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That video is a 2009 recruitment video for the Wiking German Re-enactment Group in Ohio. This is a group that TeaBircher Rich Iott hangs with in his spare time. They get together on weekends and holidays and recreate history -- the German side.
Iott's statement is certainly reassuring:
They have to take it in context. There's reenactors out there who do everything. You couldn't do Civil War re-enacting if somebody didn't play the role of the Confederates. [This] is something that's definitely way in the past. ... [I hope voters] take it in context and see it for what it is, an interest in World War II history. And that's strictly all.
And this is how I know he's full of it. I'm going to share my own personal experience here. I was married to a Confederate Civil War Re-enactor for 10 years, and it is far more than an "interest in...history." They choose the side they're sympathetic with, for starters. They research the period, the uniforms, the attitude, and the social climate surrounding the period. They don't just re-enact it. They live, eat, breathe and admire it.
They will argue strategy, tactics, nitpick historical authenticity, and political implications for hours. It's costly, requires not only an investment in weapons but also in authentic costumes and other pieces. You can find them scouring antique shows looking for photos, letters, memorabilia, and other pieces of that time period.
It is not as simple and harmless as Iott paints it. Nor does it make him a Nazi, but his effort to minimize and cover it is telling, in my opinion, particularly since any reference to his participation was scrubbed from the Wiking website. He also claims he gave it up three years ago when his son lost interest. Was it because of that, or because he planned to have a higher profile in the coming years, or because his business interests might not have been well-served had word spread that he played the role of a Nazi SS officer?
From the Atlantic article about Iott's involvement:
Iott, a member of the Ohio Military Reserve, added, "I've always been fascinated by the fact that here was a relatively small country that from a strictly military point of view accomplished incredible things. I mean, they took over most of Europe and Russia, and it really took the combined effort of the free world to defeat them. From a purely historical military point of view, that's incredible."
Kind of like the tea party, isn't it? The quixotic, angry, purity-driven tea party.
Iott participated in the group under his own name, and also under the alias "Reinhard Pferdmann," which has also been removed, and which Iott described as being his German alter ego. "Part of the reenactor's [experience]," Iott said, "is the living-history part, of really trying to get into the persona of the time period. In many, not just in our unit, but in many units what individuals do is create this person largely based on a Germanized version of their name, and a history kind of based around your own real experiences. 'Reinhard' of course is 'Richard' in German. And 'Pferdmann,' 'pferd' is a horse. So it's literally 'horse man.'"
That bold statement right there is what I'm talking about. He's absolutely right. They try to get into the persona of the time period, studying everything from writings of the time to battle strategies to biographies to just about anything they can get their hands on.
While I can't find any evidence of Iott's service in the national military, he is a high-ranking officer in the Ohio Military Reserve, which is a state-based militia unit (as Constitutionally defined, not the 'grassroots militias'), which appears to focus on emergency response and civil support. Another characteristic of many re-enactors is an unfufilled desire to actually be in a combat unit. Some have actually served; others haven't but wish they had, and this is one way to fulfill that desire without actually putting themselves at risk. Most are military history buffs of all different eras, but there is usually a consistent thread: They choose the side they most identify with.
According to this bio, he's a graduate of the USMC Command and Staff College, but I see no evidence that he served in the Marines; in fact, I'm not quite sure what it means to be a 'graduate' of this school. That same bio also says he's a graduate of the USAF Air War College, which is primarily a distance learning program with emphasis on national security. It, also, is open to civilians and may have been done in connection with his Ohio Military Reserve activities.
I don't begrudge him his little father-son hobby, but honestly, I know enough about how these groups roll to understand how they morph into tea parties, patriot groups, and other modern-day dangers. Don't be fooled. This is a very, very BFD.
Josh Green discussed his article in The Atlantic on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher Friday night.