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Trump and the Alt-Right: it can Happen Here

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am writing this before the final debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I will blog my comments about the debate later and those observations will be posted tomorrow morning. 

But tonight I have just a thought. Most of my readers know my background in history and the history of the Weimar and Nazi eras, and some know that my primary history professor when I was an undergraduate was an interpreter at the Nuremberg trials. As such I have spent much of my life studying those eras as well as the trials themselves. When teaching ethics at the Staff College I spend a good amount of time on the subject in order that the men and women who will be advising leaders at the operational and strategic levels of warfare and national security strategy will understand just how important it is not just to follow orders, and to weigh ethics, morality, and international law when they propose a course of action to our civilian and military policy makers. 

I just finished reading Robert E. Conot’s book Justice at Nuremberg which was published in my junior year of college back in 1981. That was an era when the people that now refer to themselves as the Alt Right were in full Holocaust denial mode. Not only that the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party were riding a temporary wave of popularity. Conot wrote this as he ended his masterpiece about the Nuremberg trials:

“The begetters of the ultra-right-wing movement that denies the Holocaust and sanitize the Nazi regime and sugarcoat the culpability of its leaders are the successors to the proponents of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In place of the fiction that the Jews are conspiring to dominate the world, they proposed the Big Lie that the Holocaust is a myth, designed by the Jews for ulterior purposes. The new anti-Semites use the same techniques as the old, and their goal is also the same. To denigrate and discredit not only the Jewish faith but all men of liberal and democratic persuasion, so as to pave the way for a rescrudivence of persecution and tyranny…

In lockstep with these pernicious propagandists March new-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating for “Aryan” supremacy, urging the deportation of Jews and blacks, employing Hitlerian euphemisms, and manipulating democratic processes and guarantees in the same manner as Hitler a century ago. Never let it be forgotten thatHitler exploited the freedom granted him by the Weimar constitution to destroy the republic. The rise of a new Hitler in an industrial nation may be remote, but it is not impossible. Given the proper combination of circumstances, no country, including the United States, is immune.” 

That is where we stand today. Donald Trump makes the same threats against political opponents as did Hitler. He singles out liberal Jews, hispanics, Muslims, African Americans, women, Gays, Democrats, and even Republican opponents as he launches his vitriolic Twitter tirades at all hours of the day. His strongest supporters seem to be the members of what is now called the “Alt-Right” which is little more than a polite and politically correct term for Nazis and Kansmen including the former head of the KKK, David Duke. Armed Alt-Right Trump supporters are already menacing Democratic offices, threatening all opponents, and preparing to create havoc at polling places. 

Like Hitler before him, Trump is working to discredit the democratic process from within, and providing his most strident and potentially violent and already hate-filled supporters with the argument that the election is fixed and that he is opposed by the liberal media. It is an old and tired argument, not at all dissimilar to those of Hitler and Goebbels in the 1932 German Presidential election which Hitler lost to Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, and which they used to destroy their political opponents after Hitler was appointed Chancellor in January 1933. 

Trump and his Alt-Right supporters are truly dangerous, and not just to those who oppose them today. They are equally dangerous to those who for whatever reason chose to support him now, just as they were to the German conservatives who initially supported Hitler and then found out that they had supported a criminal. 

We can never forger the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller, who wrote:

“I found myself wondering about that too.I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became chancellor in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreeed not to allow programs against the Jews, assuring me as follows: “There will be restrictions against the Jews, but no ghettos, no programs, in Germany, at that time… I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and Communists. Their hostility toward the church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not mine alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

Unlike so many of the “conservative Christians” who now wholeheartedly support Trump, I will not be deceived. I know the price. I have been to Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. I have been to Nuremberg. As a historian I know exactly who Trump is and what he promises, and I will not stop speaking out. 

Until tomorrow, or maybe even later tonight, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Prelude to Tyranny


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Was amazed last night when Senator Ted Cruz; a man I have never had anything good to say about; went into the seething, hate filled arena in Cleveland hosting the coronation of Donald Trump and made a speech that probably destroyed his political career. Standing firm as delegates screamed angry and even violent epitaphs at him, he refused to endorse Trump. Instead, he told Republicans to vote their conscience. Some delegates became so enraged that Cruz’s wife had to be escorted out for her own safety. 

Now personally I wouldn’t give a bag of donuts for Cruz, and I have frequently criticized his very theocratic vision of America, but I admired his courage last night. During the campaign Trump did all that he could to destroy Cruz, even accusing Ted’s nutcase father of being connected to the assassination of President Kennedy. Cruz had nothing to gain from what he did had he even given a weak endorsement he would have saved his career in Trump’s GOP, a party that no longer resembles that of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, or Ronald Reagan. But had he done that, he would have been safe.

But he didn’t and I applaud his Trump has recreated the GOP in his image, and Cruz will have no place in it. Nor will any Republican who has raised a voice against him. They are considered traitors by Trump and his loyalists, and those who attempt to placate him should they have second thoughts about their opposition, will find that they will pay a heavy price, even if Trump loses the election. Trump and his stalwart base will never forgive or forget, and the words that some of his supporters which threaten violence, will likely be followed with real violence. This is not normal. It is not what our founders intended, it is the nature of an anti-democratic and violent mass movement. 

You might wonder why I say this, after all we are more advanced in this country than to stoop to such actions, but to people who nurse fanatical grievances, this is quite normal. American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote, “Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.” For many of Trump’s followers, especially the religious ones, the Trump candidacy has become a holy crusade and all opponents within and outside the GOP are agents of the Devil himself, while those who are faithful are the elect, who lose themselves in the movement, for it and its leader are greater than them, which excuses them from personal responsibility for any violence. This was true in Revolutionary France, Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and the Soviet Union. 

Hoffer wrote, 

“There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.”

The responses among the faithful, especially some conservative who I know on social media to what Cruz did is frightening. Just a few months ago many of them saw Cruz as their political savior, a man who was going to bring the Christian Dominionist agenda into the Presidency. Now he is called a traitor, a liar, and worse by the same people, who now have transferred their allegiance to Trump just as quickly as conservative German Christians dumped their political affiliations in old line conservative parties, including those which were political wings of churches for the Nazis. 

Since I have already read the leaked text of Trump’s speech I will wait until tomorrow to discuss it. But for what I see it is filled with lies and distortions to instill fear and unite people behind him as the only person who can fix it. It is the same line of attack used by Hitler to vault into the Chancellorship, and well, you know the rest. Hitler had his conservative opponents jailed, including opponents in the Nazi Party, sent to concentration camps, or murdered as quickly as he did others, even faster than he did to the Jews. So if I was Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham or one of the others GOP leaders who have criticized Trump, I would watch my back. 

So if you plan on watching Trump’s speech I suggest that you start drinking heavily. As for me I am following Andrew Sullivan’s live blog over at the nymag.com as I watch the speech, which reminds me of Triumph of the Will without the Hitlerian charm. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Descent into Collective Madness: When All You have Left is Hate…


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American philosopher Eric Hoffer once wrote, “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil.” Last night the Republican convention managed to sink deeper into the realm of collective madness than any American political party ever has. 

A no point in the evening was a case made for the positive merits of the GOP nominee, Donald Trump. Instead the headlining speakers,mNew Jersey governor Chris Christie and retired neuro-surgeon, failed presidential candidate religious fanatic Ben Carson set the tone for not just the convention, but the campaign. Without a positive message all they had left was to stoke a white-hot inferno of hatred toward Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. Christie used his speech not to promote Trump, but to turn policy decisions made in part by Clinton into crimes and soon he had the delegates, conditioned by over twenty years of anti-Hillary hate and propaganda preached by right-wing talk radio and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, Ruch Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the entirety of the Fox News network worked into a frenzy, arms outstretched like Nuremberg rally attendees dying out “lock her up!” Not to be outdone, Carson went off script and related Hillary to Lucifer through Saul Alinsky proving Hoffer correct. To continue the madness a Trump delagate and a leader of the Veterans for Trump said today that “Hillary should be taken to a firing line and shot.” 

The fact that many in the media are treating this a politics as usual miss the all too important insight that these are the exact phrases used by Nazi to demonize their opponents as they marched toward power, which they then later put into action once power was gained. Those who believed that the Nazi’s words were hyperbole found out too late that they actually meant them. 

The troubling thing as that of vein before he won the nomination Trump has endorsed physical violence against opponents and even promised to pay the legal fees of supporters who assault opponents, tried to shut down judges, and banned reporters who criticize him from his campaign events. The fact that he is doing this should send shivers into anyone concerned with civil liberties, and not just liberals. Already the Republicans who have voiced opposition to Trump are being run out of the party and demonized as traitors. 

Once ensconced in power Trump will use his executive powers in ways never imagined by the Founders. He has no respect for the separation of powers and will ignore the Constitution, Congress, and the Courts anytime that he desires, and sadly, if he has a Republican majority in Congress, he will get all that desires. Like the Nazi dominated Reichstag, Congress will become nothing more than a rubber stamp for Trump’s edicts. Those conservatives who thought they would be able to restrain Trump will, like the German conservatives of the 1930s will be disappointed. Those who don’t support him will be purged. 

Hatred has become the sole motivation for anyone to support Trump, and it is no wonder. Hoffer correctly noted, 

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents. It pulls and whirls the individual away from his own self, makes him oblivious of his weal and future, frees him of jealousies and self-seeking. He becomes an anonymous particle quivering with a craving to fuse and coalesce with his like into one flaming mass.” 

But then hatred is all the GOP has left to offer. As a former lifelong Republican the spectacle is profoundly disturbing.

Until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Protesting Failure

  
Campaign Scene in the 1930 German Election

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am returning home today after a refreshing denominational chaplain conference in Houston. During the time I received some spiritual care, spent time with friends and colleagues, and participated in a number of very informative training sessions. It was a good time, and for the most part with a few forays to check on friends on Facebook, look at a few news headlines, and read my favorite comics, I pretty much disconnected from social media and the Internet. Instead I spent time with others and did a lot of reading. 

The latest book that I am reading is The Coming of the Third Reich by British historian Richard J. Evans. I read the book when it came out years ago but amid all the political chaos going on in the Unites States, I decided to pick it up again. 

One thing that Evans noted about the Nazi Party in the 1930 elections, was how it took advantage of people’s frustration and discontent as the Great Depression overwhelmed the Weimar Republic. In those elections the Nazis went from being a fringe party to being a major player in German politics at the local, state, and national levels, and Adolf Hitler becoming a truly national political player. Evans wrote:

“Voters were not really looking for anything very concrete from the Nazi Party in 1930. They were, instead, protesting against the failure of the Weimar Republic. Many of them, too, particularly in rural areas, small towns, small workshops, culturally conservative families, older age groups, or the middle-class nationalist political milieu, may have been registering their alienation from the cultural and political modernity for which the Republic stood, despite the modern image which the Nazis projected in many respects. The vagueness of the Nazi programme, its symbolic mixture of old and new, its eclectic, often inconsistent character, to a large extent allowed people to read into it what they wanted to and edit out anything they might have found disturbing.” 

I think that is a very similar phenomena to what we are seeing today in the United States, whether it be from the frustrated supporters of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, as well as the members of the Christian Right that are supporting Ted Cruz.  In many cases they are frustrated and angry at what they see as the failure of both parties, and refuse to see the inherent dangers in people who promise much but at the same time show little in the way of developed programs and means to achieve what they are promising. In the case of Trump it often shown in xenophobic fearmongering, for Cruz an honest belief that he his God’s anointed one to lead the a United States in the “Last Days,” protect what he calls “Christian values,” even if that means depriving non-believers of their rights; and Sanders, who really gives honest commentary, (with which I happen to agree on on many points) regarding many of the enconomic and social ills afflicting the nation, but has no demonstrated program of how he will get Congress to fulfill his agenda, or the second, third, and fourth order effects of some of his economic ideas. And all of these men, in a sense are outsiders, even in the parties that they are trying to become the presidential standard bearers. They all appeal to the anger and frustration of different constituencies at the failed policies and broken promises of the establishments of both parties. In such an environment outsiders play well, while establishment candidates die on the vine, just ask President Jeb Bush.

Such was the case at the end of the Weimar Republic, and such could be here if we are not careful.

Evans noted, ”What the Nazis did not offer, however, were concrete solutions to Germany’s problems, least of all in the area where they were most needed, in economy and society. More strikingly still, the public disorder which loomed so large in the minds of the respectable middle classes in 1930, and which the Nazis promised to end through the creation of a tough, authoritarian state, was to a considerable extent of their own making. Many people evidently failed to realize this, blaming the Communists instead…” 

All this is said not to demean any of the candidates, to imply that any are Nazis, or to deny any of their supporters often legitimate complaints about the system and the often moribund party apperatuses of both parties. It is only to serve as a warning of what can happen when the system breaks down and the most cherished ideals and institutions of democracy are cast aside out of political expediency and perceived, or manufactured, national crisis which is intensified by the frenetic campaigning, simple slogans and vivid images offered by the media savvy campaigns of the different candidates; all of whom in one way or another play to the real,or imagined fears of their supporters, often with no regard for truth. 

Admittedly what I say here can be decidedly uncomfortable, but what I say is something that we still have time to think about and keep from happening here. Our system may be terribly flawed, and maybe even broken, but we can still make it work. Too many people have given their lives in war and peace; sometimes as soldiers, sometimes as advocates and activists, sometimes as legislaters or jurists, or simply hard working people who pulled together in the most difficult times to make things work, to throw it away. Likewise, it is what billions of people in hundreds of nations have looked to for inspiration and guidance; that sacred proposition “that all men are created equal.” 

But the task before us is not to destroy what we have, but as the Constitution notes “to form a more perfect Union” and as Abraham Lincoln stated in his Gettysburg Address, “to dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the face of the earth.” 

Forgive me for sounding a note of hope and belief in the face of raging anger and cynicism, but this is important for all of us, and it does not matter if you are liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, or who you support in the current political campaign. The problem is right now, is that there are many people on both sides of the political chasm who are so frustrated and angry that they cannot see the contradictions in their candidate’s positions and edit out the positions of their candidates that they find disturbing. 

So anyway, have a great day. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+


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The Kitchen Sink


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Ted Cruz appears to have blunted, for the moment Donald Trump’s drive for the Republican presidential nomination. I don’t think it will be much in the long term, but it shows how desperate the GOP is to find a way to keep the real estate mogul from getting enough delegates from securing the nomination outright. we will see more of that play out tonight and a week from now in some very big, delegate rich states.

The GOP is cleaving itself into two parties. One is that of the leaders who for the last thirty plus years has promised stoked the anger of various parts of the party base but election after election done little than to humor the people that it relies upon to retain power. Large parts of the GOP base have been left out of the economic recovery, which has primarily benefits corporations, and feel like they have been abandoned by the party. The party has gone out of its way to channel this anger at minorities, immigrants, women, gays, and Muslims and away from themselves. For years the strategy worked, but like all strategies that simply deflect anger towards others rather than solve the underlying problems their followers have to deal with is collapsing on itself.

Trumps supporters are not a monolithic group, while the majority are white and at least nominally Christian there are others. While some blatantly White Supremacist leaders and groups are supporting Trump, there are many, people who are frustrated and angry about other issues. A lot are older people, retirees who feel that they have lost “their country” while others are people who lost businesses or high paying jobs in the last economic downturn, or have seen their jobs sent overseas. I know a number of former small business owners who had well established and profitable businesses lose them and see major corporations get tax breaks and government bailouts while they were left behind.

The GOP establishment assumed that 2016 would be more of the same. However, they did not could on Donald Trump and his ability to capitalize on the rage that they have stoked for decades. Some compare Trump to the GOP’s version of Frankenstein, and to some extent that is a good analogy. In some ways it is like how German conservatives in the 1920s paved the way to Hitler by demonizing their opponents and paralyzing the government. Like the current GOP power elites they fed the anger and frustration of people who finally rejected them and turned to an outsider. Like the GOP did Trump they thought that they could control Hitler. Mind you I am not comparing Trump to Hitler, despite the similarities in style, stated policy as well as the behavior of people toward non-Trump attendees at his rallies which a so similar to Hitler’s Brwonshirt things that it makes my head swim; but I am directly addressing the dynamics at play in the party.

From 1930 to January 1933 German conservative elites hoped to channel support away from Hitler by supporting the elderly conservative Field Marshal Paul Von Himdenberg for President against Hitler, and by having Hindenberg appoint a succession of “anyone but Hitler” as Chancellor. They failed and in a desperate attempt to control they appointed Hitler as Chancellor and once in power he used legal means to outmaneuver his opponents and within six months elimited all opposition political parties.

With Trump gaining more and more of the frustrated and angry vote the GOP establishment is attempting to find a way to stop Trump, even to the point of rallying around Ted Cruz, a man that they loath. But the Trump supporters are not going to tolerate it, and neither will Trump. In fact if you look at the comments of Trump supporters they despise the party establishment and the media, including some of Fox News who have come out against Trump. They feel that the attack on Trump are unfair and unwarranted, and the crocodile tears of the GOP leadership aside, Trump is only saying what many of them have railed about for years, just in much cruder terms.


In next few weeks the GOP establishment will do everything in their power to try to subvert, derail, and undermine the Trump campaign. Former GOP standard bearer Mitt Romney launched a furious assault on Trump only to be jumped on by Trump and his supporters. The more the GOP leadership does this, the more that Trump and his supporters will fight back. By some chance if they screed in keeping Trump from getting and outright majority of delegates at best it will be a Pyrrhic victory and only the charred remains of the Grand Old Party will remain.

We are watching a political party self-destruct and when it completes its self-immolation it will signal the end of an era. We are in an era of seismic political change, and what is happening to the Republicans cannot be dismissed as something that cannot happen to the Democrats as well.

None of us can know what will follow this and Democrats, especially the  Democratic Party leadership and elites should learn from what is happening to the Republicans. Right now there are many frustrated and angry Democrats and progressives who are as tired of their elites and power brokers as are angry Republicans and they are turning out in large numbers to support an outsider, Bernie Sanders. Democrats need to make sure that they do not dismiss his supporters and assume that they will voter for Hillary Clinton in November.

All that being said, the GOP fight is on and the opposing sides will throw in everything that they can to win, even the kitchen sink.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Fever and the Fear

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http://movieclips.com/FkTn-judgment-at-nuremberg-movie-dr-janning-explains-his-actions/

Friends of Padre Steve’s World 

My wife is going through surgery today and I have been in the hospital waiting room for a while. I’m anxious, as the surgery is a total hysterectomy being done because she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. While statistics tell us that the surgery should be the cure, there are some cases where the cancer has spread. Though I am well trained as a clinician and have worked many years in hospital intensive care units and other critical care areas, I don’t wait well and as much as I try to focus on the positive there is always the “what if” it is worse than expected which is in the back of my mind. Truthfully, Judy is the control rod in my nuclear reactor. She keeps me from really doing stupid things and if she weren’t around I would probably be like William Shatner’s character in Boston Legal, Denny Crane. Thankfully the surgeon came out a little while ago and told me that things look good, that Judy did fine in surgery. The only thing now is to wait for a few days to find out if pathology declares her free and clear of the cancer. 

So I decided to go back and edit an older post about something that does concern me, the climate of fear and hate that seems to me to be driving much of the political minded preachers, pundits and politicians of the Christian Right. Like so many of my articles this may be uncomfortable for people who are unfamiliar with history, or those who simply believe what the politicians, pundits and preachers tell them. 

So with that in mind, I hope that you have a good day and please, if you pray, please pray for Judy and pray for me, your miscreant Padre,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

I have written a number of times about the lack of empathy among conservative American Christians. In those articles I drew some comparisons to the German Christians of the 1920s and 1930s who despite the reservations of a few, supported ultra-right wing nationalist parties and later the Nazi Party.

ADN-ZB/Archiv Kirchenwahl am 23.7.1933 in Berlin. Wahl in der Marien Kirche am Neuen Markt. Nazistische Wahlpropaganda unter Maske des Christentums.

ADN-ZB/Archiv
Kirchenwahl am 23.7.1933 in Berlin. Wahl in der Marien Kirche am Neuen Markt. Nazistische Wahlpropaganda unter Maske des Christentums.

Much of the support was brought about by the fear and hate propagated by those who had lost their favored status after the collapse of the Kaiser Reich. There was a lost war, a harsh peace, as well as social and economic chaos. Political radicalism and violence was common in the early years of the Weimar Republic, and many Christians of all denominations became caught up in it. Many Christians were especially fearful of what many believed was the threat of atheistic Socialists and Communists. The brief experiment with democracy was devastated by political battles, the 1919-1920 Weimar Inflation which destroyed the financial security of most Germans, as well as the Stock Market Crash of 1929. The Great Depression made the economic, political and social chaos worse, and this made many people, including many conservative Christians receptive to the “Nazi Gospel.”

I think that conservative American Christians are going the same direction as they get swept up in the climate of fear, hate, distrust and perceived persecution at the hands of liberals, atheists, socialists and their own government. As I have noted in other articles much of this stems not from actual persecution but from the loss of their privileged position as the dominant force in society.

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I love the film Judgment at Nuremberg, because I think that it really does reflect how many prominent Germans who should have known better followed Hitler, and reflects how many conservative Christians see the political right as their standard bearers.. In the film Burt Lancaster plays a prominent German legal scholar and jurist named Ernst Janning.

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtoom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

Hannah Arendt talked about this in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, her treatment of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the mid-level Nazi officers who sent millions of people to their deaths. In describing Eichmann and other ordinary people Arendt said:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

At the end of the movie Judgment at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy as Presiding Judge Dan Haywood concluded his sentencing remarks with this statement. It is perhaps one of the most powerful statement and something to remember as the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers urge us to hate one another and those different than us. It is something that is especially needed in times of great societal stress as well as real and perceived dangers from without and within.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3BwK51YFgQ

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

einsatzgruppen executions

Einsatzgruppen Members finishing off Jewish Women

This is an unsettling subject and people on the political right and left in this country are apt to compare their opponents to those that were tried at Nuremberg and those that led them. This has been an increasingly disturbing trend in the case of hyper-partisan Right Wing and so called Conservative Christians who blatantly demonize those who they hate and urge the use of the police powers of the state to enforce their political-religious agenda. For all intents and purposes they no longer care about “Justice, truth, or the value of a single human being” especially if those human beings are not Christians. That may seem harsh, but sadly it is all too often the truth.

The terrible truth is that it is possible that any parties in any society, including ours, when divided by fear, hate and the desire for power can behave exactly as the industrialists, financiers, doctors, soldiers, jurists, civil servants, pastors and educators who oversaw the heinous crimes committed by the Third Reich.

Again, I am not calling anyone, even the people that I am criticizing today Nazis. I am only trying to show the logical end of the thinking that permeates much of the political right, particularly conservative Christians who are following a path that is destructive to the church and for the world. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “if you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” By selling their birthright to right wing radical politicians and special interest groups who only seek to exploit them for their own power, conservative Christians, like those in the Weimar Republic have boarded the wrong train, and unless they get off that train they will find that they have no redemptive value in society.

Sadly, I doubt that Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Bachmann, Tony Perkins or any of the myriad of pundits, politicians and preachers driving conservative Christians off the rails will ever understand this. Thinking themselves wise, they became fools. Fools who in their quest for temporal power destroyed more lives and souls than they ever could have imagined.

dyer-hanging

Executing Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony 

Unlike Janning, I doubt if any of them have the capacity to reflect upon their words and actions and realize what they did and are doing are morally, ethically and by every measure of humanity are wrong, and are evil masquerading as righteousness, and thus doubly worthy of condemnation, for if they are Christians they should know better. I only hope that the vast number of conservative Christians who have not completely fallen for their hateful propaganda; men and women who have doubts about the message of such leaders are able to discern the truth will pause for just a moment, and like Bonhoeffer and others like him stand for justice, truth, or the value of a single human being.

Those who stood trial at Nuremberg were all people that should have known better, as should we, especially those who claim the name of Christ and presume to be bearing his good news.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Wade Page Nazi Thug versus the Respectable Nazis

Wade Page, the gunman who walked into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin and opened fire killing 6 members of that community was a Nazi thug. A member of the “Hate” music scene Page was a virulent racist and anti-semite. Even some of the bigger Neo-Nazi groups condemned Page’s action. However, that does not mean that they disapproved of what happened, just that the blatantness of Page’s action embarrassed them.

Page and his thuggish brothers are much like the Brownshirts, the Nazi bullies that intimidated anyone who stood in their way prior to the Nazi seizure of power and in its immediate aftermath.  They were useful tools of smarter and more respectable Nazis but often proved an embarrassment to the party. When the Sturmabteilung, the SA Brownshirts became a political liability Hitler and the SS made an alliance to eliminate the SA leadership and sharply reduce that organization’s power in the Third Reich. Men like Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich who planned and executed the Holocaust  held such thugs in contempt.

Page has put Neo-Nazi leaders and sympathizers on the spot. While Neo-Nazi and others like them believe and preach White Supremacism, anti-Semitism, and racism they at least publicly distain murder of people at worship. It is very hard for them to defend him to do so would be to expose themselves. However, I wonder if the victims had been Moslems if they would have condemned the action at all.

Despite the brutal nature of Page’s massacre of the Sikhs, his type of White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi is less dangerous to society than the “respectable” Nazis. In the 1920s and 1930s the quiet and “respectable” Nazis remained in the background. The were lawyers, judges, economists, police officials, teachers, engineers and physicians. They mingled with the mainline conservatives, nationalists and even monarchists. They served as civil servants, education or in the private sector and remained in the background. They were the respectable front of National Socialism. Many kept their party membership hidden from colleagues even as Hitler built bridges with industrialists, bankers and brought their party to the forefront of the German political scene.

After the seizure of power they were the men that drafted the Nuremberg Laws and the Enabling Act. They wrote laws on forcible sterilization, they ran the political, economic and bureaucratic organizations that used slave labor to power their economic machine. They sat around a table at Wansee and dictated the Final Solution to the “Jewish problem”  They were the men that engineered the Holocaust. But unlike the Brownshirt “thugs” of the SA they were respectable and tried to keep their hands clean.  Without them Hitler could not have succeeded in gaining absolute power or keeping it.

It is the respectable Nazis who hold back their more virulent ideas for the time that they can use the political system that they despise to gain power and government agencies that they rail against to enforce their agenda. This is exactly what National Socialist Movement leader Brian Culpepper of Tennessee advocates. He said “We insert ourselves into the infrastructure of other established parties due to the bias against us and the difficulty of third parties getting ballot access….” and that “We have people working with the most recent incoming class of freshmen in the House,…And they don’t even know it.”

The Wade Page type of Neo-Nazi or White Supremacist is easy to spot and until they do something heinous like Page did in Oak Creek most of us don’t take them seriously. Covered in racist tattoos and playing in bad bands they hardly seem a credible threat until they are caught committing a serious crime or murder.

However, people that hold similar views but are more subtle in their methods and presentation are much more dangerous. Just as men like Wilhelm Frick, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Stuckart, Ernst Kaltenbrunner and Otto Olhendorf were in the Third Reich these men and women are often well educated, come from good homes and mingle quite well. They lead think tanks, write commentary in national and local publications, websites and even provide commentary on cable news programs. They promote fear and pedal conspiracy theories involving those that they distain, accuse opponents of trying to destroy the country and refer to their opponents as liberals, socialists or communists or in league with radical Islamists. They publicly disavow violence but their ideology is that which those that commit violence use as justification for their acts.

Wade Page is a troubling figure but even more troubling those that hold the same views  and given the right circumstances have the money and political capital to bring them to fruition. One only has to look at the history of the Weimar Republic to see how easily this can happen.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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