Some heroes sit at a keyboard

Did you know that social media has a Nazi problem? Of course it does. But often it is subtle and requires expert scrutiny.

When Ksenia Coffman started editing Wikipedia, she was like a tourist in Buenos Aires in the 1950s. She came to learn the tango, admire the architecture, sip maté. She didn’t know there was a Nazi problem. But Coffman, who was born in Soviet-era Russia and lives in Silicon Valley, is an intensely observant traveler. As she link-hopped through articles about the Second World War, one of her favorite subjects, she saw what seemed like a concerted effort to look the other way about Germany’s wartime atrocities.

Coffman can’t recall exactly when her concern set in. Maybe it was when she read the article about the SS, the Nazi Party’s paramilitary, which included images that felt to her like glamour shots—action-man officers admiring maps, going on parade, all sorts of “very visually disturbing” stuff. Or maybe it was when she clicked through some of the pages about German tank gunners, flying aces, and medal winners. There were hundreds of them, and the men’s impressive kill counts and youthful derring-do always seemed to exist outside the genocidal Nazi cause. What was going on here? Wikipedia was supposed to be all about consensus. Wasn’t there consensus on, you know, Hitler?

So she sat down and got to work, and started pointing out the lack of skepticism in so many Wiki articles.

Not for the first time, Coffman has been removing material from the article about the tank division. She thinks it’s full of unsourced fancruft, the Wikipedia word for fawning, excessively detailed descriptions that appeal to a tiny niche of readers—in this case, those thrilled by accounts of battle. The article tells how “the division acquitted itself well” even against “stiffening resistance,” how it “held the line” and earned the “grudging respect” of skeptical commanders. One contributor has used the eyebrow-raising phrase “baptism of fire.” It’s as if the editors don’t see the part lower down the page where a soldier uses the phrase “and then we cleaned a Jew hole.”

The glorifying language, Coffman thinks, is a clear sign that this is historical fan fiction. It elides the horrors of war. If editors want such details to stay on the page, at a minimum they should use a better source than Axis History, a blog whose motto is “Information not shared is lost.”

Turn on the History Channel sometime: it’s the same thing. There’s a reason it’s called the Hitler channel, and it’s because it’s cheap and easy to grab WWII footage — often nothing but propaganda films which launder and present credulous versions of the story — and splice it into a story. Aren’t those Nazi uniforms stylish? Wow, those soldiers had to be brave and stalwart to stand up to a Russian winter. Gosh, so many tanks! Cool! Let’s not think about what those soldiers were trying to do.

You can also see it on YouTube and in video games and the newspapers, always focusing on drama and spectacle without questioning what the hell those assholes were hoping to accomplish. It just takes a little effort to peel away the gosh-wow veneer to expose the rot beneath, but someone has to make the effort.

Another example in real life, with modern Nazis: Richard Spencer is on trial, and is trying desperately to present himself as “the erudite founder of a thinktank who represented a version of white nationalism that took pains to avoid racial slurs and glorification of violence”. He’s not. The lawyers showed everyone what he says when he’s not putting on a show for the gullible.

The plaintiffs played audio for the jury of Spencer launching into a tirade in the presence of co-defendants Jason Kessler, Nathan Damigo and Elliott Kline after learning about Heyer’s death following the Aug. 12, 2017 rally. (The leaked audio was previously published by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in 2019.)

“Little fucking k*kes,” Spencer said. “They get ruled by me. Little f*cking octoroons… I f*cking… my ancestors f*cking enslaved those pieces of f*cking sh*t. I rule the f*cking world. Those pieces of f*cking sh*t get ruled by people like me. They look up and see a face like mine looking down at them. That’s how the f*cking world works. We are going to destroy this f*cking town.”

So hooray for Ksenia Coffman. Hooray for Michael Bloch, the lawyer out to expose Spencer. We need more warriors like that.


  1. davidc1 says

    It is possible to be interested in the Nazi period without becoming a neo-nazi .
    But ,yeah some are interested because they picture themselves in them swanky Hugo Boss
    designed uniforms .Plus they are anti-Semite .
    And a lot of them ,while not coming straight out and saying the holocaust didn’t happen are
    trying to say that the bombing campaign by the RAF/ USAAF against Germany was just as bad .
    Or that Eisenhower ,who so hated the Germans that he deliberately starved the vast number of German POW’S in Germany at the end of the war.

  2. HidariMak says

    It’s nice to hear that Richard Spencer is finally facing justice. The law looks like it’s punching Nazis, and hopefully, the “Heil Trump” brigade won’t be getting up any time soon.

  3. Michael says

    yeah, I ran into this when I was still on facepalmbook and I signed up to see posts from a Latin American WW2 history page. Soon I was getting posts about what a great guy Joachim Peiper was (Waffen SS commander of the German offensive known as the battle of the bulge where the SS executed US POWs). Lots of propaganda shots of nazi soldiers in heroic combat, Then there were all the posts about how Germany has lost its way because they don’t honor these SS jerks and even have a monument to the soldiers who deserted… (Seems like a sensible thing to do if you were a German soldier). And of course there was a good number of Argentines posting…

  4. stroppy says

    Ronnie Raygun laid his wreath at Bitberg while planting the seeds of the modern Republican Party.

  5. cartomancer says

    Before we talk about the dramatic heroization of the Nazis, it is probably worth noting that American media in particular does this with its own soldiers and operatives too. Soldiers of all kinds, really, from the Spartans, Romans and Crusaders to US grunts in Vietnam, Afghanistan and wherever they’re off invading at the moment. It’s an effort to create a kind of value-free, content-free military chic that can be enjoyed as an aesthetic and simple tale of jingoistic chest-beating.

    But the Nazi thing is noteworthy, given that US fetishisation of military aesthetics tends, with only the exception of the Nazis, to exclude those who are considered iconic enemies of the US. There is nothing comparable with British Redcoats for example, or Afghan Mujahideen, or or the Viet Cong. The Nazis, one would imagine, are the least complicated example of the justified bad guys who it is axiomatic to despise. They’re pretty much the last group who the US military can claim any kind of moral authority in opposing in its history. We might also note that there is no similar cult of the Italian Fascists, or the Imperial Japanese, who were fighting alongside the Nazis.

    We in the UK have a somewhat different culture of military fascination. Most usually it focuses on Civil War re-enactment, Roundheads versus Cavaliers, and the flamboyant early-modern styles of the Cavaliers with their elaborate surcoats and feathered hats tend to be much more popular than the workaday pot helms and breeches of the Roundheads. We do have a small number of Second World War re-enactors too, and there is a worrying preference there for wearing the Nazi uniforms rather than the uniforms of the Allies.

    Why? I don’t know. For some it obviously is a sense of sympathy with the ideals of the Nazis, but I doubt they are the majority. For others perhaps it’s the whole “bad guy” status that appeals – stomping round playing the pantomime villain can be a lot of fun if you aren’t seriously thinking about the real atrocities your persona was attached to. Maybe for others there is a sense that Nazi Germany was a serious and credible society, and so its uniforms and paraphernalia aren’t seen as excessive and silly in the way very similar uniforms used by banana republics and tinpot dictatorships are. I can’t say I’ve ever seen the appeal, though I do own a 1950s East German greatcoat, and it is very warm indeed on cold days.

  6. James Fehlinger says

    Do people still use the word “octoroon” in “ordinary” conversation?
    I guess in some quarters, yes!

    Last time I encountered that word was in Iain Banks’ Transition,
    where Madame d’Ortolan is speculating to Mr. Kleist about the
    possible racial background of Lady Bisquitine.


  7. springa73 says

    cartomancer @6

    The US also has a subculture of military reenactors, focused primarily on our own Civil War.

  8. lumipuna says

    One contributor has used the eyebrow-raising phrase “baptism of fire.”

    AFAIK this is common military slang in some languages (certainly Finnish, and probably German), but perhaps sounds odd when rendered in English?

  9. jellorat says

    It’s not just Wikipedia. Pinterest has a Nazi problem too. If you look at any sort of Viking-themed stuff, you will soon be served valknuts and iron crosses. The more you click on those, the more Nazi it gets, and suddenly you are seeing WWII Nazi glamour shots with inspirational quotes under them. When I discovered this it was so surreal, like it was happy crafting Nazi hour, or something.

  10. lumipuna says

    To clarify, I mean WWII-era military slang that has since become a conventional expression in war literature (both fact and fiction). It means the first combat experience of a unit of soldiers or individual soldier.

  11. microraptor says

    lumipuna @9: “Baptism of fire” is a pretty widely used phrase in English, the issue is that it’s not really appropriate as a description in a Wikipedia article.

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    lumipuna @9: It has the same meaning in English, and I’m not sure why anyone’s eyebrows were raised.

  13. lumipuna says

    OK, that makes sense. Probably has slightly different connotations in different languages.

  14. blf says

    Baptism of fire is a profoundly dead-cult term, often(?) said to originate from “the Gospels of Matthew (3:11) and of Luke (3:16)”. It is neither neutral nor well-defined, and has no place in informed discussion.

  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    Bloody hell, it’s been a figure of speech for ages, with a clear and neutral meaning. Looks to me like a knee-jerk antitheist rejection of any term that has a perceived religious connotation. You might want to look for all phrases with a biblical or religious origin for purposes of purgation. Good luck with that. Maybe start with ‘goodbye’.

  16. Akira MacKenzie says


    Do people still use the word “octoroon” in “ordinary” conversation?

    The only other place I’ve heard the term is on leftist podcasts by those using it ironically to poke fun at old-timey racism. Spencer is the only person I’ve ever heard use it seriously.

  17. Tethys says

    We don’t use quasi religious terminology like ‘baptism by fire” to describe Nazi in a dictionary for fairly simple reasons. It is not a neutral descriptive term, it is a form of obvious glorification.

    The word good means exactly that for as far back as it’s found in writing. Guten nacht.

  18. Rob Grigjanis says

    Tethys @22:

    It is not a neutral descriptive term, it is a form of obvious glorification.

    Fucking language, how does it work? Recruits on both sides of a battle are experiencing a baptism by fire, regardless of the virtue of their respective sides.

    ‘Goodbye’ is a contraction of ‘god be with you’. See also ‘gosh’, ‘golly’ and ‘gee’.

  19. Tethys says

    I’m aware of the calque, but that’s just a quirk of English. See also good-day, good-grief, etc. The word ‘good’ does not come from the word ‘god’.

    I still don’t think it appropriate to glorify war, military bulls hit, and especially the Nazi in a dictionary.

  20. says

    Fun fact: the Nazi uniforms were stylish — but also hideously impractical. Somewhere I had a link to a long rant by a historian about it, but I can’t find it offhand (as always when I want to repost it) but there was a notorious severe problem with officers’ pants which led to many of them simply removing their pants whenever nobody was around (and, IIRC, also required them to completely remove the pants to use the toilet comfortably), and those uniforms for the Russian campaign were not only insufficient protection from the cold but were effectively the equivalent of dry clean only. And those are only the two big problems which stuck with me; practically every decision involved was a bad one. As with everything else they did, the Nazi uniforms were a massive failure that only somebody either ignorant of the realities or fatuously in love with the Nazis could admire.

  21. stroppy says

    Well, that made me want to look it up.

    salutation in parting, also goodbye, good bye, good-by, 1590s, from godbwye (1570s), a contraction of God be with ye (late 14c.), influenced by good-day, good evening, etc. As a noun from 1570s. Intermediate forms in 16c. include God be wy you, God b’uy, God buoye, God buy, etc.

    quirk (n.)
    1560s, “a quibble, an artful evasion,” a word of unknown origin, perhaps connected to German quer (see queer (adj.)) via the notion of twisting and slanting; but its earliest appearance in western England dialect seems to argue against this as its source. Perhaps originally a technical term for a twist or flourish in weaving. Sense of “peculiarity” is c. 1600.
    (same source)

    English is indeed twisty.

  22. says

    My dude, you’re even going so far as to frame ‘being a woman’ as an insult.

    Nice of you to adopt our local ‘@’ convention, at least. You’re just going to get deleted and forgotten either way.

  23. raven says

    The other subject on Wikipedia that gets routinely redacted, vandalized, and just plain lied about is anything to do with xianity. The xians are always rewriting Wikipedia to make their cults sound benign and atheists sound like pure evil.

    At one point, they had a xian terrorist who murdered two people and wounded over 100 in a bombing, as an atheist. He is in fact, a Catholic.

    Wikipedia is great but you have to be careful about subjects that have a biased following not at all concerned with the truth. Like for example, fundie xianity.

  24. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Yeah, as most people have pointed out, regrettably there is a continuum of thought that tends to lionize the German military, as Three Arrows pointed out. This includes both Germans who want to make a distinction between the Wehrmacht, basically blaming everything on the civilian command and the SS and ignoring the extreme complicity of the military in the rise of the Nazis (and the general trend of pro-military thought being coopted by fascists), and non-Germans (especially Americans) who tend to have pro-military views. Obviously the actual neo-Nazis hide among these sentiments, but I actually bet Wikipedia editors are pretty good at catching the overt Nazi propaganda and revisionism (because the actual Nazi sources suck so badly and there’s such a plethora of resources to clearly combat them), but not so much the subtler bias that does not critically interrogate the role of the military.

    Folding Ideas’ point that imagining the Germans as this clean, efficient, badass regime, even if that is associated with utter horror and revulsion, is Nazi propaganda in and of itself, such as using the Triumph of the Will for insight into the Nazis. In reality, they were much bigger fuckups than that, something I discovered in debates with Nazis. There is a broad consensus, for example, that the Nazi civilian bureaucracy and civil service was laughably incompetent for exactly the same reason Trump’s bureaucracy was.

  25. davidc1 says

    @6 Yeah The Sealed Knot are the English civil war mob .I do remember seeing a programme about WW2 dressupers ,they were very right wing ,some of them were in the film Saving Private Ryan playing Waffen SS .

    @25 While the German Army were freezing to death outside Moscow in 1941 ,according to that bloke Gerald Reitlinger in his book The SS Alibi of a Nation ,the SS pinched all the furs from the Polish Ghettos to clothe the Waffen SS .
    @27 The Book “,Soldaten ,On Fighting ,Killing ,and Dying .” It’s about the secretly taped conversations of German Army POW’S in GB and America ,it reveals that there was not much difference between them and the Waffen SS ,regarding their treatment of civilians .
    The book didn’t go down well in Germany .