On July third, eleven Nazis from the National Socialist Movement held a rally here in Olympia on the steps of the Washington State Capitol. Twelve uniformed Nazis stood by a podium, secure behind a six foot hurricane fence protected by two-hundred officers from the Washington State Patrol and over one-hundred feet of secured space between them and an audience apparently only comprised of protestors and the press.
About 850 protestors supplied some nice political theatre, complete with a Nazi clown brigade and creative chants and signage. Protestors used a public address system to drown-out and heckle the Nazis as they made speeches. One protestor took to the microphone and rhetorically asked the police why they came out in such force to protect Nazis when they attack protestors during our peace rallies. In a town where the police have rammed peaceful protesters with motorcycles and freely used pepper spray on grandparents and children, this seemed like a pretty good question to the crowd. Between the protestors’ PA system, several megaphones, organized chants and a drum set, the protestors successfully drown-out the Nazis.
After an hour in the heat of the direct sun I looked for some shade and saw a small group of protestors beneath the trees surrounding our supreme court’s temple of justice at the back of the protest area. In the shade I discovered that the acoustics perfectly projected the Nazi’s speeches to this shady area so that we could hear what they were saying.
It was pretty much what I expected: the usual Nazi anti-Semitic conspiratorial drivel, rants about the racial purity and claims that the “white race” was responsible for all historical technological progress. The speaker was nervous and inarticulate and I wondered if he wasn’t even a little glad that almost nobody there could even hear what he was saying.
But then he argued that it didn’t matter that the day’s rally brought far more protestors than acolytes because, he argued, “history always repeats itself.” He listed rising gas prices, declining wages for workers, and the flight of capital abroad as signs of a coming economic decline that would empower his movement. He finished his speech by saying that when the next collapse came his ideas would be welcomed by our leaders and a betrayed populous. It didn’t matter that almost no one could hear his point over the protest clatter, his point that fascism’s solutions have a recurrent attraction was a good one-despite how poorly this had worked out last time for his Fuhrer.
In the late 1980s, among the bookstalls of Cairo’s Medan Opera I found a copy of the book, Ezra Pound Speaking, which had transcriptions of some of Ezra Pound’s wartime radio broadcasts for the Italian fascists. Many of these broadcasts were boring in their plodding arguments while others were almost Dadaist performances-in one broadcast Pound advocated that the world leaders could resolve their differences by viewing an elaborate and lengthy production of kabuki theatre, in another he proposed a new global writing system combining Latin, English and Chinese ideograms. But beyond Pound’s delusions, there was a clarity that the Great Depression had left leaders to choose between FDR’s soft-socialism limiting the power of capital or Mussolini’s fascism embracing it. Pound joined the millions who embraced fascism’s orderly solutions as a rational way to create economic order by strengthening corporate power and weakening worker’s rights.
The silly uniforms and salutes of the Nazi’s on Washington’s Capitol steps marked them as absurd spectacles; uniformed Nazis act like rodeo clowns in the current crisis, drawing our attention (as they must) and bringing a community’s focus of scorn wherever they appear. The inevitable shortcomings of markets to meet human needs continues to make fascism alluring to some, and while goose-stepping uniformed Nazi’s easily draw crowds of outraged protestors, their better dressed allies embracing corporate solutions to capitalism’s problems make headway.
DAVID PRICE is author of Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists (Duke, 2004). His next book, Weaponizing Anthropology: American Anthropologists in the Second World War will be published by Duke University Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com