This Is the Story We Should Be Telling of Nazis
The New York Times Needs To Tell The Story of How I Lost My Brother
I couldn’t believe my luck. My best friend was getting married in Hungary to a Hungarian man and she wanted me to be her maid of honor. I had an excuse to go to Europe. I knew my miserly brother had been saving money for years so I asked him if he wanted to come along.
But if we were going to go all the way over to Europe, there was no way we were going to miss going to a concentration camp. Sounds grim, but I had been to Europe once before to learn about the Holocaust from the voice of a German eyewitness. His experience played a significant role in shaping my life.
College Makes a Difference
He taught me about authoritarianism, how to spot it, and how it unfolded so slowly and insidiously in Germany. He talked about being in the Resistance. His parents were. But to protect his family from a potential loose mouth associated with a child, my professor grew up praying every night for Hitler. He participated in youth activities organized by Nazis.
He lived with tremendous guilt that he had ever done this. That is why he moved to the United States to take American students over to learn about the history of what happened in Germany. He wanted us to know about the dirty tricks: false flag terrorist attacks, martial law, acceptance of new norms. He wanted us to know about this so our society would never allow such a thing to happen.
It is something that is considered possible in a country with a weak Constitution, which the United States actually does have in the grand scheme of things. It was possible for bad actors to rig the system to favor an extremist party. Given this fact, Professor Peter Liermann, now retired from Luther College in Iowa, explained his experience in class. But he supplemented this with textbooks, of course.
He wanted to take us to the sites of the Holocaust. We went to Munich to see the setting that sprouted Nazism. We went to Berlin’s Holocaust Museum. We went to Dachau and the concentration camp there.
The experience going to the concentration camp was so intense I was compelled to take my brother, my sister, and my brother’s girlfriend back to Dachau on our trip to Europe for my best friend’s wedding. My brother reacted the way you would expect someone to react. He was horrified.
We returned from this trip in 1995, and the within a decade the internet was becoming a booming enterprise. It was my brother who brought me — someone who was still clinging a little bit to the analog age she was born into — reluctantly online. It started with Digg. He was addicted to it. He got me pretty addicted for a while, too.
Then he turned to Twitter. And so did I. So far my brother and I were still in lock step politically as we always have been. We were both quite liberal. I effectively raised him, because our parents both had serious mental illnesses. In fact, their mental health contributed to the fact they both were unemployed in the early 1980s. They lost custody of their children for a while because of poverty and their limitations.
Picture a Nordic blonde six-year-old boy whose undersized for his age trembling under a dining room table. That was his first night at our foster care home. He wouldn’t come out from under the table, so I crawled under it with him and just hugged him and comforted him until he fell asleep. He was always a sensitive kid.
He drew the attention of trolls on Twitter. It was his own fault. He enjoyed debating politics with others. He aimed to achieve polite conversations but he was a magnet to trolls instead. He ended up getting doxxed and was soured on Twitter. His attention drew to Reddit. I didn’t follow him away from the Twitter community I still enjoyed.
I don’t understand Reddit with its sub reddits and whatnot because I’ve never bothered to wander over there and I barely listened to him ramble on about it. He loves his Reddit. I should have been listening more carefully. On this social media platform, my brother began finding “influencers.”
His opinions became extreme and inflexible. Always respectful and even deferential of his older sister who was better educated than he was, now my brother was suddenly arrogant and condescending. He was quick to get sarcastic with me without hearing me out.
He became more and more conspiratorial. Suddenly, he was following people like Alex Jones. After voting for Obama twice and being interested in Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election. He seemed to find every fake news story about Hillary Clinton the Russians planted on social media. He jumped both feet in on Pizzagate.
Then the Democrat I raised started posting pro-Trump propaganda on Facebook. I confronted him in texts in conversations that disintegrated into arguments. What I found most alarming was the Antisemitism of many of his statements about the media.
What was interesting about my brother’s brand of antiSemitism was that is was a hodgepodge of left-wing and right-wing reasons for disliking Jewish people thrown in. My brother was liberal so people had been focusing on Zionists as bogeymen for him. Bankers were bad guys just like they are on Wall Street. People in Israel who oppress Palestine were particularly effective as bad guys.
From there, anything the media did that was authoritarian was now actually a Jewish concoction. Fascism from Jews. He was being fed garbage from somewhere and since he spends all of his free-time on Reddit, I knew where it was coming from.
But my brother was also starting to post Hannity articles on Facebook. He was watching Fox. I knew he was still watching Alex Jones, too. He has worked in a blue-collar work site for his entire life. As a working class white male with an Associate’s degree, he can’t complain about his income. He has a good union job. He has been able to buy property such that he even has tenants paying him rent, too.
Does he work hard? Ridiculously, so. He has worked six days a week almost every week since he was a seventh grader who dropped out of school to work. Only after police and court action would he go back to school rather than work back then. He had to attend an alternative high school that accommodated his obsessive desire to earn money starting from a young age.
In terms of economics, my brother has done better than I have. And I have a PhD. He can laugh at me for spending thousands of dollars on a degree since, in the end, he is economically better off.
But I know how to understand media, vet sources, and glean information. He ends up lost in propaganda. When the Russians, and other bad actors, came knocking with fake news, I knew how to avoid the pitfalls. He’s lost with a lot of other Americans in neo-Fascism and an information bubble from hell.
This is the story the New York Times needs to tell. A story about a Nazi-lite. An Iowan who now questions the Holocaust. A liberal who now watches Fox News and supports Donald Trump. A working class white guy who used to treat his older sister who raised him with respect but who now flings around words like libtard. This American is much more common than the people the Times profiled. He is everywhere.
I hope people like Jeff Jarvis hoping to revitalize journalism and Nicholas Grossman, hoping to get an accurate feel for culture of the American heartland — both hoping to ward off authoritarianism just as much I do, I believe— get to my brother sooner rather than later.