The first time I remember seeing a real live Nazi was at an early 1970s protest against Nazis in Frankfurt am Main in western Germany. The Nazis protest was illegal what with the German state having a pretty fresh memory of the damage those assholes can cause. I went to the protest expecting to see a bunch of old men with paunches and balding heads, kind of like the old guys I worked with at my summer job in the US Army Commissary. All of those guys swore they only fought on the Eastern front against the Soviets. My take on it was that if they fought anywhere, they were just foot soldiers and had most likely committed fewer war crimes than the US officers and NCOs who lived and worked all around the city of Frankfurt.
There were a few old guys at the Nazi march, but of the fifty or so people marching under the neo-nazi National DemokratenPartei (NPD) banner, the majority were men a few years older than me. They looked like regular guys—maybe a little swarthier but that’s probably my impression as a skinny adolescent. Not too many were blonde. Anyhow, I was hanging out on the sidewalk with a couple thousand anarchists, communists, social democrats and others when the Nazis formed a small bloc and pushed into the street. A bunch of people with black and red flags mounted on substantial pieces of timber ran out from an alley or two and set upon the Nazis. Then a bunch of German cops appeared. The brief melee that ensued is memorable for its brevity. A few minutes later, the cops, the Nazis and the bulk of the anti-Nazis were all gone. I walked down to a streetcar stop and waited for the trolley. A pretty German teenage girl was picking up Nazi leaflets from the short-lived protest, tearing them into small pieces and throwing them in a trash can at the streetcar stop. I joined her until my ride came.
I had experience with white nationalist types before. The small town I lived in in Maryland was a bit of a Klan hot bed up until the 1970s. Klan rallies were occasionally held at a farm right outside of the town in the 1960s. That farm is now a townhouse development with accompanying shopping center. There was a period in 1967 when tensions between Blacks and whites heightened exponentially because of the Klan. A couple young men tried to set a church in the “Black section” of town on fire. It was called the “Black section” because back then it was where most of the town’s African-American population resided. Supposedly, it had been the slave quarters before the town was a town and was just a giant plantation. Anyhow, since the church the Klan wanted to burn was made of stone, it didn’t burn. The two klansmen then crossed the highway and tried to start a home on fire. The home’s residents and their neighbors woke up and put out the fire. The next day young Blacks threw rocks at cars on the highway and the local cops responded by chasing them off. After the NAACP got wind of the situation, they tried to get a permit for a march through the “Black section” of town. The permit was denied. A couple weeks later, the Klan marched through the “Black section” with full police escort. Do the math. Think the Klan had friends in high places in that town?
I ended up back in that town and worked at an IHOP after a few years overseas. It was the mid-1970s. Like most any restaurant that was open from dawn until 2 AM, we had a lot of cops coming through to eat. Most of my fellow short order cooks were African-Americans. Some were parolees and some were still living in a halfway house after a few years of harder time. This fact gave the cops the idea they could treat my fellow workers like shit if they had the inclination. Add to that the fact that the cops hated Blacks and hippies and you get an equation that almost came to blows a couple times. The one time that comes to mind involved an early morning bar rush when a couple off-duty cops came in drunker than Noah after the Ark landed. The restaurant was crowded and the wait for food was about twice as long as usual. My fellow cook, who was also the night manager, a former street hustler and had a catalog of songs that he sang, was singing something by the Temptations when one of the off-duty cops said loud enough for us to hear (over the fans and general kitchen noise): “That ni**er needs to start cooking and stop singing that shit.” Not being in the mood to confront a drunken cop, my buddy ignored the comment. I stared down the cop and he gave me the finger. We continued to cook eggs, pancakes and the like. I had turned my back to the restaurant to get some bacon out of the refrigerator and when I turned around with the bacon in my hands, the cop was leaning over the counter where we set the food for pickup. He was giving my co-worker the evil eye. My co-worker was trying to keep his cool, but I could tell he was losing the battle. The cop looked at me and said in a much louder voice: “You and this ni**er need to learn how to cook. I ain’t got time for this shit.” I set the bacon down. “You need to quit saying that word,” I said. “Your order is on the grill.” “Y’all took too long.” said the cop. “We’re going somewhere where we don’t have to deal with you and your ni**er friends.” As he and his friends left the restaurant, a customer gave the bunch of them the finger.
There was another time in the late 1970s right after I moved to Berkeley, CA. Let me quote from a piece I wrote about this encounter with Nazis. “When I first moved to Oakland, California in 1978, one of the demonstrations my friend and I went to that May was opposing the presence of the Nazis on the other side of the Berkeley Hills in a town called Walnut Creek. Now, this part of the Bay Area is very different from San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland. It’s a land covered with postwar subdivisions, and a predominantly right-wing political climate, much like those California counties south of Los Angeles. It was a perfect spot for a demonstration by the American Nazi party. The whole affair was to take place on a baseball field located in a city park. As we approached the site on foot (after taking the subway to the area), we were stopped by several fully armed police who were herding all of the anti-Nazi demonstrators through a metal detector and choosing certain of us for a more thorough pat-down search. Most of the anti-fascists were Jewish, black, Latino, pacifist, communist, or some combination thereof. They included members of the Weather Underground successor group, the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee, and the head rabbis of a few local synagogues. Men and women from Oakland churches were present along with Democratic Party members and gay and lesbian groups. Student groups from area colleges were represented and so was the YWCA. Any signs we carried were taken from us, as were pocketknives. Once released from the police, we headed down the path which, with police lining both sides, took on the appearance of a gauntlet. Two more metal detectors later, we made it to the baseball field. The field itself was surrounded by a fifteen-foot-high temporary chain-link fence. As the field filled up with demonstrators, we spent the time chanting and talking among ourselves.
Finally, around 1:30 PM, seven squad cars drove up to the site, their sirens wailing. The police, who were in the front seats of the cars, got out, opened the rear doors, and escorted ten men dressed in brown Nazi uniforms to the bleachers behind the backstop. As their leader harangued us, the rest stood at attention while 500 police protected them from our pent-up wrath. Once the speech was over, the Nazis were hustled back into the police cars and driven away. The rest of us were left to make our way back to more tolerant places via the BART train or the highway.
In 1984, I was hanging out with a friend selling “Nobody for President” stickers at the Democratic Convention in San Francisco. The cops and the democrats had us in a free speech zone listening to speakers and bands. The Dead Kennedys came on stage to play and some Nazi skinheads jumped up on stage about midway through their set. I’d been at other punk shows where we had to chase those assholes of a stage. This time one of the guys in the band nailed one of the Nazis while Jello Biafra sang the song “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” Earlier in the week, a few dozen of us chased a car with swastikas plastered on it and Nazis inside it away from a group of women calling for some feminist clause in the Democratic Party platform. It took a fair amount of yelling before the Democrats called the cops and asked them to tell the Nazis to leave. The comic book author Spain Rodriguez was there and said the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers needed to get back together. My buddy selling the Nobody for President stickers had been part of that group and agreed.
When I moved to the Pacific Northwest, encounters with Nazis and other racists happened more often than any place I had lived in since Maryland. I’ve written about some of these incidents previously. Their presence in certain youth subcultures and among various groups in the logging industry was numerically small, but definitely louder than those numbers might indicate. Besides the skinhead who tried to start a white nationalist group at Evergreen State College when I worked there, there was the much more serious infiltration of the punk and skater subcultures by members of the White Aryan Resistance, a Nazi group organized by Tom Metzger. Indeed, it was two members of this group who killed the anti-Nazi skate punk Bob Buchanan in 1992. (See my article on this.)
Here in Vermont, a recent attempt to change the name of a local high school mascot from the name Rebels has brought a number of racists to the attention of the population. Despite the claims of some opposed to the name change that the name has nothing to do with the Confederate States and isn’t racist, the history dug up by students working to change the name proves otherwise. So does the recent racist graffiti sprayed across the high school’s athletic field in the last week. No one is sure how this will end, just like no one is sure how the current upsurge in racist and fascist activity across the planet will end.