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How To Actually Cover Nazis

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“What an aesthetically interesting parade.” — The New York Times

Anna Merlan and Brendan O’Connor have a good post about some of the weird omissions and unasked questions in the NYT’s instantly infamous Nazis Who Eat Turkey Sandwiches piece. Admittedly, some of the quibbles are minor, but several point the way to an article that could actually be good.

His wife is not really named “Maria Hovater.”

Maria Harrison, Hovater’s wife, hasn’t changed her last name. Again, it’s odd for the Times to refer to a person by anything other than their actual, legal name.

Maria Harrison holds extremist views of her own

In the two brief paragraphs the story devoted to Harrison’s own outlook, she told Fausset she and her husband are “pretty lined up” politically. Though Fausset spent very little time on what Hovater’s young wife believes, she clearly has more to say.

The way Hovater’s wife is treated as an accessory in the piece is weird, and referring to her by a husband’s surname she didn’t take makes it squickier.

Has Hovater’s Traditionalist Worker Party actually “held food and school-supply drives in Appalachia,” as he told the Times?

Despite the fact that Hovater and his fellow white nationalists obsessively promote their actions and events around the country, no documentary evidence has emerged to support the claim that the TWP has been doing any kind of mutual aid work. In September, party founder Matthew Heimbach claimed that TWP intends to open up health clinics and fight the opioid epidemic, modeling its recruitment strategy after “Hamas, Hezbollah, [and] traditionally, the Irish Republican movement.” There’s no sign that they’ve actually put any of these plans into action. Why allow the claim to go unchallenged?

Right — this is far from a minor point. It’s important whether American Nazis are actually adopting this strategy, it’s relevant to questions of whether white nationalist mobilization has a strong class component, and it’s also relevant whether a reporter is willing to credulously pass on whatever self-serving bullshit an interview subject tells them. (The contrast with the lengths the Times is still willing to go to in order to baselessly  imply misconduct by Hillary Clinton, who whatever her flaws is not a Nazi, is instructive.)

 

When Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel followed up to learn more about the role of the internet in Hovater’s radicalization and racist organizing, though, Hovater downplayed the role of the Internet. Yet Hovater’s fluency with internet racism suggests someone whose self-reinforcing social circle exists mostly online.

Two months ago, on Gab, the preferred micro-blogging platform of fascists and national socialists, Hovater bragged that he was “still not banned from Facebook so I’m just checking in,” adding “GTKRWN :),” a popular acronym that stands for Gas The Kikes Race War Now. Around the same time, he replied to a post from Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin informing his followers of the neo-Nazi’s new web domain, http://dailystormer.is, which they believed was based in Israel. (It was based in Iceland.) “NIGGA WE THE REAL JEWS NOW,” Hovater wrote. In any case, Hovater was temporarily banned from Facebook shortly thereafter.

I’m not a professional journalist, but I’d say the fact that he uses anti-Semitic pro-genocide acronyms online is more relevant that what his favorite Panera sandwich is. As Merlan and O’Connor go on to observe, the Times article also downplays the explicitly Nazi nature of the Traditionalist Worker Party.

Let us conclude with the incomparable Alexandra Petri:

The Nazi I met in Ohio was exactly as dapper and winsome as a young man shot by the police would not appear to be in an article of this kind. He was so normal I could not believe my eyes. It goes against everything I have ever seen in movies about Nazis, where the entrance of such a person is always accompanied by a disapproving oboe.

When he walked down the grocery aisle, he did not sigh wistfully at the mayonnaise and shake his finger at the spices. He had eyebrows. I think I had expected that one of his eyes might weep blood, or that he would very obviously sort all the beans out of his rice as we spoke, but he did neither of those things.

He was just a chill dude who had books and posts everywhere saying that groups who were not racially pure should be eliminated, but he didn’t make any personal threats to me. (I am of course not in danger from his ideology, but I was expecting him to maybe cackle a little bit.) He uses an iPhone, not a 1940s typewriter. He has eyebrows. Now that I type this, I don’t know why I expected he wouldn’t. He was not played by Christoph Waltz, even though I kept asking him, just to be sure.

He rattled off his ideas. They were bad. I wrote them down without comment. They were obviously beyond the pale. Anyone could see that, I hope.

In Ohio, where there is grass and corn, where you can find chain restaurants, it is nothing particularly remarkable to spot a young Nazi like Kenneth. He is the Nazi next door. When he comes to your door in the middle of the night, it’s probably for a normal reason, like he wants to tell you that your water heater is on, or share a fun fact with you about his idol, a fascinating man named Hitler.

 

 

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