EDITORIAL: All must bear witness to hate in history
Documentary reflects continued dangers of a demagogue in America
Between the stars and stripes, swastikas hung heavily in front of thousands of saluting Americans. We want to remember ourselves as always being on the side of good in the fight against the evils of fascism that pulled the world into war, but this nation too witnessed the rise of Nazism in the 1930s.
Formed in 1936, the German American Bund would grow to approximately 25,000 direct members with 70 chapters around the country. Feb. 20 marked the 80th anniversary of its “Pro-American Rally,” in which 20,000 Nazi sympathizers filled Madison Square Garden. The harrowing event is the subject of Marshall Curry’s Oscar-nominated documentary short, “A Night at The Garden.”
The film shows drums beating as uniformed youth carry intermingling flags of America and the Nazi movement. The pledge of allegiance booms through the Garden, not without the salutes characteristic of Nazi Germany or the prominence of swastikas at every glance. A demagogue takes the podium and begins with an attack on the press, a vilification of Jews with anti-Semitic rhetoric and a message to reclaim the nation. Then, a commotion. A protester is swarmed and beaten by supporters as the speaker looks on grinning while cheers fill the air.
Through the documentary, we are dropped into what is not an alternate world in "The Twilight Zone," but rather an all-too real reflection of the hate that lives openly today. American Nazism and fascism are not relegated to history textbooks, nor is the rhetoric. The attacks on the free press, the acceptance of violence at rallies and America First rhetoric are prominent today as familiar features of politics, appropriated from the isolationist and fascist-sympathetic movements of our nation’s history.
A 30-second advertisement for the documentary “It Can Happen Here” was intended to air nationally during Fox News commentator Sean Hannity’s show before Suzanne Scott, CEO of Fox News, reportedly intervened directly. “The ad in question is full of disgraceful Nazi imagery regardless of the film’s message and did not meet our guidelines," said Fox News' President of Sales Marianne Gambelli, according to The Week.
But, such Nazi imagery has been aired in advertisements before with a commercial released last August for Dinesh D’Souza’s “Death of a Nation,” which included Nazi symbols and a Hitler re-enactor. On Jan. 28, an advertisement for the Simon Wiesenthal Center featured swastikas and concentration camp footage aired during “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” The move to pull the advertisement based on unsubstantiated practice is hypocritical at its surface, with potentially corrosive political motivations hidden below.
“We felt like the film was something that people who watch Sean Hannity Show needed to see … It is to me, a cautionary tale about the tactics the demagogues use to whip up Americans against each other," Curry said in an interview with On the Media about the decision to run the advertisement during that program.
With the rising problem of Right-wing terrorism and neo-fascism in America, the depictions shown in the “It Can Happen Here” advertisement is seen to be happening here. The white supremacist rally of Charlottesville, Virginia in which counterprotestor Heather D. Heyer was murdered by a self-professed member of the Neo-Nazi movement is not a distant event in our shared history. And neither was the arrest on Friday of Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, a white nationalist who now faces charges of illegal drug and weapons possession. With stockpiled weapons and ammunition, he was allegedly planning to “kill a number of prominent Democratic politicians and journalists as well as professors, judges and ‘leftists in general,’ federal prosecutors said in a court filing on Tuesday.”
While it was not a majority of Americans who supported Nazism in the 1930s, it was accepted as a legitimate minority opinion and left to breathe without mainstream or majoritarian oppositional rhetoric and speech. We continue to witness the rising favorability of authoritarian rule. We hear the attacks on the "other" and the press. We see the damages and death exacted and planned by the hateful. It can happen here. It is happening here.
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