The New York Times is being criticized and mocked for a profile of Tony Hovater, an Ohio welder who makes pasta, likes Seinfeld -- and is a Nazi. The Times and the author of the profile, Richard Fausset, are being accused of normalizing Nazism, and of publishing this profile while the mainstream media continues to ignore liberals, Democrats, and non-whites when deciding which ordinary Americans illuminate the way we live now.
I agree wholeheartedly with the latter critique.
In a separate piece on the Times site, Fausset describes his story as a failure:
There is a hole at the heart of my story about Tony Hovater, the white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer.
Why did this man — intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases — gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?
... what ... explained Mr. Hovater’s radical turn? What prompted him to take his ideas beyond his living room, beyond the chat rooms, and on to Charlottesville, where he marched in August alongside allies like the neo-Confederate League of the South and the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement, which bills itself as “America’s Premier White Civil Rights Organization”? Where was his Rosebud?
Fausset tells us:
He spoke of a number of moments that soured him on mainstream politics, none of them particularly exotic. One was the Republican National Committee’s rule changes, during the 2012 convention, that worked against Mr. Hovater’s preferred candidate at the time, the libertarian Ron Paul, and in favor of Mitt Romney, the eventual Republican nominee. Mr. Hovater called it “the first time I thought about how a system will protect itself, and its own interests, to protect what it is they really want.”
In the main story, Fausset writes:
[Hovater's] political evolution — from vaguely leftist rock musician to ardent libertarian to fascist activist — was largely fueled by the kinds of frustrations that would not seem exotic to most American conservatives. He believes the federal government is too big, the news media is biased, and that affirmative action programs for minorities are fundamentally unfair.
And maybe that's the reason Fausset couldn't find a Rosebud -- because within-the-pale conservative political thought is so close to Nazi thinking that moving from one to the other doesn't require a drastic change of perspective.
Ron Paul's libertarianism was a cesspool of bigotry and paranoia -- and yet he was portrayed as the kindly old purist in a couple of presidential contests, and his son was briefly described by the mainstream media as the most interesting man in politics. Believing that "the federal government is too big, the news media is biased, and ... affirmative action programs for minorities are fundamentally unfair" leads as easily to Nazism as it does to mainstream Republicanism.
Fausset wanted to discover why Hovater became a Nazi when the real mystery is why conservative avowals of full-fledged Nazism are relatively rare. The line has been blurred for years, as Jeremy Alford of the Times noted in 2014, when Louisiana congressman Steve Scalise was promoted to a leadership position in the House of Representatives and it was revealed that he'd once spoken before an organization connected to David Duke:
During the 1991 race for governor, Mr. Duke attempted to build a bridge between the Klansman he was and the polished politician he wanted to be.
... he focused on anti-big government and anti-tax mantras that preceded the Tea Party movement. His decision to run to the right of the field is now a common maneuver in Louisiana’s open primary system.
Mr. Duke supported forcing welfare recipients to take birth control. Now there are near-perennial attempts by members of the Louisiana Legislature to give welfare recipients drug tests.
After being elected to the state House of Representatives in 1989, Mr. Duke filed nine bills, including measures implementing stricter guidelines for residents of public housing, repealing affirmative action programs and eliminating minority set-asides.
At the time, Scalise had to disavow a reporter's recollection of his early days in politics:
Stephanie Grace, a Louisiana political reporter and columnist for the past 20 years, first with The Times-Picayune in New Orleans and now The Advocate of Baton Rouge, recalled her first meeting with Mr. Scalise.
“He was explaining his politics and we were in this getting-to-know-each-other stage,” Ms. Grace said. “He told me he was like David Duke without the baggage. I think he meant he supported the same policy ideas as David Duke, but he wasn’t David Duke, that he didn’t have the same feelings about certain people as David Duke did.”
Not much is known for certain about what Scalise said in his speech to Duke's organization:
... Corey Ortis, who was a Louisiana representative for the organization from 2000 to 2004, said he attended the 2002 conference to hear from leaders of their movement, not Mr. Scalise. Still, from what he recalls of the event, Mr. Scalise gave a 10-to-15-minute presentation that was “the typical mainstream Republican thing” and not “too far right.”
“He touched on how America was founded on Christian principles, Christian men who founded this country, and how it was believed it would go forward as a Christian nation and how we’re getting away from that,” Mr. Ortis said.
Scalise spoke to a racist organization and it doesn't matter -- he survived the story and now has a firm hold on his leadership position.
And now a man who's soft on Nazis is the president of the United States.
Becoming an out-and-out Nazi or racialist might make your life more difficult in America, but it doesn't require a massive ideological leap. You merely have to choose to live as a semi-outlaw. If you're like Hovater, you can easily blend in if you're reasonably well behaved most of the time and you're a quiet neighbor. And if you're lucky, a New York Times anthropologist-wannabe will come looking for you, to find out what makes you tick.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog