Charlottesville woke many Americans up to the painful, terrifying truth that Nazis do indeed exist in modern America, they are employing violence, and they are growing in strength, numbers, and political power. Along with discussion of the growing Nazi threat has come a new conversation about modern-day Nazi collaborators. In the days after Charlottesville, I witnessed Twitter become a breeding ground for accusations and pointed fingers as to who was enabling this Nazi rise.
Are rank and file Republicans Nazi collaborators? What about the Democratic Party? What does it mean to collaborate, and how are we supposed to judge collaborators in a fascist movement’s early stages? I think we should be careful about whom we label as Nazi collaborators when Nazis are not hypothetical or historical, but a very real present threat.
Calling someone a Nazi collaborator is a grave accusation, on par with accusing someone of being a Nazi. In World War II, collaborators were citizens of countries occupied by or at war with Nazi Germany who aided the Nazi regime. Collaborators deported and murdered Jewish citizens, built concentration camps, passed anti-Semitic legislation, and spied for the Germans. After World War II, many Nazi collaborators were executed for treason and war crimes.
“Nazi collaborator” is a term laden with historical significance, and its flippant use is sometimes intended to further harm the victims of the Holocaust. One of the top google results when you search “Nazi collaborators” is about Jewish collaborators. The Listverse article says, “When we think of the Holocaust, we often imagine that the Germans were solely responsible for the identification and deportation of Jews and others to the death camps. The truth, however, is that a number of Jews worked under the Nazis and helped to identify thousands of their fellow men for deportation to the death camps.”
Here the talk of “collaborators” is anti-Semitic and intends to downplay that Nazis orchestrated the Holocaust. While it is true that some Jews collaborated with the Nazis, they were in an impossible position, and it is not the place of non-Jews to judge. Discussion of Jewish Nazi collaborators is a favored topic of discussion by anti-Semites, who aim to blame Jews for their own genocide. The current Ambassador to Israel chosen by Donald Trump, David Friedman, has himself likened liberal Jews to Nazi collaborators, and called them “worse than kapos.”
It’s no coincidence that the Trump regime, stocked with and supported by anti-Semites, would look favorably upon Jews willing to call other Jews collaborators. We should be very careful when discussing Jewish collaborators, and aim not to support anti-Semites with our statements. The same is true for modern Nazis. Many people on the far right and far left likened Democrats to Nazi collaborators after Charlottesville. The base of the Democratic Party is made up of Black people, who are one of the main targets of modern American Nazis. Blaming people for their own oppression by calling them “collaborators” is reprehensible and damaging.
With the new resurgence of Nazis in America, who are truly Nazi collaborators? Collaborators are those who are not Nazis themselves but willingly help Nazis achieve their aims. In Charlottesville, the police may have been collaborators. Video recently surfaced of police standing by and doing nothing as a Nazi shot at a Black protester. Local police departments who work with ICE to round up immigrants and put them in detention camps may be collaborators. Trump Administration officials who are not themselves Nazis but help implement Nazi policies may be collaborators. Justice Department lawyers who argue in court for the Muslim Ban may be collaborators.
After Richard Spencer got punched, the internet was awash with debates over whether or not it’s OK to punch Nazis. Proponents of punching Nazis argue that Nazis present such a grave threat to humanity that they must be stopped by any means necessary. Adolf Hitler himself said that Nazism could only have been stopped by crushing force in its infancy, as quoted in Daniel Guerin’s 1939 book Fascism and Big Business: “Only one thing could have stopped our movement – if our adversaries had understood its principle and from the first day smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement.”
But if we are to accept that Nazis must be stopped by any means necessary, including violence, we must be extremely careful and selective about who we decree as Nazis and Nazi collaborators. Since Nazi collaborators helped the Nazis commit their crimes and after the war were treated as Nazis, there is little functional difference between the two groups. Therein lies the danger – if we are to punch Nazis, and we declare that the Republican and/or Democratic parties are Nazi collaborators – are we declaring an intention to punch one to two thirds of the American population? That’s not a targeted response. That is not smashing the nucleus of the movement. It’s untenable, impossible, unwinnable, and morally wrong. Movements of regime change require defections of security forces from the current regime to the new government.
If we want the Nazis out of our government, we need to encourage people to turn against them. They aren’t going to turn against them if they think they face violence from our side. It is important to identify Nazis and Nazi collaborators as they increase in power in modern-day America. It is also important to be clear about who is and is not a Nazi or Nazi collaborator, lest this serious accusation lose its gravity or be wielded against the victims.
Photo: Anthony Crider/Creative Commons