Have you heard the latest news? The New York Times sympathizes with neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Yes, that’s right. On November 25, New York Times writer Richard Fausset penned the article A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland. And, oh boy did the internet react. It’s drawn enough of a reaction that the article has been amended with a new opening paragraph:
This article has drawn significant feedback, most of it sharply critical. Read a response from The Times’s national editor here. And the reporter offers his thoughts on covering white nationalists here.
Their National Editor, Marc Lacey, responded to the criticisms—namely that the article is normalizing Nazism and white supremacy—by claiming that the article was not sympathetic towards Nazis, and constantly said as much. He believes the article is not normalizing Nazism so much as it shows Nazis in a realistic light; that is, to say they are not all inaccessible monsters, and some of them really do live semi-normal lives and they could even live near you. A reasonable assertion, one might think? However, Lacey ends his piece by apologizing for offending so many readers, but that these stories are necessary to show the “need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them. That’s what the story, however imperfectly, tried to do”.
The New York Times highlights the shocking reality of those with radical beliefs: that they can appear perfectly normal. Just take a look at Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, where still no motive has been found, other than rumors over gambling debt. For the most part, Paddock appeared to be a regular retired Floridian, until the day he seemingly “snapped” and caused America’s worst modern shooting. What leads seemingly normal human beings to commit murder, or to support a murderous political ideology like fascism or communism?
He is the Nazi sympathizer next door, polite and low-key at a time the old boundaries of accepted political activity can seem alarmingly in flux.
Yes, Fausset’s article does try too hard to portray men like Tony Hovater, the neo-Nazi and key interviewee, as a regular Joe. He begins by describing Hovater’s everyday life: his recent marriage, his hobbies, how he became drawn to the far-Right. According to Hovater, it was a combination of two events: the media’s portrayal of George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin, and the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) appointment of Mitt Romney over Hovater’s preferred candidate, Ron Paul, as the Republican nominee in the 2012 election. He lists other reasons: his involvement on 4chan, books by far-Right thinkers, and concepts like affirmative action. This provides a valuable resource. Instead of ignoring the problem and hoping the issue will go away, Fausset confronts it head-on, and in the process, inadvertently helps Democrats whisk potential neo-Nazis away from the brink of radicalism. In his frank conversations with Fausset, Tony Hovater lists why he strayed from less radical political viewpoints, and because of this, we can work out how to put a stop to the alleged rise of white supremacy. An important point this article makes is that it shows that political ideology is not fluid: Hovater made the evolution “from vaguely leftist rock musician to ardent libertarian to fascist activist”.
The article also has its fair share of minor errors. At one point, Fausset labels it “Hitler’s Nazi Party”, when Hitler himself was just a card-carrying member of the party until he one day decided to ruthlessly destroy any and all opponents. It labels Trayvon Martin’s murderer a “white man”, when Zimmerman is actually mixed-race.
These are all trivialities.What Fausset’s piece shows is that, if it remains unchecked and ignored, neo-Nazis could gain acceptance into the public sphere. No, not people that disagree with you, but actual, honest-to-God supporters of pre-1945 Nazi Party policy. Hovater’s views are unashamedly far-Right fascistic: he believes Jews are controlling the country, and the Charlottesville riots were a great victory for him and his “comrades”. His political group Traditionalist’s Workers Party allegedly numbers around 1,000 members. While that’s nowhere near the same amount of Nazis in the United States at their peak in the early nineteen-forties, it is still a concerning number.
Anyone who believes this article is pro-white supremacy has clearly only read the first few paragraphs. There is an interview with Marilyn Mayo, a senior researcher at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Mayo believes Hovater’s views are hyperbolic, and that his political party only has a few hundred members, but we should still be concerned by their numbers. We see the absurdity of Hovater when it’s revealed he is a Holocaust denier who believes that six million Jews did not die in World War II. It seems Hovater is completely unaware that not only Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, but anyone who didn’t fit the Third Reich’s narrow views of Aryan supremacy: political dissidents, LGBT+ individuals, the disabled and mentally ill, Romani, Polish and Serbs, and nonwhite people. He even believes that Hitler didn’t really want those people dead, and that was Heinrich Himmler: “[Hitler] was a lot more kind of chill on those subjects,” Hovater tells us casually. Too casually.
Hovater’s ideals for the neo-Nazi future of America also show his complete and utter naivete on the topic.
His fascist ideal, he said, would resemble the early days in the United States, when power was reserved for landowners “and, you know, normies didn’t really have a whole hell of a lot to say.”
Hovater seemingly doesn’t seem to realize he’d been considered a normie under this fascistic ideal, and Fausset makes this obvious, making sure you know Hovater has ridiculous beliefs.
We hear from those who know Hovater—his wife, a musician friend, the co-founder of his far-Right party, and a politician who regrets making his acquaintanceship. The article then ends in an interesting manner. Hovater is cooking pasta sauce, and we have a descriptive vision of the room and the cats and the books on Mussolini and Hitler contrasted with his Nintendo Wii games. Hovater states he is glad the white supremacist movement has “grown” as a result of Charlottesville. He ends his talk by conversing about normal topics: “about moving to a bigger place, about their honeymoon, about having kids”.
The critics are correct. Richard Fausset’s article portrays neo-Nazis—or at least one neo-Nazi—in a light that shows him as more human than he deserves. But, that’s the dilemma. As much as you wish for those like Tony Hovater to grow horns and become the incarnation of evil, he is still a human being, and that is a horrifying thing for many to grasp. For all the good human beings are done, there are as many people who have done horrific things. For the Mahatma Gandhi’s, the Rosa Parks’ and the John Lennon’s, we have the Benito Mussolini’s, Josef Stalin’s, and Adolf Hitler’s doing horrific, monstrous things. The reason there are so many Holocaust deniers—like Hovater—is because so many human beings can’t comprehend that people can be so truly evil. We also cannot comprehend that bad people can have families and lives and supporters, and that they don’t just live in their mother’s dungeon ranting at the world from their Linux computer.
Fausset’s article shows us how to stop people like Hovater from descending into the spiral of radical politics. For every Tony Hovater turning to far-Right nationalism when the going gets tough, we also have violent ANTIFA members being manipulated into far-Left radicalism at the same rate. We have to work out why people turn to radical politics. In order to stop regular folks descending into a rabbit hole of fascism and white supremacy, perhaps we can look into their reasons for doing so, and help them out of the darkness. To do otherwise means we are allowing them to flourish.