…it was all rebranding, an attempt to normalize neo-Nazism as something fresh and socially acceptable. By indulging in this narrative, the media helps do just that.
There’s been a recent wave of press for a certain unnamed Nazi Dork who threw a gathering in Washington, DC, for his Nazi friends this past week, attempting to use the Trump victory to raise the profile of himself and his Nazi “think tank.” The man who coined the term “alt right”—which has become a popular euphemism for those unwilling to use “white supremacist” or “neo-Nazi”—has of late received fairly softball interviews in Mother Jones (10/27/16), the LA Times (11/19/16) and, most recently, the Washington Post (11/22/16)
His Nazi get-together got endless coverage, from the New York Times to The Atlantic to USA Today to CNN. The actual event itself, according to thePost, had a Nazi attendee–to–reporter ratio of 6 to 1. The Nazi Dork’s goal was to exploit and feed off the Trump campaign and subsequent victory, and he did it with tremendous success, thanks in part to a shiny-object obsessed media.
The balance between covering hate and promoting it is a difficult one, and one that we shouldn’t dismiss out of hand. But after a week of wall-to-wall coverage, most of which one could imagine the Nazi Dork and his Nazi friends reading and posting to Facebook with a smirk, the balance has come down heavily on the side of fascist agitprop.
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The profiles themselves, while frequently bringing up the more disgusting aspects of the Nazi Dork’s ideology, were written like any other glossy-magazine celebrity profile, complete with scene-setting details of their fancy meal. The Mother Jones profile began:
[He] uses chopsticks to deftly pluck slivers of togarashi-crusted ahi from a rectangular plate. He is sitting in the Continental-style lounge of the Firebrand Hotel….
The Mother Jones story, which was promoted with a tweet that referred the the Nazi Dork as “dapper”, went on to “both sides” race science:
[He] believes that Hispanics and African-Americans have lower average IQs than whites and are more genetically predisposed to commit crimes, ideas that are scientifically controversial to say the least.
Even more problematically, the piece claimed that the “anger fueling the alt-right” was the “product of a white working class left behind by automation, outsourcing and the era of rising income inequality.” This is asserted, without evidence or irony, 30 paragraphs after Harkinson told us that the Nazi Dork, the son of an ophthalmologist, “grew up wealthy” in an affluent suburb of Dallas, Texas.
The LA Times followed up with a profile on Wednesday that was met with immediate social media backlash due to its sexy framing. “The Los Angeles Times glamorized the white supremacist,” Fusion’s Katherine Krueger wrote, “with a lead image of [him] posing like rebel-with-a-cause bad boy wearing black Ray-Bans”
The piece included a chatty Q & A video segment with the Nazi Dork and, though it had obligatory critical quotes from the Southern Poverty Law Center, also had an excited “the next big thing” tone:
As the up-and-coming intellectual voice of the movement, [he] is credited with popularizing the term “alt-right.”…
Nazism was back on the scene, and men in suits, with good haircuts and manners, were leading the charge.
Tuesday, the Washington Post tacked on another breezy profile, similarly presenting the Nazi Dork as a regular Don Draper:
Last weekend, the articulate, highly educated 38-year-old hosted a conference in the nation’s capital that drew nearly 300 white nationalists and at least 50 reporters.
Like the others, writer John Woodrow Cox felt the need to sell the Nazi Dork’s norm appeal to the reader. This is likely supposed to create tension in the piece (“no longer are white supremacists a bunch of toothless hicks!”), but the effect is outright promotion. Indeed, this is why the Nazi Dork named his think tank the benign sounding “National Policy Institute” and coined the term “alt-right”—it was all rebranding, an attempt to normalize neo-Nazism as something fresh and socially acceptable. By indulging in this narrative, the media helps do just that.
The profile went on, making genocide incitement seem witty and cheeky:
[He] of course, would expel Muslims from his ethno-state. And most women, he said as he was being driven from the hotel to his next appointment, would return to their traditional role of bearing children.
His attitude toward women and minorities made his admiration for Tila Tequila, the Nazi-loving Vietnamese American, surprising. Would he allow her in the ethno-state?
“There are always exceptions, I guess,” an amused [him] would say later. “I’m a generous guy.”
A generous ethnic cleanser. All right, then.
In isolation, this type of glossy prose isn’t necessarily a grave injustice—many of the above reporters are honest journalists charged with a knotty task—but when taken as a whole, the media have spent the past few weeks raising his profile and further normalizing him and his Nazi friends.
Any editors considering another profile of him or his aspirationally named “alt-right” movement should pause and consider what benefit this would have beyond giving further exposure to a sad, loathsome Nazi Dork.
Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for FAIR.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.