Sunday, September 27, 2015

Kicking Tires and Sympathizers

There was a recent article linked to Jalopnik, a vehicle website under the Gawker media umbrella I sometimes peruse, about Brad Pitt having shelled out considerable coin to buy a WWII era German motorcycle. The original article came from British tabloid the Daily Mirror, and the Gawker linkage came courtesy of their full-on gossip site, Defamer. Both articles made this machine's Nazi heritage the key point of their respective headlines, i.e.  "Brad Pitt spends $385,000 to ride around town like a sexy Nazi", or the Mirror's characterization "Brad Pitt splashes out £250,000 on Nazi motorbike".

Thankfully there were a number of people, myself included, who posted comments pointing out that the vehicle itself probably had very few characteristics that denoted it exclusively as  a tool of National Socialism.  A BMW with a sidecar is just a cool bike, regardless of when it was made. I know for a fact that if I ever came across one at auction or on Kijiji, Audrey would be very likely to encourage me to purchase it.

I went on and posted a comment about how, although the Nazis were obviously deplorable, it is hard to deny that the German army of WWII was impeccably tailored, and another person replied with bemusement about how I emphasized my distaste for Naziism:

I thought the black licorice analogy was pretty good as well, but let's be clear: loving black licorice does not make me a Nazi.  And someone else in the thread backed up the 'best dressed army idea but saying, "Sure, Hugo Boss makes everyone look good, but you might want to stay away from his 1934 collection..."

In short, growing up listening to a fair amount of passive acceptance and casual tolerance of racist attitudes means I now feel obliged to state my feelings on the matter clearly and for the record. For instance, in my first year of college, two brothers on my floor of the freshman complex hung a Nazi battle flag in their window.  Most of us disregarded this stunt as a misguided and yokelish attempt to be provocative or edgy, but now I regret not having confronted them about it, and asking them what their own intent was.

Following on the heels of this online exchange, I was in conversation with a friend last night who, I wouldn't go so far as to say lamented, so lets say opined about how ironic it was that having grown up in Kentucky and lived in the US most of his life, and having attended more gun shows than he could count, he had to come to Calgary to see a Nazi table at a militaria show.

I was stunned and got Jim to explain: he was looking over the wares at a Militaria Show and Sale in Calgary a week or two back, and there was a table selling dolls or action figures that had been re-dressed in WWII German military uniforms.

Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this; it is a show devoted to military collectibles and replicas after all. But the two proprietors of this table were not your typical bookish, academically oriented, armchair general types, but rather two angry looking young white men with shaved heads and 'White Power' type t-shirts.

This was sufficient enough to get Jim's spider-sense tingling, so he approached someone involved with the event, bobbed his head in the direction of Ken and Barbie's Fourth Reich, and asked, "Ssssooo...what is all that about?"

This individual saw where Jim was looking, rolled their eyes and said, "Well, apparently how it works is: if you go over there to buy a figure and end up chatting the two of them up and they think you are a kindred spirit or whatever, they will slip some literature about their group into your bag under the table."

"They can do that?" Jim asked incredulously.

"If they aren't overtly breaking any rules, there isn't a lot we can do about it, really."

With Jim having just moved to Canada this summer, I found this tale disappointing on a number of levels, but Jim takes it in stride. "Look how far they've fallen," he says. "Their best option is to come to a gun show and troll with Nazi dolls, hoping to get a bite."

"Y'know, they marched not that long ago in Calgary; a year maybe two," I asserted, unwilling to concede their irrelevance.

"How many guys? More than 30? Wearing brownshirts and stuff?" he asked.

"No," I confessed, "I think maybe twenty, in leather jackets and Doc Martens and such. And there were probably two to three times as many counter protestors."

"Pfft," retorted Jim, "We have nothing to worry about here."

"I suppose so," I said, "But part of me is still upset that Canadians are too polite to take a couple of racist yolkheads like that out to the woodshed and make it immediately and physically apparent that they are not welcome."

Jim was unsure. "The last thing you want to do is give these guys more exposure, sympathy or a martyr angle," he cautioned.

"No," I said, "The last thing I want is to be the world's most ironic Canadian: charged under hate crime legislation for beating up on Nazis. That just feels like too much."

And yet, when I told the story at a dinner party last night, Totty said he wasn't so sure; there was just enough righteousness in there to potentially make the arrest worthwhile.

These test balloons come up periodically from the crypto-fascist or covert Nazi corner, periscopes that might do no initial harm, but which could potentially embolden a hateful u-boat beneath the surface.

Years ago at a Warhammer 40,000 tournament in Calgary, one competitor showed up with a tank-heavy Imperial Guard army painted up to resemble a WWII SS tank brigade. Since there was no specific prohibition against offensive insignia or suchlike in the rules, it became kind of a sticky wicket, that I think the marshall handled by having that player remove all the banners with their swastikas and runic lightning bolts and the like, and told him that army would not be welcome back next year. It also helped that this particular marshall was a physically solid ex-Canadian Army fellow with a deep and abiding interest in military history, and although a consummate professional, made made it crystal clear (CFB in military parlance) to this  individual that he was personally aggrieved by the display.

In the end, I think that 'discreet Nazis' isn't any sort of trending topic. Lean times make fertile ground for racist kooks, and scapegoating 'the other' among us has never gone out of style; look at the polarization in much of the political discourse in the U.S., with some candidates talking about building walls on both the southern and northern border of their land. Going to ground while quietly networking with others could be a cogent strategy for the ultraright, so keeping an eye on actual and wannabe Nazis might be a better use for our tabloids than ascribing National Socialist sympathies on celebrity collectors.

On the other hand though, Jim makes a cogent point, and how scared do I want to be of skinhead doll salesmen at the end of the day?

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