Normalizing the haters

Last November the New York Times published a piece titled A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland that focused on one particular member in Ohio of a white supremacist group and was widely blasted for humanizing neo-Nazis by allowing them to portray themselves as your typical guy next door who just happens to have views that you might disagree with. Here’s a sample.

In Ohio, amid the row crops and rolling hills, the Olive Gardens and Steak ’n Shakes, Mr. Hovater’s presence can make hardly a ripple. 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. Most Americans would be disgusted and baffled by his casually approving remarks about Hitler, disdain for democracy and belief that the races are better off separate. But his tattoos are innocuous pop-culture references: a slice of cherry pie adorns one arm, a homage to the TV show “Twin Peaks.” He says he prefers to spread the gospel of white nationalism with satire. He is a big “Seinfeld” fan.

“I guess it seems weird when talking about these type of things,” he says. “You know, I’m coming at it in a mid-90s, Jewish, New York, observational-humor way.”

Mr. Hovater, 29, is a welder by trade. He is not a star among the resurgent radical American right so much as a committed foot soldier — an organizer, an occasional podcast guest on a website called Radio Aryan, and a self-described “social media villain,” although, in person, his Midwestern manners would please anyone’s mother. In 2015, he helped start the Traditionalist Worker Party, one of the extreme right-wing groups that marched in Charlottesville, Va., in August, and again at a “White Lives Matter” rally last month in Tennessee. The group’s stated mission is to “fight for the interests of White Americans.’’

On Facebook, Mr. Hovater posted a picture purporting to show what life would have looked like if Germany had won World War II: a streetscape full of happy white people, a bustling American-style diner and swastikas everywhere.

“What part is supposed to look unappealing?” he wrote.

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.”

Some have defended the piece by saying that it is important to show that these people are pretty average in most respects. But how many people actually have a caricature of neo-Nazis as fire-breathing monsters who wreak havoc in everyone and everything they encounter? Surely by now we all have heard of even brutal serial killers who are described by friends, relatives, and neighbors as friendly and unassuming people? That even the actual Nazis in Germany were urbane and sophisticated people in many respects is surely not news. Why is there a need to ‘correct’ an image that does not exist? This is all part of the media’s attempt that we need to ‘understand’ better all the racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and anti-Semitic people who are now a major part of the Republican party and form the base of Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters.

Mark Frauenfelder has come across a parody video titled A Voice of Hate on America’s Internet that looks at how the paper might similarly paint a sympathetic portrait of a misogynistic internet troll.


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