Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., just can’t stop comparing her political enemies to the Nazis. Greene was recently forced to apologize for suggesting that mask mandates in the U.S. Capitol were similar to the Holocaust. But no sooner had she disavowed one offensive comparison than she opened her mouth and made another one.
No sooner had she disavowed one offensive comparison than she opened her mouth and made another one.
After President Joe Biden promised to send medical personnel into some communities to offer vaccinations, Greene tweeted, “People have a choice, they don’t need your medical brown shirts showing up at their door ordering vaccinations. You can’t force people to be part of the human experiment.”
The brownshirts, of course, were a Nazi paramilitary organization. And the Nazi regime was notorious for performing nonconsensual medical experiments.
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Greene’s earlier apology shows she understands that this type of comparison is inaccurate — or at the very least, wildly offensive. So why does she keep making it? Part of the answer is no doubt simply an addiction to overheated rhetoric. But her insistence on making herself and her movement the victims of Nazi oppression is also in line with a far-right rhetorical passion for projection — and a far-right predilection for erasing victims on the left.
Today we mostly think of the Nazis as enemies of freedom in general and as racist genocidal persecutors of Jewish people in particular. That’s certainly accurate. But Nazism was also a far-right movement that gathered support through vicious and unrelenting opposition to the left.
Hitler loved to rail against “Jewish-Bolshevism.” He defined Marxism as a Jewish philosophy; Nazis effectively viewed all leftists as Jews and all Jews as leftists. “The international Jew … completely dominates Russia,” Adolf Hitler declared in “Mein Kampf.”
Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous poem begins, “First they came for the Communists/ And I did not speak out/ Because I was not a Communist.” He then goes on to mention other leftist groups like socialists and trade unionists.
These sections of Niemöller’s quote are often omitted in American discussion of the Holocaust. That’s because many Americans (including plenty of Jewish Americans) are opposed to left goals and don’t want to sympathize with leftists. Yet this was exactly the dynamic Niemöller was warning about. It’s easy to overlook fascist oppression when it’s aimed at groups you don’t care about or don’t like.
Many Americans (including plenty of Jewish Americans) are opposed to left goals and don’t want to sympathize with leftists.
During the Cold War against communism, many American thinkers tried to forget the role of anti-communism in fascist thinking. But recently, the political right in the U.S. has gone further.
Not only have they erased leftist victims of Nazi violence, they’ve actually inverted the truth, implying that Nazis themselves were leftists. The most complete statement of this deliberately confused thesis is Jonah Goldberg’s book-length troll “Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.” More recently, Dinesh D’Souza reiterated the same arguments in his 2017 book, “The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left.”
Ironically, this kind of reversal of victim and victimizer was itself a standard Nazi tactic. Hitler and his followers often justified their violent actions by claiming they were under assault themselves.
In the same passage in which Hitler conflated Russia with Jewish people, for example, he said the leaders of the Soviet Union (that is, in his mind, Jews) were possessed of “bestial cruelty and an inconceivable gift for lying,” adding that Russia had “a mission to impose its bloody oppression on the whole world.”
Of course, it was Hitler himself who lied incessantly and who consciously plotted to conquer the globe. But by claiming that leftists and Jews (for Hitler, the same group) were plotting a program of utter extermination, Hitler could justify his own program of genocide. Rhetorical escalation and reversal is an implicit threat; it signals that we have to do unto them before they do unto us.
Similarly, Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s claim that Democrats are trying to replace white people through unrestricted immigration is a rallying cry for white supremacists who want to justify ethnic cleansing of immigrants and people of color. It’s not an accident that the suspected shooter in the Tree of Life synagogue massacre also embraced these so-called white replacement or white genocide conspiracy theories. In the same vein, former President Donald Trump’s utterly false claim that Biden stole the election was both a prelude and a cover for Trump’s own efforts to steal the election — which culminated on Jan. 6 in an insurrection targeting Congress and Trump’s own vice president.
Greene is using a similar script and similar tactics.
Greene’s comments are disrespectful and outrageous. But they’re not just disrespectful and outrageous: They’re part of a history of far-right disavowal, projection and escalation intended to provide a rationale for extremes of retaliation against perceived enemies — including, most directly in this case, Democrats. Greene uses Nazi and Holocaust comparisons because she’s irresponsible and tone-deaf, and because she doesn’t feel accountable to Jews at all. But she also uses them because she wants to hurt people.