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What Should You Do When Nazis Interrupt Your Event?

Photograph by Andrew Beaujon.

When a small group of white nationalists stank up a book talk at Politics and Prose’s Connecticut Avenue store this past weekend, some audience members booed; others videoed the disruption. The fact that the incursion took place on a block already scarred by right-wing extremists was a reminder that Nazi worms aren’t going to leave this area alone anytime soon—in fact, the American Identity Movement, which organized this little Brownshirt outing, is reportedly based in this area.

So what should you do if you’re in a situation where these numbskulls show up? These type of invasions are straight out of the history of the actual Sturmabteilung, whose members terrorized Munich in the early 1920s, breaking up meetings they didn’t like, injuring speakers, and, in one incident, forcing a bookstore owner to remove works they disapproved of from his window. Laurie Marhoefer is a professor at the University of Washington who has studied the rise of the Third Reich, and she says that attention is like oxygen to these guys.

The far-right people want to turn themselves into martyrs of free speech,” Marhoefer says. Nothing could be better for them than someone confronting them physically and allowing them to “portray themselves as the victims of aggression and violence.” Author Jonathan Metzl “handled it perfectly,” Southern Poverty Law Center spokesperson Lecia Brooks tells Washingtonian. “The best thing to do is step back, let them do their thing, and discuss what happened.” 

I asked Brooks whether waiting for these fellows to run out of steam is a good long-term strategy. “In the video I saw, they become quickly embarrassed and run off,” she says. “They don’t have anything to say other than just showing up. They don’t want to engage in intellectual debate.”

That’s a little ironic, because Identity Evropa, the hate group for bad spellers that rebranded itself as AIM, fancies itself on the more intellectual end of the racist-dope spectrum. It has made a priority of “taking up space” in decent society “in the hopes of eventually, through the sheer force of repetition, mainstreaming their ideology,” the SPLC explains. To that goal, they tried posting flyers on college campuses, and four of them polluted a racial-justice seminar in Florida two years ago to hold up a banner that said they refused to apologize for something or other.

The group has undergone lots of turmoil—founder Nathan Damigo stepped down as leader and declared bankruptcy, perhaps to escape the financial consequences of a lawsuit over his involvement in the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Elliot Kline, who also goes by “Eli Mosley,” replaced him but lasted three months; he lied about his service record. Patrick Casey currently runs the group, and you can see him in some of the videos shot at Politics and Prose. He tweeted Thursday that he planned to appear on InfoWars that evening to discuss the Politics and Prose “action.”

Washington faced a different situation last year when white nationalists planned a rally near the White House. Then, SPLC researcher Keegan Hankes suggested holding counterdemonstrations in distinct locales instead and said “it may not be the most productive avenue to go and yell at a bunch of avowed white supremacists who are almost certainly not going to get their minds changed.” As it turned out, the pathetic showing at that rally was a magnitude smaller than those who turned out to jeer at them.

Marhoefer endorses laughing at these dweebs, but she cautions that decent people shouldn’t take much comfort in the fact that there are more of us than there are of them. “They’re always looking for common cause with other people on the right,” she says, noting that Hitler came to power not through a putsch but via conservative establishment politicians who hoped simultaneously to harness his movement’s energy and to neuter him by placing him in an office where they thought he wouldn’t be able to do much.

I asked Brooks what she thought about reporting on these clowns—are we in the press helping them out by even discussing their sorties into the real world? Possibly, she says, though it’s also an opportunity to demonstrate their pathetic numbers. “Show how small they really are,” she advises. “They hate that. They really hate it.”

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.