Jake and Elwood are stuck in traffic.
An “American Socialist White People’s Party” demonstration occupies a bridge. The Chicago Police Department holds back enraged counterprotesters. Jake asks a cop what’s going on.
Cop: Ah, those bums won their court case, so they’re marchin’ today.
Jake: What bums?
Cop: The fuckin’ Nazi Party.
Elwood (annoyed): Illinois Nazis.
Jake: I hate Illinois Nazis.
Elwood puts the Bluesmobile in gear, motors through the miraculously parting crowd, and the Nazis end up in Chicago’s Jackson Park Lagoon.
As white-supremacist ideologues came out from under their rocks to ride the post-election Trump wave, shouting “Hail victory” and “Hail Trump” to miniscule crowds magnified by social media’s reach and the mainstream media’s ineptitude, that particular scene from the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers began popping up on Facebook and Twitter feeds. This film—nearly 40 years old—was mocking the latest manifestation of Nazism in America.
In a similar vein, when an anarchist punched white nationalist Richard Spencer, and the propriety of punching Nazis became a matter of debate, 1940s vintage cartoon panels of Captain America punching Adolf Hitler got memed far and wide.
Mark Twain long ago argued that humor—mockery—was the one thing that could conquer everything, that the human race “has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, Money, Persuasion, Supplication, Persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug, push it a little, crowd it a little, weaken it a little, century by century: but only Laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand.”
Well, laughter doesn’t seem to be working very well right now against the massive humbug of Trumpery, as the surge in hate crimes continues.
Vandals desecrate Jewish cemeteries, and people call in bomb threats to Jewish community centers and schools. Seattle’s Temple De Hirsch Sinai was tagged in the middle of the night by Holocaust-denying fuckwits using a Trumpian buzz phrase.
So far, one theme underlies the upsurge in 21st-century America Nazi behavior: cowardice.
American Nazis are fucking cowards—fucking chickenshit cowards.
The brave race warriors who tagged Temple De Hirsch Sinai? They did it in the middle of the night and on a wall that can’t be seen from the street. Fucking cowards. And how much master-race bravery does it take to tip over headstones in an empty cemetery in the dark of night? The dead are dead, already where Nazis want all Jews to be. And how very, very brave to dial a phone and say there’s a bomb in a school, terrifying young children, their teachers, their parents. How noble and heroic. These bold Aryan warriors rarely assert their ideas openly, in the light of day, where they can be seen.
The damage done by these craven nighttime attacks is real. While living memory of World War II and the Holocaust fades as the “greatest generation” goes to its reward, enough Americans know enough history to recognize dangerous hatred when they see it.
And sometimes all it takes is for one person to stand up, as Manhattan chef Jared Nied did in early February.
After boarding the subway, he saw the doors, windows, and signs covered with Nazi graffiti. His fellow New Yorkers sat there, not sure what, if anything, they could do. Nied loudy said, “Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie pen. We need alcohol.” People leaped up, bottles of hand sanitizer were produced, and everyone on the car worked together to erase the hate. I suspect the coward who wrote that graffiti thought he (it was almost certainly a he) won because attention was called to his Nazi slogans. But no: We will remember its erasure—and the joyful camaraderie of the New Yorkers whose act went viral online—and not the hateful cowardly writing itself.
Perhaps the best response to these anti-Semitic hate crimes came from Tayyib Rashid, a Pakistani immigrant and United States Marine Corps veteran. He tweeted: “I’m a #MuslimMarine in Chicagoland area. If your synagogue or Jewish cemetery needs someone to stand guard, count me in. Islam requires it.”
“Loyalty to my country is part of my faith,” Rashid told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Dan Mihalopoulos. “This country gave me freedom.”
Hate can inspire love. The outpouring of support that Temple De Hirsch Sinai has gotten in Seattle shows as much. That it takes public assertions of hate and division to produce equally public assertions of love and unity is not ideal. But it suggests American Nazis are fighting a losing battle—again.
Frank Collin’s National Socialist Party of America—the group that Dan Aykroyd and John Landis based their Blues Brothers ASWPP Nazis on—didn’t last long. Unlike our current crop, they at least had the balls to show their faces in public. Collin took a free-speech case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, for the right to lead his pitiful band of loser Nazis on a march through Skokie, Illinois, a Chicago suburb home to a large Jewish population, including many Holocaust survivors. The ACLU represented Collin on First Amendment grounds, losing it many supporters. And your day’s irony alert: Collin’s father, Max, was a German Jew who had changed his name from Cohen to Collin when he immigrated to America. After surviving Dachau.
Collin’s group won the right to march in Skokie, but they didn’t march. Cowards that they were. Instead, they went to Marquette Park, a then-white neighborhood in Chicago famed for its violent resistance to Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights marchers a few years before. Collin assumed his racist message would be well received, but instead counter-demonstrators from the neighborhood—many of them Eastern European immigrants who remembered Hitler’s atrocities personally—broke up their rallies.
And while it’s possible to connect the current resurgence of authoritarian politics with how long ago World War II was, American Nazis go way back. Homegrown Nazis were very active across the United States until December 1941, and again, as we see here, in the 1960s and 1970s. But, again, at least Collin’s bunch had the nerve to come out in public and assert their hatred where they might have to deal with Americans who weren’t going to put up with their shit.
If only Trump-era Nazis had the nerve of Collin’s group.
The sense that today’s Nazis are nothing more than cowards crystalized for me a few weeks ago, when the downtown Chicago Loop Synagogue was vandalized—at 12:20 on a Sunday morning. A brave Aryan warrior parked his vehicle, broke a window, put two swastika stickers on the front door of the temple, and ran.
Wow, what a tough guy, I thought. Didn’t even take the time to use the traditional defacement tool of haters, spray paint. Just stickers, to enable a quicker getaway. To avoid getting paint on his fingers. That’s the master race in action, for sure.
Why wouldn’t he exhibit his sincerely held, and evil, political beliefs during the day, when thousands of people would be on the streets of the Loop to see him?
Because he’s a coward.
Security video, and construction workers on a night shift across the street, helped identify the car. Stuart Wright, 31, a CPA who lives in Pilsen, one of Chicago’s Latino neighborhoods, was arrested. Reporter Sam Charles of the Chicago Sun-Times discovered that Wright had a previous arrest for intimidating people at a hot-dog stand with the grip of a paintball gun hidden in a Funyuns bag. That detail makes the guy seem like the clown he may be. But he had also been hanging around a Latino church in a way that clearly reminded the churchgoers of Dylann Roof. They locked their door to keep him out. (Oh, and he has two tattoos: One is a swastika, the other reading “Jesus is love.” A nice ironic reminder of the Christian roots of Nazi ideology.)
Of course, some fair-minded, if deluded, people will insist we cannot say what exactly inspired this coward or the cowards in Seattle, New York, or across America. Nonetheless, President Trump snatched Electoral College victory from the jaws of popular vote defeat, and then an upsurge in Nazi hate crimes ensued. Coincidence? No.
To Trump-enabled Nazis, I say this: Quit phoning in threats. Quit knocking over headstones. Quit vandalizing houses of worship in the dead of night. Get off your phone and on your feet. Apply for a permit to march down the main thoroughfare of your town. Bring your hatred out of the darkness and into the light. Come on out into the streets.
We’ll be there, too.