Georgia State University

THE WAR (I THOUGHT) WE WON BY IAN FOWLER @ GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY

There are Nazis in America. We fought a war against them back in the 1940s. World War 2 to be precise. From what I remember of American history, I thought we had won that war.

The few past decades have seen a resurgence in neo-fascist movements across both the United States and Europe. The Nazis have returned. To be more accurate, there has always been some marginal acceptance of fascism, but recent circumstances in the United States and abroad have brought these extremist groups renewed support and public attention. Real and perceived grievances, as well as mainstream political recognition, have fostered a favorable climate permitting neo-fascist movements to grow within democratic states. It is present in Russia and Chechnya and large portions of the former Soviet Bloc with the Ultra-Nationalists, in Poland, in France with the National Front, in the United Kingdom with the National Action, and, for the focus of this discussion, in the United States of America and in Greece. Both the US and Greece have witnessed increased Neo-Nazi activity in response to a number of both internal and external factors. And although the two countries are quite dissimilar, and their circumstances are not equivalent, the parallels between the two fascist movements and their origins make for an interesting discussion.

Seva Gunitsky posits in their 2017 article for the Washington Post’s ‘Monkey Cage’ ‘These are the three reasons fascism spread in 1930s America — and might spread again today,’ the origin of the American Nazi was directly related to the domestic and international climate; the Great Depression, the fear of Communism, and the apparent success of Nazi Germany.

When discussing today’s Neo-Nazi, Gunitsky attributed the current resurgence to three similar factors: The Economic Recession from 2009 and the resulting growth in economic inequality, the fear of “globalist and elite technocrats,” and “the appearance of an ideological rival [in China] that seemed to outperform America’s corrupt democracy.”  Additionally, a misplaced fear of immigrants and foreigners, precipitated by the perceived threats of extremism and terrorism, and magnified by the rhetoric of the current administration, has further empowered the American Neo-Nazi movement. Subliminal white nationalist sentiments by the same administration have likewise emboldened these movements by embracing ideals of white supremacists and racial separatists, while openly validating the perceived inferiority of non-whites.

It is important to discuss the differences between the perception and the reality of these issues and the role they play in creating and empowering neo-fascists movements as it vital in the analysis of both the American and Greek cases. Many of the issues raised by the Nazi groups constitute little actual danger, yet the perception of the threat is deeply rooted in the broader (sub-)cultural narrative stretching back to the Reconstruction Period following the American Civil War. In The Politics of Resentment, Kathy Cramer discusses the rural-urban divide and the feelings of resentment in rural, predominantly white, communities engendered by a mixture of real and perceived injustices perpetrated by less-rural populations and the notional ‘urban elite.’ The sentiments she discusses are reminiscent of, although to a lesser degree, that of the Ku Klux Klan, which was created out of and is focused within Southern, rural communities and which has become synonymous with the American Nazi.

Parallels to their American counterparts abound throughout the rise and resurgence of Greek neo-fascist movements, especially the Golden Dawn. The Popular Association—Golden Dawn—is a Greek far-right and ultranationalist political party with a history of violence, as well as strong ties to other Neo-Nazi parties both in Greece and across Europe. Both the social and political climate in Greece is a powder keg primed for extremism and violence by the continued effects of the Global Financial Crisis in 2009, which has had lasting social and economic effects within Greece. Many Greeks place the blame for their continued economic instability, as well as the influx of refugees following the Syrian Civil War, squarely on the European Union, leading to increasingly tense relations with the rest of the Eurozone. Greece has become a major hub for refugee movement into Europe from Turkey or across the Mediterranean Sea, which fuels the Neo-Nazi’s fear and hatred of the ‘other’ emblemized by these refugees, who represent a perceived danger due to their unwillingness to assimilate and participate in Greek society. These factors closely parallel the situation in America and help to illuminate common conditions that give rise to the neo-fascist movements.

The appearance of Neo-Nazi movements internationally constitutes a major threat to both democracy and peace. At the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally, at the refugee camp on the Greek island of Chios, and time and again across both Europe and America, these extremist groups have been willing to use violence and the threat thereof both to intimidate and to directly correct perceived injustices. The Nazis also feed off one another; according to Anthee Carassava for the Independent, the fascist party in the Greek government has been “energized” by the election and subsequent actions of US President Donald Trump. One of the Golden Dawn’s leaders, Elias Panagiotaros, was quoted saying that Trump and his views have validated their own and furthered their campaign for their far-right positions. “We should follow Trump’s beat,” [Panagiotaros] said. “We shouldn’t leave Greece like an open field for migrants to come and go as they want. We should reclaim our country and our interests and put them first, just like Trump.” Finally, the neo-fascist movements act as a destabilizing force within democratic countries. They polarize the population by generating fear of minorities and marginalized communities while also providing a voice for some of the basest of human instincts.

73 years ago, we fought and won a bloody war against one of the cruelest and most ruthless regimes in modern history, yet our governments and our people continue to permit this same enemy to live among us to this day. There are Nazis in America.

4 Comments

  1. Trey Robinson

    April 20, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    This article highlights the resurging presence of neo-fascist movements in areas across the United States and abroad in Europe. The author specifically compares the white nationalist movements between the societally differing democracies of America and Greece; pointing out similarities in the rhetoric used by political actors, as well as the strength of likeminded nationalist organizations within each state. This resurgence is explained through articles describing how issues connected through “domestic and international climate” allowed for fascist ideology to expand in Nazi Germany, and is then connected to similar issues of the last decade. Essentially, the author is arguing that the recently unified white nationalist sentiment found through supporters of the Trump administration and terror groups such as the Ku Klux Klan in America, as well as far-right ultranationalist political parties such as the Golden Dawn in Greece, are a current threat to not only these democracies, but democratic countries in general.

    I agree that the white nationalist and far-right extremist sentiment is growing in both these countries, and does constitute a problem with political cooperation. I feel as though the author used relevant sources for pinpointing the causes for this resurgence, however the connection between Kathy Cramer’s work discussing the rural-urban divide and the Ku Klux Klan is slightly forced. Even though the KKK’s movement is based in predominantly white and rural southern communities, their message is directed towards the superiority of the Aryan white race as opposed to the distrust or dislike of the “urban elite”. The author makes the connection between the Greek citizens’ distrust of the European Union by assuming that they allowed the refugee crisis to expand; this better connects to how white nationalists could distrust “urban elites”, albeit very slightly. Altogether, I thought this was a well written article.

  2. Judson Elsholz

    April 20, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    Hey Ian, this is a great post. I find it fascinating that Neo-Nazism has taken root in nations which once fought against the original Nazis, such as Russia and Poland. Your blog post has shed some light on how neo-fascist movements are growing in Greece and in our own country as well. It is important to be aware of how these toxic movements gain momentum in other places, so that we may be vigilant of similar patterns at home. Recent events involving white supremacist and neo-nazi groups here in the States are certainly a cause for great concern, and Trump’s veiled nod towards such people with his deflective “fine people on both sides” comments regarding Charlottesville raises a red flag for me. It is imperative that the President of the United States should condemn neo-fascist groups decisively, rather than rhetorically tiptoe around the issue of white supremacism in order to maintain support with potential voters in that demographic. With the National Socialist Movement’s upcoming march through Newnan, Georgia, we shall see how the incumbent administration reacts this time.

  3. Jonah Echols

    April 30, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    Ian, great thoughts on the rise of Neo-Nazi movements both in the United States and around the world. I appreciate the comparison you drew between the Gunitsky article and the rise in prevalence of modern-day Neo-Nazis – the correlation between apparent social instability and the likelihood of extremist groups is an interesting one. The increasing prevalence of extremist views can seemingly serve to polarize entire regions of the world; tribal politics takes precedence over policy decisions. It seems like drastic changes to any predictable system (from responses to Syrian refugees to economics collapse) often results in people desperately seeking to identify and blame whichever scapegoat happens to appeal to their emotions most profoundly. I would be interested to see the relationship between the responsivity of democracies and the prototypical response to crises like this. For example, a democratic republic or constitutional monarchy with a more robust system of checks and balances might be less likely to succumb to the hysteria that accompanies crises such as the Syrian refugee crisis, and this might indicate that these countries are less likely to have prominent extremist groups. Thanks for your thoughts, Ian!

  4. Marianna Moulis

    February 17, 2019 at 8:43 pm

    Though it should be apparent to me at this point, I never once thought to parallel Golden Dawn with the far-right movements that have occurred in the United States. With that being said, I enjoyed the comparison in this article because it offered a concise but accurate comparison of the political climates of two countries. Ian mentions “the rural-urban divide and the feelings of resentment in rural, predominantly white, communities engendered by a mixture of real and perceived injustices perpetrated by less-rural populations and the notional ‘urban elite.'” An excellent description of post recession Greece: the city and the country are divided. The people of rural Greece are angry and fed up with Syrizia–they feel failed by their government and betrayed by the EU. Greece is homogenous in race, and, with this influx of refugees their desire for a nationalist movement has taken over the mainland. The Greeks, much like the Rust Belt that won Trump the election, are tired of immigrants taking their jobs and they are tired of Democrats/Socialists helping people from social classes beneath them. Ian points out that social instability causes an emergence of extremist groups, Greece and Golden Dawn is a prime example. They gain an average of 3 seats in the Greek Parliament annually, quite alarming when you compare it to their standing ten years ago.
    It was interesting to point out how Panagiotaros aligns Golden Dawn’s beliefs with Trump’s. Trump is not a self proclaimed neo-Nazi, but many of the members of Golden Dawn are. Does this imply many violent, European neo-Nazi groups believe him to be one?

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