More than 50 years after the end of World War II, Nazism is alive and well in the United States and Europe. But it is not the same ideology that millions of Americans fought against in the 1940s. Today, Nazism has been reconfigured for a new generation.
"The core, the germ, is the same, but it's been entirely repackaged, specifically for American youth culture," says Frederick J. Simonelli, author of American Fuehrer: George Lincoln Rockwell and the American Nazi Party, which describes the postwar development of American Nazism.
"We in the older generation keep looking for it to come back all laden with swastikas and storm trooper-type regalia. But it's coming back as a youth rebellion, the kind of outlaw cult mentality that's always been attractive to young people."
Gone are the Nuremburg-like mass meetings, the single hypnotic leader, the glorification of the Aryan race in awesome pageants of hatred. No longer is the ideology predominantly nationalist, one nation against the rest.
The new Nazism is broader-based, more connected to youth culture and music, more mystical. It is, in many cases, explicitly linked to religion, from racist versions of Christianity to Norse paganism. Where German Nazis boasted of the "final solution," today's fascists deny the Holocaust ever existed.
And, as a result, neo-Nazism is growing.
'He Made Hate Holy'
Rockwell, who was assassinated in 1967 by a disgruntled follower of his American Nazi Party, took the critical first steps in this revamping of fascist ideology. To start with, he coined the term "white power" and broadened its definition from the narrow German concept of the Aryan race, which excluded Slavs, Poles, Italians, Greeks and others.
"It was a stroke of genius in this nation of European immigrants," Simonelli says. "Now, kids from [white] working-class immigrant households are told they are part of the master race. Tell that to kids who are emotionally insecure, with the normal problems teenagers have, add mental or family instability, and you have a formula for capturing a following."
Rockwell also understood that in order to flourish, postwar Nazism had to separate itself from the murder of millions of Jews and others. So he started to build the Holocaust denial myth that has become a central tenet of modern national socialists. Today, virtually all neo-Nazis insist that Jews dreamed up the "Holohoax" to manipulate Aryans.
Rockwell also divorced Nazism from atheism (although some German Nazis were pagans, most abjured religion), linking it to the then-obscure Christian Identity theology, an anti-Semitic belief system that is thriving today. "He believed nothing motivates Americans more than a religious experience," Simonelli says. "So he made hate holy."
Since Rockwell's death, this process has continued. Now, neo-Nazi ideology is presented in association with Christian Identity (as at Aryan Nations, the Idaho-based group that uses Nazi symbols but calls itself Christian); Odinism and Asatrú, both variants of pre-Christian polytheistic theologies; and even cults like the World Church of the Creator.
Myths, Music and Power
The new Nazis, although far from uniformly, also have embraced and expanded the mysticism that is associated with such fascists as Savitri Devi, a woman who created a strange brew of Nazism and elements of eastern mysticism.
Some have even incorporated tales of extraterrestrials. "Myths, pagan symbols, Eastern philosophies — all part of the New Age phenomenon — are being exploited, deformed and used to promote racist and fascist ideas," writes Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, an expert on Nazism and the occult.
The soundtrack for fascist revolution has changed, too. While the German Nazis adulated Wagner, today's young neo-Nazis have rejected classical music in favor of white power rock 'n' roll, which has become a key recruiting tool.
Finally, national socialism is less and less national. For most young neo-Nazis today, Hitler's great mistake was in limiting his aspirations. Increasingly, national socialists on both sides of the Atlantic are "pan-Aryanists" who dream of a white super-commonwealth that would include most of Europe and North America, at a minimum.
Despite all this, neo-Nazism still boils down to a primal lust.
"It's all about power," Thomas Powell, a 19-year-old racist Skinhead serving time in California on drug charges, explains candidly. "All about 'How can I get to the top and be the most powerful person around? How can I make him hurt because of how powerful I am?'
"I guess that's what a lot of people see in Adolf Hitler. He was really, really powerful, and they are like, 'Well, you know, why can't I be like that?'"