against the state killings of an ethnic minority, when a senior adviser to the president promoted materials on the theme of white genocide and the top writer for the most popular news programme in the country wrote posts about intellectual deficiencies in Asian and Black people, the comparison is not always out of place.

There have been several nights of broken glass in the history of the American colony. Several dark-skinned Anne Franks hiding in the exposed roots of trees covered in spruce pine and red onion to throw off the tracking dogs. Holocausts, pogroms are a dime a dozen, extermination attempts, mass internment, cattle cars, but its primary targets were Black and Indigenous – populations whose lives and deaths are still considered to be of little consequence.

As a result, the society built upon a gulag continues to be called a great experiment in democracy. Atrocities committed against non-white people are trivialised and reduced to “the imperfections” of an “imperfect nation”. The tonnage of blood and flesh peeled from whipping posts, Black town burnings, and “Indian Wars” are but flecks of dust floating against a harmonious, pioneering white settlement destined to civilise the world.

More a Merkers Mine than a state, the slave colony where Black life was waterboarded between the threshing wheel of slave production and the thin air of “race riots” is, even in 2020, seen by many as the birthplace of modern liberty. This is because embedded in both the colony’s structure – and in the minds of its admirers – is the fact that Black people do not count. If Black lives mattered, the lights shining from the shining city on the hill would be known to be concentration camp searchlights. If Black lives mattered, globally, America would be a pariah state.

Leftists will watch racists genuflect before a president who hugs the flag. They will watch protesters taken away in unmarked vans for protesting the arbitrary state murder of Black people and cry: “fascism!”

But there is a particular form of fascism to which the American state conforms. A fascism that is organised around the logic of white nationalism, the destruction, exploitation and expelling of ethnic minorities, and white political supremacy. The charge of fascism conveniently leaves out or makes subordinate the race hatred that fuels, enables and is the primary reason for the support of this burgeoning authoritarianism.

A leftist that comes away from reading the history of Nazi Germany denouncing, first, the Third Reich’s subversion of political norms, should be suspected of anti-Semitism. A leftist who warns of the rise of fascism as evidenced by the destruction of mail-sorting machines and the appearance of unmarked vehicles at protests in a country that has prison farms, is one for whom Black life has not counted.

As many have laboured to remind this society, Hitler’s genocidal project was inspired by (if not a tribute to) the American colony. Contrary to the racist claim that racism is un-American, it is more accurate to say that the Third Reich was a type of Americanism.

European innovation and efficiency were added to the blood quantum laws, Black codes, eugenics, forced relocation, work camps, and killing fields of rugged America. Slave ships to cattle cars, Tuskegee experiments to Josef Mengele, the Nazi project was less an otherworldly “radical evil” that came out of nowhere than it was a facsimile of the white supremacist order of the colonies.

It remains an entirely strange thing to shoot into a crowd of protesters protesting against police anti-Blackness and killings. Stranger still, is to wish Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager who killed two people and injured one, to be president. And for the leader of the country to come to his defence.

It does, however, follow exactly the logic of Nazism. Whereas firing automatic weapons into a crowd and killing scores in Paris is seen as evidence of the collapse of Europe under “Islamofascistic” terror – often by the very same conservatives and religious groups who now come to the aid of Rittenhouse – the killing of the people protesting against the centuries-long tradition of white right to the pleasurable destruction of dark-skinned people is to be excused.

In America, white supremacists are handled as if the Shoah never happened. As if a civil war was not fought to maintain their power to destroy the flesh and aspirations of dark-skinned bodies at will, and keep them in perpetual sexual and physical torture.

Even now the president and conservatives sacralise the battle flag of that effort and decry the felling of monuments to its child abusers. In America, white supremacists are given water bottles and all but deputised to put down a Black uprising against pleasure-killing. Like all white supremacist colonies, in America, the white settler is expected to be the colony’s auxiliary force. In the colony, the Allgemeine SS is always already assembled.

White supremacists are treated as if modernity is not a holocaust they got away with. As if they do not speak of and attempt to launch and carry out race wars to this day, to infiltrate security forces they deem not sufficiently white supremacist and to perpetrate mass killings. Devotees of a death-cult to pink pigmentation, responsible for murders from Goa to Gambia, are given more benefit of the doubt than a Black boy in a convenience store.

Republicans invited white people brandishing weapons at protesters to speak at their national convention. Days later, a white person killed protesters with an automatic weapon. This has not led to contrition. On the contrary, the killer is being praised and defended by police and politicians and funds are being raised for his legal defence. The killing of protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, is being given tacit approval. This is not without precedent. For instance, the pogrom on German Jews of November 9-10, 1938, was not pushed back against by Nazi leaders. Presumably, white liberals were imploring the Fuhrer to turn around and heal the country then as well.

If the boy who killed the protestors in Kenosha erred, it was that he was too eager. A bit more patience and the aspiring officer would have the murder laundered as police error. Now conservatives must assemble a patchwork of defences. They say he travelled to defend property and put down lawlessness. For those nostalgic for the era when Black people were subject to any white person’s authority and those accused of stealing could be killed by any ordinary white civilian with impunity , it is, of course, reasonable for a teenager to travel across state lines and shoot into a crowd suspected of property damage. To those for whom Black lives do not matter unless they are property, it is no more improper to chase and shoot “the Blacks” that refuse to remain in their chains than it is to shoot rabid horses in a barn.

The Nazis have not disappeared; they have just said that they are not Nazis. This has proven enough to shake the bloodhounds of liberal investigative journalism and scholarship off of their trail. But it need not confuse the dispassionate observer.

When examining the photos of the corrections officer mock-killing George Floyd before a Trump banner affixed to the rear window of a pick-up truck, one might reflect upon why that particular banner was chosen. It is rare for campaign hats to be worn throughout the entire first term or as props for shows of white supremacist aggression. George W Bush merchandise and campaign signs were not often sported in neo-Nazi rallies, neither was Hilary Clinton’s name routinely spat at visible minorities as if to punctuate racist attacks. There are only two dots; they are quite easy to connect. One struggles to draw the line because the pencil is gripped by anti-Blackness.

The cognitive dissonance required to misrecognise this four-year-long Kristallnacht is helped along by the deep-seated misrecognition of the humanity in Black people. You do not need to affix a yellow Star of David to the clothes to dehumanise a people who are shot at for saying their lives matter.

Hitler called America a mongrel nation. The current administration – ably helped by its enthusiastic civilian volunteers – has set itself to the task of de-mongrelisation. Those who “cry Nazism” are told they are being alarmist and that it cannot happen here. It has happened here. It is happening here, constantly. But the life and lives of the victims of the American holocausts, Black and Indigenous, do not matter. Their persecution is normalised. Their massacre is referred to as a flawed past. There is no “never again” in a country of holocaust-deniers.

It is not good to kill people while they protest against arbitrary and racist murder. This is not clear in America. Those who await that particular train of enlightenment to arrive should check beneath their shoes. Ensure that the grave you stand upon does not continue to go unmarked. In fact, consider leaving the crowded station altogether. If white supremacist past is prologue, the next train is pulling cattle cars.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.