The Holocaust did not happen overnight. It also didn’t happen in a vacuum, and it didn’t happen in ancient times, which we often believe to be characterized by an uncivilized barbarism, and far removed from our modern world. A recent photo of a high school junior prom attendants went viral last weekend. The photo shows a group of white, male students giving the Sieg Heil, the Nazi salute. The school district overseeing the students’ high school has stated that it has launched an investigation into the incident and will be taking appropriate action (Miller2018). Last month, 11 people were murdered by an anti-Semite at a Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The shooting has been called the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States. Though this attack is devastating and heartbreaking, we shouldn’t be shocked. In 2017, hate crimes in the United States increased by 17 percent, with anti-Jewish crimes increasing by a lofty 37 percent (Goggin2018). Though difficult to say for sure, many believe that this drastic increase is due to President Trump’s actions and beliefs (Goggin 20181). This is not a hard leap to make, considering Trump hired alt-right member Steve Bannon as his national security adviser, and felt that the White Nationalists and self-proclaimed Neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville last summer shouting “Jews will not replace us!” were “very fine people” (Gray2017). Trump went on to say that not everyone at the rally was a White Nationalist and that they were treated “absolutely unfairly” by the news media (Gray 2017). Trump has also shown sympathy to the cause of these groups who protest the removal of statues of Confederate leaders Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Each of these men defended the Confederacy in the so-called battle for state’s rights in the American Civil War. The state’s right being fought for was the right to own slaves. They also lost. This is just a small snapshot of the prevalence of anti-Semitism and bigotry in the United States currently. We should pay attention.
Doris L. Bergen (2016) wrote that for a house to burn down, there are three requirements:
- “The timber must be dry and combustible”
- “There needs to be a spark to ignite it”
- “the weather has to be favorable—not too damp, perhaps some wind.”
Bergen (2016) wrote these words in response to the question “how was the Holocaust possible?” and we are living in a time where her words must be taken to heart. Adolf Hitler did not murder millions of people overnight. He didn’t even take power overnight. The preexisting conditions allowed a perfect storm for the Holocaust to happen.
Throughout human history, civilizations have resorted to scapegoating certain groups to justify conquest, war, and other forms of violence, and this is part of the dry timber Bergen refers to. The European aversion to Jewish people did not begin with Adolf Hitler. According to Bergen (2016:15), the disliking of Jews can be traced historically to ancient times, when Romans believed that the existence of monotheistic religions, such as Judaism, would threaten the state’s security, because people would be refusing to worship the imperial gods. As Christianity began to become more popular,
The rise of the alt-right in the United States should be cause for concern. To suggest that genocide can result from such groups is not to be an alarmist. Generally speaking, the alt-right consists of White Nationalist groups that want to pursue an all-white society. They tend to view minorities and people of color as the enemy and a threat to whiteness (Pitofsky 2018). At the rally in Charlottesville, aside from chanting “Jews will not replace us,” they marched down the streets of black neighborhoods with “White Lives Matter” signs and signs with the Nazi swastika (Gray 2017). The groups even chanted “blood and soil” which is the English translation of a Nazi slogan. These groups are concerned with Hispanic immigration, resulting in a “changing demographic” in the United States (Serwer 2018). Unfortunately, these groups are not just a fringe movement anymore, left over from the days of Jim Crow or the KKK lynching people. They have garnered the implied support of many politicians, including President Trump. While Trump denounces the KKK and racism, he simultaneously, as mentioned above, calls them “very fine people” and encourages the protesting of Confederate statue removal. He’s also encouraged white fear of minorities by calling Mexicans “rapists” and “murderers,” and more recently, suggesting that a caravan full of terrorists, rather than asylum seekers, is on its way to the U.S. border—right before midterm elections (Jacobs 2018, Rubin 2018). Trump’s xenophobia and stoking racialized fears plays right into the hands of the alt-right, which are essentially neo-Nazis. His words also harken back to Hitler’s scapegoating of the Roma, who were also murdered in the Holocaust. Hitler and his supporters considered the Roma degenerates and criminals, justifying their placement into Jewish ghettos and their systematic murder (Bergen 2016). Moreover, they considered the Jews and Roma greedy thieves, and Black men sexual predators (Bergen 2016).
“Jews will not replace us” us not only targets a specific group that has already historically been scapegoated for social ills beyond their control, but also implies a desire to eliminate the threat of a society without white people. This translates to, if not the destruction of other groups, the suppression of their reproduction, which would of course eventually lead to their extinction. This could be identified as conspiracy to commit genocide, which constitutes genocide, as defined by the United Nations (Jones 2011). Furthermore, it is likely that the actions of the alt-right has caused or will potentially cause “mental harm to members of the group[s]” they are seeking to repress, which is also an act of genocide (Jones 2011:13). While most of us probably think of genocide as people being massacred outright, that is only the final step. We’re in the middle of dry timber right now, and we need to flood it out before it’s too late.
Andone, Dakin, Jason Hanna, Joe Sterling, and Paul P. Murphy. 2018. “Hate Crime Charges Filed in Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting that Left 11 Dead.” CNN. October 29th. Retrieved November 13 (https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/27/us/pittsburgh-synagogue-active-shooter/index.html).
Bergen, Doris L.. 2016. War & Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust. 3rded. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
De Avila, Joseph. 2018. “Anti-Semitic Incidents Fuel 17% Rise in Hate Crimes, FBI Says.” The Wallstreet Journal. November 13. Retrieved November 13 (https://www.wsj.com/articles/anti-semitic-incidents-fuel-17-rise-in-hate-crimes-fbi-says-1542129814).
Goggin, Ben. 2018. “Anti-Jewish Hate Crimes Increased by 37% in 2017, According to a New FBI Report.” Business Insider. November 13th. Retrieved November 13 (https://www.businessinsider.com/anti-jewish-hate-crimes-increased-in-2017-fbi-report-2018-11).
Gray, Rosie. 2017. “Trump Defends White-Nationalist Protesters: ‘Some Very Fine People on Both Sides.” The Atlantic. August 15th. Retrieved November 13 (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/trump-defends-white-nationalist-protesters-some-very-fine-people-on-both-sides/537012/).
Jacobs, Ben. 2018. “Trump Defends Mexican Rapists Claim During Conspiracy-Laden Speech.” The Guardian. April 5th. Retrieved November 13 (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/apr/05/trump-mexico-caravan-voter-claims-speech-west-virginia).
Jones, Adam. 2011. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. 2ndEd. New York: Routledge.
Miller, Hayley. 2018. “Wisconsin High School Students Appear To Give Nazi Salute In Junior Prom Photo.” Huffington Post. November 12. Retrieved November 13 (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/baraboo-high-school-prom-nazi-salute_us_5be98c8be4b0769d24cfebcd).
Pitofsky, Marina. 2018. “What is the Alt-Right? And How is it Using Social Media to Spread its Message?” USA Today. July 23rd. Retrieved November 14 (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/07/23/alt-right-philosophy-white-identity-civil-rights/800232002/).
Rubin, Jennifer. 2018. “Trump Plays the Xenophobia Card Again.” The Washington Post. October 23rd. Retrieved November 14 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/opinions/wp/2018/10/23/trump-plays-the-xenophobia-card-again/?utm_term=.a50c57fbd284).
Serwer, Adam. 2018. “The White Nationalists Are Winning.” The Atlantic. August 10th. Retrieved November 14 (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/08/the-battle-that-erupted-in-charlottesville-is-far-from-over/567167/).
Rebecca Morales is finishing up her Master of Arts in applied sociology and the certificate in women’s studies at ODU. Her research and writing interests include issues that impact American Indians such as cultural misappropriation and representation, domestic and sexual violence, and neocolonialism. She currently works at the Richmond SPCA and although not relevant to her degree, is currently pursuing a career in the field of animal welfare and rescue.