We’re used to crazy candidates coming out of the Tea Party, like Mama Grizzly Quitter-in-Chief, Alaska-Firster Sarah Palin, rape-lemonade proponent Sharron Angle, or witchy-woman, anti-masturbator Christine O’Donnell. And I myself have in the past likened Tea Party rallies to Nazi Party rallies. Even I was not, however, prepared for a Republican candidate in full Nazi garb – Waffen SS no less!
Christine O’Donnell just got a whole lot less interesting.
Meet Rich Iott, Tea Partier from Ohio’s 9th Congressional District and now running for U.S. Congress.
Rich was outed by the Atlantic this past weekend. Turns out he joined a World War II re-enactment group – as a Nazi. He tries to claim that it’s no different than playing a Civil War or World War I soldier (which he says he has also done) but I think most of us recognize that the Nazis were something “special” in history, that sort of “special” you normally tend to avoid.
Remember when General Patton got in trouble for saying people became Nazis the same way people became Republicans or Democrats? Rich must not, or he might have thought twice before he stuck the ole’ swastika on.
I was asked once, while in college, to join a World War II re-enactment group – also Nazi, also Waffen SS. I declined. I was studying German as a language at the time and I was participating in a research group dedicated to the ways in which National Socialism co-opted the support of women. For our research, we translated old 1929 German newspapers from Berlin – Joseph Göbbels’ Der Angriff, which had a biweekly insert dedicated to women’s issues called Heim und Welt (Home and World). You see, I knew all too well what Nazism was about. I did not desire even to pretend to be one. It seemed a dubious form of entertainment to me and disrespectful of its millions of victims.
Just imagine the conversation:
“What did you do in the great World War II, daddy?”
“Oh, I wasn’t born in time to fight the Nazi’s son, but I dressed up like one afterward!”
Apparently the dubious merits of wearing Nazi garb are lost on Rich Iott. You can see him there with his SS pals, smiling for the camera, just like all those photos of SS guys and their pals from the 30s and 40s, smiling for the camera. It was guys in those uniforms, you see, who upheld another, earlier form of purity standard, killing millions of Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals and other “deviants” as designated by their ultra-conservative leadership. The Nazis didn’t like immigrants either.
“The whole purpose of historical re-enacting is to educate people one-on-one,” Iott told CNN. “And that is done by going out and participating in re-enactments.”
You couldn’t educate people about World War II and Nazism by playing one of its victims or opponents? You had to glorify the SS? What’s wrong with a grubby old GI from America’s greatest generation?
CNN had some questions for Iott about his hobby:
When asked whether he thought the men being impersonated were “valiant men,” Iott said, “I don’t think we can sit here and judge that today. We were not there the time they made those decisions. Were there bad people? Absolutely. Were there atrocities committed? Absolutely there were. There are people that want to deny the Holocaust ever happened in this country and around the world.”
CNN points out that “The website for Iott’s re-enactment group — which impersonates members of the 5th SS Panzerdivision, Wiking — does not mention the Holocaust directly.”
Ooops. Of course, Waffen SS veterans have long denied that they were anything but simple soldiers – the simple soldier Iott wants to portray. It seems Tea Party candidates like revised foreign history as much as revised American history.
And the revision goes deep, according to CNN:
According to Wiking’s website, it is a nonprofit group with a “common interest in the German side of the war and want to tell the story of the average combat soldier of the German military.”
“Racism or any type of embracement of Nazi ideology of any kind is strictly prohibited by this re-enactment unit,” the website reads.
But the website does not mention what historians have said about the division — that the group was involved in war crimes and atrocities, including the death marches and massacres of Jews in the spring of 1945.
CNN points out that “Iott’s political opponents were quick to condemn him as a ‘Nazi enthusiast.’” Gosh, is it any surprise? This is a windfall.
“It’s an unbelievably disturbing story here about this Nazi enthusiast,” Ryan Rudominer, national press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has said.
Ryan is right. It is disturbing. A lot of people have a lot of hobbies, some of them less common than others, but running around pretending to be a member of a Waffen SS division that committed atrocities isn’t very common. That’s not to say Iott would commit the same sort of atrocities, but having turned down a similar opportunity myself, I have to wonder what motivated him to think this was a good idea.
I don’t have a lot of respect for Eric Cantor,House Republican Whip (R-Va) but even Cantor seemed taken aback: “I would absolutely repudiate that and do not support an individual who would do something like that.”
Of course, you can imagine the response if Iott were a Democrat….
I just wrote this morning about the Tea Party disconnect, and then I see this and began to realize the disconnect is even wider than I had imagined. As historian Rob Citino told the Atlantic, “What you often hear is that the [Wiking] division was never formally accused of anything, but that’s kind of a dodge. The entire German war effort in the East was a racial crusade to rid the world of ‘subhumans.’”
When you think of the Tea Party’s demonstrable xenophobia and paranoia, the evidence of racism in its ranks, its stance against anyone who isn’t a “real” American, the rants and tirades against Muslims, gays, secularists, atheists, etc, you just don’t know what to say about a Tea Party candidate who would pretend to be part of the group that provided the “final solution” to the constructed Other of an earlier generation.
Real Americans? It reads like a twisted fantasy. Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?