IT WAS A FORBIDDEN ITEM. Literally. The law made it a crime to possess this small, hardcover book. But it was the center of the party. It sat alone on a table in the apartment. Guests approached hesitantly. Some leafed through it. No one picked it up.
The cover was a painting of two children on a hillside. The boy, dressed in khaki shorts and shirt, stood while holding a kite. The girl sat at his side. I don’t remember the title. My eyes went immediately to the boy’s red armband with the swastika.
This was in Munich, 1974. Our hosts and their guests were young artists and media people, most of them born after World War II. Their political views might today be called progressive. Their interest in the Hitler Youth “textbook”—what drew them to that table—was that most of them had never seen a book from the Nazi regime before.
One of our German colleagues explained: in their schoolbooks history stopped in 1933 just before the Nazi takeover of Germany and didn’t begin again until 1949, when the new democracy known here as West Germany was launched. In between was a blank. “The Hitler time” they called it.
Post-War German governments rejected the Nazi ideology successfully through the generations since the war. But the allure of hate as an organizing tool is stirring again in Germany despite legal barriers. And now new hate groups have popped up in this country too. But if our hate groups are ignorant about American history, it’s because they choose to be. So what are we going to do about this movement that has already proved itself toxic to democracies?
The first step is to accept that ignorance offers no protection. Organized hate is already here, in this state and in Columbia County. Check your local utility poles. In the Village of Chatham last week a resident removed an “America First” sign (see below) from a pole. The sign also carried the Patriot Front web address. The Patriot Front is a racist, anti-Semitic, sexist and anti-American hate group. That’s how they are described on a new website https://www.hatewatchreport.com/ .
This Hate Watch Report website provides information about hate groups, links to anti-hate groups, news related to hate groups and special events, including a virtual discussion “Fighting Domestic Terrorism: The Battle in Our Backyard” with Columbia County resident and MSNBC commentator on terrorism, intelligence and insurgency Malcolm Nance. It takes place Saturday, February 27 at 4 p.m. Reservations to the online event are available at the Hate Watch Report website above.
The program is sponsored by two local groups, IndivisibleColumbiaNY and Columbia County Women’s Alliance. Community activist Michael Richardson will also speak at the event, addressing local hate group activity.
The organizers of the local Hate Watch Report envision the website as developing into a clearinghouse of information about local activities by hate groups. The organizers have a long struggle ahead. You can’t reason with groups that say they’re willing to achieve hate-driven goals with firearms instead of votes. These are people who casually disregard the Constitution and disrespect the democratic process.
What Hate Watch Report says it needs now is for us to bear witness. The group asks that we not avert our eyes when the threat of hate is embraced as the route to power and fear is used as the tool to maintain it. Become vigilant. Remain involved.