Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The best of us, the worst of us

Robert Burns
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
(And would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!)

Rabbie Burns, "To a Louse, on Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church

Two news items caught my attention yesterday, one from Britain, one from Germany.  The British piece, available on YouTube, is a recording of the three-hour debate in Parliament over whether the Trump visit to Britain should be downgraded from a “state visit” to an “official visit.”  Or cancelled outright, for that matter, given the despicable abuse of refugees and immigrants reflected in Trump’s executive order this week.

The irony is inescapable, to listen to British MPs talking about the beauty of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and all that followed, and how those noble notions are being trampled on by the new administration.  Brits, like citizens of all modern countries, long ago gave up their royalist and imperialist cultural values and took on the values of the humanist project reflected in the American Revolution.  So maybe calling this ironic is overly dramatic.  But the point is the voices you hear in this debate beautifully articulate the agonizing dismay at the takeover of America by the radical right.  To listen to this three-hour long debate (I must come clean and admit I’ve only heard about half) is to understand the emotional impact on progressive people from all around the world who complain, “You Americans get to elect the head of the Western World.  We don’t have a voice in your elections.  But what you do affects us personally and directly.  Please get it right!”

The second piece, also available on YouTube, is from the German news organization Der Spiegel, generally recognized as one of the leading magazines not just in Germany or in Europe but world-wide for hard-hitting investigative journalism.  The Economist wrote of it back in 2002:

In a country where journalism, particularly in the past, tended towards the pompous and docile, it had the most lucid prose, the best investigative reporting, the widest foreign coverage, the sharpest political analysis, and the most insightful social commentary. Its legendary archive, people said, only half-jokingly, was bigger than that of Germany's security service, and a darn sight more reliable.  

Its circulation now exceeds one million. With 80 full-time fact checkers, they have been called  (by the Columbia Journalism Review) “most likely the world’s largest fact-checking operation.” They began producing Spiegel TV in 1988.

That said, my gut response when first viewing this online article on American Nazis and other white supremacist fringe groups is that there is something wrong with even bringing this up, because it leads to the impression that Trump voters are Nazis.  That’s obviously not true, and I can certainly understand why highlighting a groups of wackos that number as few as 500 members (The Indiana-based Traditional Workers Party­ ) and no more than 5000 (the KKK) would make you wonder if this isn’t just another tabloid getting its jollies from sensationalist journalism. That suspicion increased as I took note of editorial comments throughout the piece like “not for the moment” when discussing the right to wear the KKK uniform openly.

But in the end, I think it is what it is, and there is no reason to editorialize the information out of the big picture, either.  The article makes the point that Trump is a right-winger and he has encouraged the rats to come out of the woodwork.  It doesn’t mean that every fear-driven American who voted against the establishment, which Hillary so clearly represented, is a rat or a fascist.  But it does mean that there are rats running loose that were once fearful of demonstrating their racism, sexism, ethnocentrism and homophobia quite so openly.  Take it for what it’s worth, if, for no other reason, to see how America looks these days through the eyes of some Europeans.

The article is in German.  I have provided an unauthorized translation, i.e., any errors are mine.

Published on Jan 29, 2017

Intro: For a week, reporter Andreas Lünser interviewed people advocating the extreme right take on American power, propagating white supremacy and claiming national socialism is now mainstream.  People for whom the words “Sieg Heil” and Lügenpresse trip lightly off the tongue. [Lying press – a term regularly used by the Nazis to refer to a critical press, and now used again in Germany by the radical right.]

Trump is our man video

Washington, D.C.  Last Friday.  Warm-up for the inauguration of Donald Trump.

Never before had a president polarized things like this before taking office.

(voice in crowd): Death to the Fascists.  Death to white supremacy.

Many people in America are afraid.  Of new and old racists and of the far right.

Three hours by plane to the southwest, not far from New Orleans, is the town of Walker.  Many people here are unemployed, and those who do have work are underpaid.   Walker voted for Donald Trump.  The local KKK lives here.  In this trailer, the Imperial Wizard receives his followers.  Carl Dupres has been the leader of the Klan for several years now.  His concern is the supremacy of the white race.

(Carl Dupres): When we lived out here in the country when I was growing up, there weren’t many blacks.  They kept to themselves and the whites kept to themselves.  There wasn’t much mixing and everybody kind of knew their place.

The Klan is the chief pride of the 56-year-old.  And his friends.  Shirley Sarmento  had radical right friends in Germany, as well.

(Shirley Sarmento): Whites should only be with whites.  Everybody who doesn’t have any pigment in their skin.  No Muslims.  No gays.

In the swamps behind the trailer the men have regular shooting practice.  The KKK admits openly that they are racists.  The White Race can only survive if it defends itself.  Particularly against the blacks who, according to the Klan take advantage of social welfare programs.

CD: They don’t work.  They just hang around and sell drugs, make babies, and the government has to pay for that.  And I have to pay for it.  I work and the n****r gets my money.  They take almost half of our paychecks and give it to the government.

All the men of the Klan think like Dupres.  Trump has given them courage.  That’s why they all voted for him.  The main thing is Obama is gone.

third person: I think anybody can do better than Obama.
fourth person: Trump knows how to run a business.  If he runs America the way he runs his own businesses, it will be great.

The highpoint of the training, Dupres shows how to load a blasting charge.  Then comes the shot.

The men show off their robes and masks.  They are not allowed to display them openly in the state of Louisiana.  Not at the moment.

CP: That is our official Klan insignia.  It shows that you’re an imperial officer.  And our Dixie Ranger insignia.  The Confederate flag.  Klan symbol.  And this here for the inner hierarchy.

Even during Obama’s presidency, the number of klan members were growing.  Now, under Donald Trump that number could increase.  That’s the hope, anyway.

CP: He’s got a lot of good ideas that I like.  Many people didn’t like the way things were going up till now.  The majority of Americans voted for him.  And they share his ideas.   They’ve had enough of the others, and they don’t want the government running their lives.

All together, the number of KKK members in the U.S. is estimated to be around five thousand.

From here we go to Paoli, in the state of Indiana.  Here is the headquarters of the so-called Traditional Worker’s Party of America.   Its leader, Jeff Matthew Heimbach, receives like-minded visitors in his trailer.  They want to see his latest video, shot a few days ago at a demonstration in Chicago.

MH: We are not afraid of the left.  We are not afraid of the black gangs.   Not afraid of the worst gangs, the leading politicians.  Hail Victory.

Heimbach’s party is directed at whites exclusively.   It’s anti-capitalist, but it is especially opposed to globalization.  Also part of their program is respect for Russia’s president Putin.

MH: I’m happy that Trump was elected.  I hope we will have a better relationship with Russia, question NATO, get our jobs back, and solve the immigration problem.  For a long time now we’ve been spit on, pushed aside.  The Supreme Court allows for discrimination against whites in the university, for example.  We will soon be a minority.  In our own country.

This video shows the way Heimbach goes about showing his support for Trump.  During a demonstration he pushes a black woman who wanted to demonstrate, filmed by a local TV broadcaster. 

MH: Look at the whole video.  Naturally the “lugenpress” (sic German: Lügenpresse – „the lying press“) only shows a small part of what went on.  The woman came at me and I only help her get outside.   Helped her on her way.

Heimbach is in contact with the NPD (German Nationalist Party) and other European radical right parties.   Here he shows off the new party T-shirts.  One of them shows the English fascist party leader Oswald Mosley.

MH: He led the most successful fascist movement in the English-speaking world.  A very brave man.  He sacrificed everything for his politics and tried to persuade his people to stay out of World War II.  A great example for us.

Heimbach founded his brown party only two years ago.  It has grown now to 500 members.  So that his son will have a future in white America, he is in favor of setting apart special areas for the different races in the land.

Our journey through Trump’s radical right country continues.   The once great industrial city of Detroit stands in for the economic collapse of the USA.  Where once automobiles were produced for the world market, there are only ruins that look like the aftermath of a bomb attack.   Detroit is also the home of the U.S. Nazi Party.  Jeff Schoep is the leader of the national socialists of America.  For him, the election of Donald Trump meant the beginning of something great.   

JS: We do hope that Trump changes things.  He talks about basing things on our national values.  He talks about getting our jobs back, about draining the swamp, about building a wall, many of the things we’ve been saying for years.

Here Trump is in good company.  The NSM (National Socialist Movement) is one of the oldest nazi movements in the USA.

NSM rally: Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!

Schoep has led the admirers of Hitler since 1995.  But things have never been better.

JS: National Socialism now has the potential to become a majority.  We’re being discussed in the mainstream media.  It’s no longer a question of being a fringe group.  People have known for years now what we stand for.  We’re now in the middle of the society. 

Since Trump’s election, they have gotten rid of the swastika.  The US Nazis want to be part of the mainstream.  They have replaced it with the odal rune.   The Viking symbol – also forbidden in Germany.

JS: We think this better expresses the political middle of American society.  The old symbol helped us in a lot of ways, but I think we’re in a new era now.

Nazis they are, all the same.  One day they’ll be able to use the swastika again.  At least that’s the hope. 

Washington, D.C.  One day before the inauguration.   A day that incorporates the longings of radical right.  Included among these is radical right worker’s party leader, Matthew Heimbach.

MH: We’re here not just because of the historical event, but to meet with members of the radical right white supremacists.  In 2016 we defeated Hillary.  2017 has to be the year of action.

Members of the local Antifa (German term for „anti-fascist“) discover Heimbach in the street.  Not a problem for Heimbach. 

MH: Hey!  Be glad it’s Trump.  When we take over it will be way worse.

MH Group: Hasta la vista, anti-fascista

But Heimbach isn’t finished with his opponents.  He seeks out a confrontation.

MH: Let me ask you something.  Why do you fight against the interests of the working class?

Antifa: The working class?  Or the whites?
What Heimbach is really after in Washington is allies.  He wants to put together a large rightwing network.  That means he is not afraid to come in contact with the much hated establishment.  He meets with Republicans sympathetic to the ideas of the worker’s party.

Man in Trump hat: Gott mit uns (God is with us – the motto German soldiers wore on their belt buckles in WWII.)

Trump supporters among themselves.   They invite Heimbach to lunch at the exclusive Republican Capitol Hill Club.

And that’s how things look these days in the new America.  Rightwing.  And Radical.

photo credit: Robert Burns 

No comments: