Godwin’s Law, an Internet adage started by lawyer and writer Mike Godwin in 1990, states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”
The law’s point, Godwin explained in a 1995 article for Wired magazine, was the Internet seems to lead to glib comparisons between various politicians’ behavior and Hitler and Nazis which “invariably … trivialized the horror of the Holocaust and the social pathology of the Nazis”.
Godwin’s Law proved true once again on Friday, when TeaParty.org, a particularly vicious faction of the nebulous right-wing movement, treated subscribers to an E-mail blast titled “Stop America’s Hitler,” featuring a picture of President Obama sporting a Hitler moustache. If that wasn’t enough, the E-mail also included a photograph of two Nazis executing a victim with a pistol.
“If you were to make a movie today about a nation where only the police and military had guns, would you call it Schindler’s America?” the E-mail asks. “This is exactly what is happening. … It's INSANITY. We are being stripped bare of our liberties and rights,” and “[t]o this the Tea Party says HELL NO.”
It continued, “Members of the TeaParty, red-blooded Americans and fellow citizens, the time is coming when you must decide. A Lexington and Concorde [sic] moment when you must decide which is greater: the demands of a tyrannical government as they disarm us and eviscerate our liberties or your own personal rights.”
TeaParty.org has already made its decision and is ready to take action. The E-mail blast promotes a fundraising campaign called “Operation Raise Hell,” which will “demand the deportation of Piers Morgan,” write a “big fat check” to support a “Youth Firearms Training Initiative” to be run by Gun Owners of America, and send a Tea Party team to Washington to “get in their faces.”
“Someday,” the fundraising pitch concludes, “your children will thank you for saving their future from Obama’s Soviet-Style Socialist State.”
Let’s get this straight: Unless we arm our children and deport a gun-control-friendly British CNN host, the president of the United States, who is practically the same as Hitler, is going to create some kind of United Soviet Socialist States of America by abolishing guns rights?
That’s a lot to untangle.
First, a word about our sponsors. TeaParty.org, also known as the 1776 Tea Party, is an especially belligerent faction of the Tea Party movement whose founder, Dale Robertson, once showed up at a Houston rally carrying a sign that read, “Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer = N----- [sic].” Its CEO, Steve Eichler, used to be executive director of the Minuteman Project, a nativist extremist group whose splashiest event was a month-long vigilante gathering on the Arizona border in April 2005.
TeaParty.org boasts that it is “the ONLY tea party praised by Dr. Michael Savage,” a radio talk show host who was fired from MSNBC in 2003 after describing an unidentified caller to his show as a “sodomite” who should “get AIDS and die.” Its website proudly features original content by Jerome Corsi, an influential conspiracy theorist best known for proposing, at various times, that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen; that the president’s true father is the late labor activist Frank Marshall Davis; and that Obama is gay and married to a Pakistani man. Really.
The site also includes content from WorldNetDaily, an extreme-right online publication that plugs all manner of conpiracist nonsense (the imminent end of the world, the cause of homosexuality is soybean consumption — you get the idea), and from Alex Jones, an antigoverment conspiracy monger whose response to recent calls for gun control has been so unhinged that even Glenn Beck – Glenn Beck! – described him as a “crazy person.”
Now that we’ve taken care of explaining who is behind these wild claims about “Schindler’s America,” it’s time to get to the what of the matter – as in, what the heck are these guys talking about?
“Remember, Hitler and his Nazi regime disarmed the people,” Friday’s E-mail blast warns. “The comparison between Hitler and Obama is striking.”
Addressing the problems with this ludicrous “comparison” is a little like explaining why a raven is nothing like a writing desk (h/t Lewis Carroll). But we’ll stick with the salient comparison, which seems to be the idea that Obama is like Hitler in some way that involves gun control.
Gun rights absolutists have for decades claimed that America’s gun control laws were somehow inspired by Hitler, and that the Holocaust itself was somehow caused — or at least not prevented — by gun control.
As Hatewatch has explained at length elsewhere, the man who did the most to popularize this idea was the late Aaron Zelman, founder of a Wisconsin-based nonprofit called Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO), which touts itself as “America’s Most Aggressive Defender of Firearms Ownership.” Zelman’s most outrageous claim, outlined at length in his 1993 book ‘Gun Control’: Gateway to Tyranny, was that the 1968 Gun Control Act was explicitly based on Hitler’s gun laws. JFPO also claims the state-sanctioned mass murders and genocides in Ottoman Turkey, the USSR, Nazi Germany, China (under both Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao), Guatemala, Uganda, Cambodia, and Rwanda were all caused by variations on gun control laws, and conclude that tens of millions died as a result of gun control, not least among them the victims of Hitler’s reign.
As with many conspiracy theories, there’s a tiny kernel of truth to JFPO’s claim: In 1938, one day after Kristallnacht (a state-sanctioned pogrom that led to the burning of synagogues, destruction of Jewish businesses and property, and is generally considered to have been the beginning of a new phase of anti-Jewish violence in Nazi Germany), the German government issued a decree banning Jews from “acquiring, possessing, and carrying firearms and ammunition, as well as truncheons or stabbing weapons,” and requiring those who owned such weapons to turn them in to authorities. The punishment was imprisonment.
Indisputably, then, the Nazis opposed ownership of guns by Jews.
But – as hardly needs to be said – Nazis opposed Jews in general, and laws designed to disenfranchise and drive them out of Germany were implemented long before 1938, when the genocide began in earnest.
Moreover, gun control in Germany did not begin under the Nazis. In fact, except for bans on gun ownership by Jews and other perceived enemies, experts generally agree that the Third Reich’s gun laws were overall more relaxed than those enacted under its predecessor government, the Weimar Republic.
Bernard Harcourt, a political science professor at the University of Chicago, traced the evolution of German guns laws between 1919 and 1938 in an excellent 2004 paper, “On Gun Registration, the NRA, Adolf Hitler, and Nazi Gun Laws: Exploding the Gun Culture Wars.” Harcourt notes that the Weimar Republic, reflecting the Treaty of Versailles’ “draconian” restrictions on weapons possession, banned gun ownership outright in 1919. Its gun laws were relaxed in 1928, but continued to require that all weapons be registered. The 1938 weapons law enacted under Hitler “represented a further liberalization of gun control regulations” [emphasis added] – deregulating the acquisition and sales of guns and ammunition, exempting entire groups from the permit requirement, lowering the age at which it was legal to own a gun from 20 to 18, and extending the validity of permits from one to three years.
“Hitler intended to liberalize gun control laws in Germany for ‘trustworthy’ German citizens, while disarming ‘unreliable’ persons, especially opponents of National Socialism and Jews, [so] [i]t is absurd to even try to characterize this as either pro-or anti-gun control,” Harcourt wrote. “But if forced to, it seems fair to conclude – at least preliminarily – that the Nazis were in favor of less gun control than the Weimar Republic for the ‘trustworthy’ German citizen – while disarming and engaging in a genocide of the Jewish population.”
And that’s about that for TeaParty.org’s supposedly “striking” comparison between Hitler and Obama.
Now to TeaParty.org’s goals – funding a “Youth Firearms Training Initiative” run by Gun Owners of America, deporting Piers Morgan, and going to Washington to “get in their faces.”
Gun Owners of America is an extreme-right organization whose executive director, Larry Pratt, helped outline the contours of the modern militia movement at an infamous 1992 convention of antigovernment fanatics and white supremacists in Estes Park, Colo. In 1996, Pratt was ejected as national co-chair of Pat Buchanan's presidential candidates when his ties to the white supremacist convener of the Estes Park gathering were made public. “The Second Amendment ain’t about duck hunting,” he reportedly told the group.
Neither, presumably, would the “training institute” Pratt and TeaParty.org intend to run for young people.
Piers Morgan, of course, is the CNN host whose advocacy of gun control has become something of a media circus featuring shouting matches with gun rights absolutists – including Pratt, who Morgan earlier this month called “an unbelievably stupid man.” A petition demanding Morgan’s deportation started by Alex Jones sidekick Kurt Nimmo has garnered tens of thousands of signatures, and TeaParty.org apparently wants donors to think it will use their money will make this absurd fantasy come true.
Then there’s the plan to “get in their faces” in Washington. Given the context, we can only assume this means that TeaParty.org hopes its emissaries will start some kind of argument with gun control advocates.
Well, that’s their right – under the First Amendment, they can petition the government for redress of grievances till they’re blue in the face, making as many Hitler comparisons as they feel their point about gun rights warrants.
Of course, Godwin’s Law about Internet discussion and Nazis has a few corollaries – one of which, according to Wikipedia (which on matters such as these is as authoritative a source as any, given that Godwin served as general counsel to the Wikimedia foundation from 2007-2010) states that once the comparison is made, the conversation is over and the party that brought up the Nazis “has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.”
So TeaParty.org can go forth and get in “their” faces. Their silly and spurious Hitler comparison only undercuts whatever serious points might be made by gun rights advocates as Americans ponder an updated take on the Second Amendment.