The Intelligence Report is the SPLC's award-winning magazine. Subscribe here for a print copy.

The Wrath of Con

Once upon a time, there was a hero. 

This man, this myth, this legend, was brave but eccentric. Sometimes people thought he was crazy or stupid, but he didn’t care. He was going to lay it all on the line for the fate of the planet — he was going to save the Earth, and he was going to do it in his own way, no matter how silly he looked. I’m not talking about the Nazi cosplayer pictured — that guy is a jerk.

No, I’m talking about Son Goku, the alien martial artist and protagonist of Japanese animator Akira Toriyama’s long-running and highly influential manga and anime franchise Dragon Ball. If you’re familiar with it, you probably know the anime TV series Dragon Ball Z. You or your children might have watched it on Cartoon Network back in the ‘90s. But regardless of whether or not you have any idea what I’m talking about, you’re probably pretty bewildered as to why it’s coming up in the Intelligence Report. Trust me, I’m as surprised as you are.

According to reports on social media, the man in the Ralph Fiennes-in-Schindler’s List cosplay trolled an anime convention in Houston called Anime Matsuri. The convention allegedly failed to intervene promptly as this man harassed con-goers with Nazi salutes. He trolled a Cosplay Dating Game panel, calling himself Otto Skorzeny (an SS lieutenant colonel you’ve probably never heard of unless you’re a history buff or a Nazi fanboy) and participating as one of the contestants. The audience laughed indulgently as they strained to understand the strange, garbled muttering he may have thought was a convincing German accent.

After those warm-up hijinks, little Skorzeny was ready for the main event, his big showcase to establish once and for all the superior creative writing power of the master race. He took over a panel on fanfiction reading that the panelists had backed out of, but that Anime Matsuri staff had failed to remove from the schedule. While the specifics of the story he read may never be fully known, varying reports suggested the Nazi cosplayer wove a tale involving Anne Frank, Hitler, “Holocaust jokes” and Dragon Ball Z.

If you’ve never seen Dragon Ball Z, you might assume it somehow relates to World War II or German-occupied Holland, even tangentially, like that one episode with the Nazi planet in Star Trek. You’d be wrong. Dragon Ball Z, a popular anime television series in Toriyama’s wider Dragon Ball franchise, follows Goku as he and his allies have drawn-out martial arts fights against a series of silly, but often genocidal villains who threaten the existence of Earth. As a member of a race of alien warriors called Saiyans, Goku has the ability to transform into a “Super Saiyan” when he is angry enough in battle. Why am I telling you this? Because according to a con attendee who claims to have heard the story our Nazi spun, Goku fought Adolf Hitler, and Hitler went Super Saiyan. (A sidenote: the normally black-haired Saiyans turn blonde-haired and blue-eyed when they transform into Super Saiyans, so in this unwanted contribution to the growing body of misguided American fanfiction, Hitler finally embodies the Aryan physical features he so famously prized.)

From the beginning, references to anime and geek culture have been part of the racist “alt-right” lexicon. The Nazi/DBZ enthusiast who embarrassed himself in Houston may be a wrongheaded but ultimately harmless troll, or he could be a malignant racist who has been convinced by many hours spent on 4chan that elaborate and meaningless pranks like this are worth his time. If he was a true believer out to champion the white race, he chose a strange audience when he brought his antics to a convention full of people dedicated to celebrating Japanese pop culture.

Who was it who said, “If you want to win a race war, make a mockery of yourself in front of a small, unrelated subculture, and be sure the pics live on the internet forever”? Sun Tzu, probably.

In Toriyama’s story, the heroes can use the seven “Dragon Balls,” to summon a dragon called Shenron, who grants them a wish. If I were the Anime Matsuri Nazi, and I could make a wish, I’d wish to get back all the time I wasted on an idiotic stunt. Just saiyan.