The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

A Little History Tutorial, from Hatewatch to Bryan Fischer

By Leah Nelson on August 9, 2012 - 11:56 am, Posted in Christian Right, Extremist Propaganda, Hate Groups

Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association (AFA) spokesman whose ultraconservative worldview is so extreme that he makes Pat Buchanan look like Rachel Maddow, seems never to have met a fact that he couldn’t improve upon.

He has declared that gays were responsible for the Holocaust and opined that American Indians lost their land to European settlers because they (the natives) weren’t Christian. He has claimed that states have the right to impose religious tests on elected officials and said that HIV is not linked to AIDS – a dangerous and utterly false theory that has led to hundreds of thousands of needless deaths in South Africa and elsewhere.

Fischer did it again on Tuesday, when he declared on his Internet radio show that Wade Michael Page, the neo-Nazi skinhead who last weekend killed six Sikhs at a temple in Wisconsin before shooting himself, was a left-wing socialist and probably a Democrat.

Fischer presented his evidence in this clip, captured by RightWingWatch.

“You know what the Nazi Party stands for? It’s the National Socialist Party. What about the word ‘socialist’ do you not understand?” Fischer said in exasperated tones. “They were the National Socialist Party. That is a left-wing political philosophy.”

He continued, “And you think even here in the United States, who was the party of racism? It was the left, it was liberals that were the party of racism. It was Democrats that supported and defended the institution of slavery. It was the Democrats that resisted the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. It was Democrats that instituted Jim Crow laws. It was Democrats that created the Ku Klux Klan. It was Democrats that filibustered the Civil Rights Acts of the mid-1960s.”

Fischer is not the only one to spout this nonsense about Nazis being socialists and liberals being the “party of racism.” It’s time for a little history lesson.

History is complicated, Mr. Fischer, so please follow along closely.

After the Nazi Party – or National Socialist German Worker’s Party (NSDAP), as it was officially called – was founded, multiple factions competed for influence. Between 1925 and 1927, Hitler was forbidden to speak in public. During that time, a pair of brothers named Gregor and Otto Strasser rose to prominence in the party’s north German branch.

The Strasser brothers were somewhat sympathetic to socialism. According to celebrated Hitler biographer Joachim Fest, they “saw the world as divided into oppressing and oppressed peoples” and called for an alliance with communist Russia against “the capitalism of Wall Street.”

The Strasser brothers’ influence waned after Hitler was allowed to speak again. Otto Strasser was expelled from the party in 1930 and spent the war years in exile. His brother Gregor was murdered during the 1934 “Night of Long Knives,” when Hitler purged his party of perceived rivals. According to Fest, Hitler by then had long since declared that the Nazi Party “stood for private property and justice.”

Fest explains that Hitler kept the word “socialist” – a “leftist label” – in the party’s name “chiefly for tactical reasons,” employing a kind of “prestidigitation,” or sleight of hand, that allowed “capitalism [to find] its true and ultimate fulfillment in Hitler’s socialism, whereas socialism was only attainable under the capitalistic economic system.”

Translated, this means that Hitler, a canny politician, kept the term “socialist” in his party’s name because it made some people feel good.

Fischer’s claim that the Democratic Party is the party of racists is no less ridiculous than his claim about Nazis being socialists – though as with the latter, there is a kernel of truth.

Back in the bad old days, the Democratic Party was indeed rife with racists. Lincoln was a Republican, and for decades after the Civil War, the South was a Democratic bastion. From the end of Reconstruction in 1877 until the passage of the civil rights laws in the 1960s, virtually all officeholders in the South were Democrats. The Republican Party, in fact, barely existed in the region and put up only token candidates in the vast majority of elections.

But that doesn’t mean the Southern Democrats were liberal. In fact, for the most part, the region was dominated by conservatives, including many racists who remained bitter about the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond, two of the most stridently conservative and openly racist politicians of the late 20th century, began their careers as Democrats. Thurmond left the party briefly in 1948 to run for president as the segregationist States’ Rights Democratic Party, or Dixiecrat, candidate, and permanently in 1964 in protest of the Civil Rights Act. Helms, who in 1983 famously attempted to filibuster the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday, became a Republican in 1970.

Following the civil rights era, the two parties began to switch places on matters of race and states’ rights. The Democrats took a sharp left, and the Republicans skidded decisively to the right. It was under and with the strong support of President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texas Democrat, that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were enacted. It is true that a group composed mainly of conservative southern Democrats led an effort to filibuster the bill that became the Civil Rights Act, but majorities in both parties ultimately voted in favor of it. And again, regardless of their party affiliations, these were conservatives, not liberals, who opposed civil rights legislation.

What began as a trickle of Southern Democrats abandoning the party in the 1960s because of its embrace of civil rights became a flood when the Republican Party, and President Richard M. Nixon in particular, adopted the “Southern strategy” of exploiting racism among white voters. By the end of the Reagan era, the South had completed its makeover and become reliably Republican in national and most state and local elections.

Today, neither party is explicitly racist. It is nonsense – or “prestidigitation,” to use Fest’s term – to describe “liberals” (or “conservatives” writ large, for that matter) as such.

And as Fischer should well know, such wordplay is not limited to political parties.

For instance, based solely on its name, the American Family Association’s mission ought to have something to do, broadly, with American families. But instead, its most prominent voices devote themselves to hating Muslims, lying about history, castigating long-dead American Indians for not being Christian enough, and speculating absurdly that the Department of Homeland Security is planning to wage war on American civilians.

And when it comes to families, the AFA rejects out of hand any suggestion of structures that deviate even a tiny bit from a married pair of heterosexuals together with their offspring. Yet it remains the “American Family Association,” presumably because someone understands that the word “family” makes supporters feel good.

Prestidigitation indeed. David Copperfield would be proud.

  • aadila

    It’s icky.

  • Erika

    I guess I should have noted that I was being serious when I said that reading it made me feel so upset that I got physically ill. As such, I was merely trying to warn people not to read it.

  • aadila

    Erika, you said don’t read Lisa. So what did you think I would do? Of course I read it.

  • Erika

    wait, did you actually read “Lisa”?

    Sadly, the answer is yes. Okay, maybe not about the part of looking the other way no matter how terrible of a crime if someone asks Jesus into their heart, but the other really horrible stuff, yes. Fortunately, its a relatively small number of people.

  • aadila

    Erika,

    Naturally the instant I read your comment I went to find it. Is this really what they believe?

    Ugh!

  • Erika

    I should also add that the notion that people should be killed based upon what type of music they listen to is sufficiently repellent to be worthy of Jack T. Chick himself.

    Earlier I said that “Angels” is my favorite Chick Tract – that was only because I was not aware of “There Goes the Dinosaurs” which has the extremely awesomely hilarious theory that Dinosaurs were in fact aboard Noah’s Ark but went extinct due to there not being sufficient oxygen from plants after the Great Flood which made them slow and easy for humans to kill to eat brontosaurus burgers. While that theory alone is great – and when I was a child, I wish I would have heard it because it would have been so much fun to see how that Bible School teacher who told me that dinosaurs went extinct due to not being on Noah’s Ark would have reacted to it.

    But my absolute favorite part is the drawing of the typical college professor discussing why dinosaurs went extinct holding a picture of a dinosaur watching a comet across the sky and saying “yipes” – Haw Haw!

    But the real reason why “There Goes the Dinosaurs” is now my favorite Chick Tract is that it returned my love to them after I made the mistake of actually reading his most infamous tract “Lisa” which turns out to be approximately 583 trillion times more tasteless and offensive than any description of it can possibly convey. It actually upset me to the point where I felt physically ill. Please, no matter how curious you might be, do not read it under any circumstances!!!

  • Erika

    Aron, thank you for the link even though I’m sad to say that most of those parodies were not any good – in fact, some of them were downright terrible :(

    In fact, many of them truly missed the point – especially when one considers that Chick Tracts themselves may well qualify as a parody – since at least according to Wikipedia Jack T. Chick took his style almost entirely from “Tijuana Bibles.” The humor of Chick Tracts comes from their air of absolute certainty, the loopy ideology, and the fact that Jack T. Chick feels the need to add footnotes to explain things that tend to be pretty obvious. Thus, most of those tracts totally missed the mark – simply because they missed what makes the Chick Tracts such works of anti-genius.

    Having said that, the MST3K does Dark Dugeons was absolutely priceless, I laughed quite a bit at the anti-Goth/industrial music tracts (I dock the guy some for using Jack T. Chick’s artwork rather than drawing his own, but at least he had the right “I am absolutely right and if you disagree you with me you are wrong” attitude), the Church of the Subgenius is as always delitefully weird (and much closer to the feel of a true Jack T. Chick tract), and Christians and Crusaders was a good idea but poorly executed.

    You really do need to find a copy of “Devil Doll?” – it is by far the best Jack T. Chick parody I’ve seen. I’m guessing that due to copyright reasons its not available online

  • Bob Glover

    Speaking as a former holder of an elective office in a (more or less) Southern state (Texas), albeit a very minor elective office, I can attest that if you wanted to win an election in the South, up until about 1980 you ran in the Democratic primary regardless of your political philosophy or lack of political philosophy. Many candidates who were ideologically simpatico with the GOP ran as Democrats because they wished to get elected.

  • Erika

    Aron, I think that the “Goose Gander” tracts only exist within the confines of “Devil Doll”

  • http://www.twitter.com/AronL Aron

    Erika,

    While I have been unable to find the Goose Gander tracts, I did come across these gems:

    http://foo.ca/wp/chick-tract-satire/

  • Erika

    Aadila, don’t worry nobody will mistake you with someone that you agree with Jack T. Chick. But maybe you should be careful because if you read them enough one day it may hit you like a bolt of lightening and next thing you know you will be campaigning to ban the teaching of evolution because the fossil record was planted by Satan to fool people – just like it says in the Chick Tracts ;)

    Incidentially while I seem to misplaced the most recent actual Chick Tracts which someone was kind enough to leave under my windshield wiper I do have a copy of a devilish deliteful parody of same entitled “Devil Doll” – Aron especially should seek it out because he would no doubt appreciate the fact that the “Goose Gander” religious tract (a dead ringer for Chick Tracts including the same loopy beliefs) which is used to convert the teenager involved a Satanic college fratnerity cult. The main way to tell its not a real Chick Tract is the fact that real Chick Tracts do not tell people to bow to Virginia Beach four times a day to pray.

  • Erika

    Speaking about distortion of history by the Christian Right and attempts at indoctrinationization in hilariously bad ways, have any of you seen the right wing “history” cartoons for children that Mike Huckabee is currently peddling?

  • aadila

    Seems like we have a lot of writers here. I’m finishing up something big myself. Curious how writers, intellectuals, and generally well informed people tend to side with the left. Even DeepEcology with all his narcissistic sophistries was intelligent enough not to come right out and support the right wing.

    As a caveat, please don’t interpret my comment as an endorsement of anything Chick (even ahhhhhh! Chick-fil-A). I view Chick Tracts in the same category as Little Black Sambo, where there is cultural value mostly as a cautionary tale. Plus I dig the art.