Writing sympathetically about Nazis helps them reach their goals

By Joe Frank

(Scott Beale/ Daily Collegian)

There are thousands of drummers in the United States. I’m a drummer. It is part of who I am. Do you know who else is a drummer? Tony Hovater. And if I didn’t know better, I’d use this information to humanize him; I’d empathize with him. But I do know better. I know that Hovater, the subject of Richard Fausset’s New York Times piece from Saturday, “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland,” is a Nazi. But rather than condemn an avowed white nationalist, Fausset’s article details Hovater’s life and gives a pretty face to a hateful movement.

If you need any proof that Hovater is a Nazi, look no further than the New York Times article about him. Hovater defends fascism by comparing it to the movie “Pacific Rim.” His argument is that, “They build a giant robot to try to stop [monsters]. And that’s essentially what fascism is. It’s like our version of centrally coming together to try to stop another already centralized force.” He helped start a group that marched in Charlottesville this summer — a group that sells swastika arm bands on its website. Hovater himself was in Charlottesville and after that day he wrote, “We made history. Hail victory.’” “Hail victory,” as the Times article helpfully points out, translates in German to “Sieg heil.”

You wouldn’t expect an article about such a man to romanticize his cultural interests or to spend paragraphs diving into his personal life, but Fausset’s article does exactly that. Hovater is someone whose “tattoos are innocuous pop-culture references.” In the article, he and his wife are at a local Applebee’s sitting “shoulder to shoulder at a table, young and in love.” They are normal people like you and me, with their “fondness for National Public Radio, their four cats, their bridal registry.”

Fausset isn’t wrong about their normalcy, but that is exactly what is dangerous about this article. As the piece elaborates, the alt-right is trying to appeal to ‘normal’ people. They are trying to spread their movement to individuals beyond the fringe bigots. As Matthew Heimbach, the leader of the group that Hovater helped start, explains in the article, “We need to have more families. We need to be able to just be normal.” The Times piece presents a white nationalist as ‘normal.’ This article, with its sympathetic, rosy passages, helps Nazis reach their goal.

Anti-Semitism and racism are real problems in America today, and they have gotten worse over the past few years. The Anti-Defamation League reported earlier this year that in 2016, acts of anti-Semitism in the U.S. increased by over a third. It also noted that during the first three months of 2017, there was an 86 percent jump in these acts. In the week after the election of President Donald Trump, there were over 200 complaints of hate crimes to the Southern Poverty Law Center, as reported by USA Today. It is also hard to forget the image of protesters in Charlottesville marching with torches yelling, “White lives matter” and “Jews will not replace us.”

Due to the backlash the Times received because of Fausset’s piece, they published a response, penned by National Editor Marc Lacey. According to Lacey, “The point of the story was not to normalize anything but to describe the degree to which hate and extremism have become far more normal in American life than many of us want to think.” In addition, the Times response emphasized that they “regret the degree to which the piece offended so many readers,” and they “recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story.” However, Lacey argued that “What [they] think is indisputable, though, is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them.” While it is reassuring to know that the Times is aware of their mistake, a response after-the-fact does not erase the damage done by the original article.

I understand what Fausset’s intention was when he wrote his article. He was trying, through his experiences with Hovater, to warn America that white nationalism can be in our own towns and our communities. While it is important that Americans understand the widespread nature of racism and anti-Semitism, this article failed to achieve its goal. Because it presents Hovater and his wife in a positive light, this piece gives strength to those who spread ideals that are dangerous to millions of Americans.

An individual who disputes that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, who wants a “white ethno-state” and who insists that “Jews run the worlds of finance and the media, and ‘appear to be working more in line with their own interests than everybody else’s,’” should not be portrayed in the national media as a man whose “Midwestern manners would please anyone’s mother.”

Joe Frank is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]