Misadventure in the Habitation of Devils: Or, The Age of Bond Villain Rejects

People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls.”

{Menschen tun alles, egal wie absurd, um ihrer eigenen Seele nicht zu begegnen.}

Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy

America: You’re Old Enough to Know Better

It’s Fourth of July Eve, more commonly known just as July 3rd. I didn’t leave out a slice of apple pie à la Mode & bourbon for Uncle Sam this year ⁠— and possibly never again. So what if the IRS puts polluted Flint water in my stocking next Tax Day instead of a refund. I just don’t feel it. And why should I anyway? Maybe it is the distance I put between myself and America or that people don’t actually do any of what I just wrote where I’m from… nor anywhere for that matter. But it could be something else.

Where did the fun go, that patriotic spirit of holding hand-sized explosives and dreaming of the destruction they would cause, or that antsy feeling before going to bed on Fourth of July night because in the morning there would be a fresh copy of the local news for you to read about who blew their fingers off or burnt down the neighbor’s house? Maybe I got old and bitter. Maybe I spent too many years working the “holiday” for companies because they didn’t see the importance of it when compared to the money they would make. Or maybe I realized that being an adult in America meant this could be any day of the week, just that the Fourth is day of the year where it is socially and culturally acceptable to do it while drunk and in the vicinity of children and the elderly.

But I’m not in America anymore. Let’s call it a trial separation. And I’m OK with that. Not that I left on the best of terms anyway. Socialized healthcare, Dürüms, and more public holidays than you can shake a stick at beats out being afraid of doctor visits because you can’t afford them or listening to family members say things like: #MeToo is bullshit because men are men and, in some cases, the women were probably blowing it out of proportion; racism doesn’t exist anymore because there are poor white children and minorities can study at universities; and Germany should have statues of Nazis because, like the Confederate statues, they are historical and people need statues to remember their history. Hell, I’ve been to the dentist three times this week and it only cost me 83 Euro. There is a collective sense of shame here that I find oddly appealing. And maybe it is because I come from a country where there is little to no shame of our history or current actions. Americans, in general, have removed themselves from the equation and feel no connection to their own history unless it is positive, smothering any negativity with motivational home decor.

Der Spiegel news magazine cover by Edel Rodriguez

It is also kind of nice to listen to the news and hear a slight tinge of existential defeat in the moderator’s voice anytime your former home is mentioned, as if they too are tired of hearing or saying anything about Trump and his exploits as president. The real icing on the cake is watching my father-in-law, who lived under Hitler and then the Soviet Union, give me this dumbfounded look and all I can do is shake my head and shrug, the international expression of embarrassment mixed with a healthy dose of shame and disapproval.

A Gaze into the Abyss

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Ten years ago, Inglourious Basterds came out. It was Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to cinema on how film killed Nazis. I saw it on opening night at a small theater in Bowling Green, Ohio, with three Austrians visiting America for the first time and two other fellow Americans. At the end of the movie, the Nazi high command is literally being killed by film and Hitler gets his face machine-gunned off at point-blank range. It was at this point, the audience started behaving like maniac 18-year-olds at a titty bar high on lust and not getting enough blood flow to brain because of their hard on for Nazi killing. The screening quickly turned into a frenzy of cheering and whooping and hollering brought on by the violent orgy of Nazi death on the big screen. The Austrians asked us later, quasi too afraid to ask, if Americans normally act that way in theaters. “No,” we said, “but we also never seen Hitler get his face blown off before, either.”

Today, there are tanks in the Nation’s capital, concentration camps at the border, a Rich Old Man in the White House who proclaims he is a Nationalist and an alarming number (Note: any number greater than zero) of Nazi flags popping up at political rallies. Sorry, Quent, can’t win them all. But I’ve heard this story before and more times than I care to admit. It is a side-effect of getting both a bachelor’s and master’s in German Studies with a built in History minor. You go in with dreams of learning a language and find yourself, 4 to 6 years later, knowing more than you ever wanted to know about Nationalists and Suffering and Death and Cruelty. My academic career could be titled Everything You Didn’t Want To Know About Nazis* (*And Didn’t Want To Ask). It is true what Nietzsche said. That is, “… if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you. [… wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.]”

I’ve learned what the Nazis stand for and what it brings, and I’ve had to read my fair share of Nazi propaganda. So when I see Americans who support this evil, want to be a member of this evil, idolize this evil, or pretend that they belong to some imaginary master race in such a way that prescribes the ethnic cleansing of all who are different or disagree with them, it angers me and it makes me sick beyond belief. It makes me feel ashamed. And it should you, too.

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis considered themselves, despite what scholars and people on social media say, a syncretic organization on the political spectrum, transcending both left-wing and right-wing politics and hating them both just as equal. But don’t let that fool you. They were a far-right, nationalistic organization. You could even say, an Alt-Right organization. One thing was clear: It wasn’t just a political issue, but, most importantly, a moral one. And it was a moral issue that had roots in the USA.

In grad school, we had to read portions of Mein Kampf. If I were to make a list of poorly written texts I have read in my life, Hitler’s manifesto would be up there with Fifty Shades Of Grey and some fan-fiction. Just evil and depraved. Hitler never sat down and actually wrote the book. Instead, he dictated it from his prison cell. And it reads like the crazy gibberish spewed by a racist uncle over dinner. Though, to be fair, it is crazy gibberish and Hitler was someone’s uncle. (For reference, there is a review written by George Orwell. Yes, that George Orwell.) The book has all the things you would expect it to have. Yes, he rambles on about hating Jewish people, yes, he really dislikes Communists, and, yes, Hitler wanted to MGGA—Make Germany Great Again. The Nazi ideology is a paradox. It preaches that their enemies are weaker, less-intelligent subhumans compared to them but they were somehow not strong enough to protect their precious Vaterland from them until a flatulent, failed art student from Austria came along. There was one thing, though, that I hadn’t realized at the time. And that was this: Hitler was largely inspired by the institutional racism and eugenics programs in the United States. So, yeah, I guess we can put Nazis next to al-Qaeda and the Contras on the (long) list of evil people we’ve inspired, created, and/or aided.

Eugenics in the USA was wildly popular at the time. It even inspired books and films, kind of the Games of Thrones of its time. Except instead of people naming their kids after characters in the books or movies, they were sterilizing and euthanizing people. And everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. Proponents of eugenics included W.E.B. Du Bois, Alexander Graham Bell, Stanford president David Starr Jordan, Teddy Roosevelt, and the creator of Corn Flakes, John Harvey Kellogg, to name a few (Trust me, that’s really only a few). Eugenics: Academics studied it, politicians loved it, the American people ate it up, and medical centers, companies, and foundations couldn’t throw enough money at it. A mental institution in Illinois gave TB-infected milk to patients believing only the strong would survive (there was a 40% death rate); The Carnegie Institute suggested gas chambers to euthanize undesirables; and The Rockefeller Foundation, besides donating $410,000 (nearly $4 million in today’s money) to hundreds of German researchers, funded an instituted called the Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics, whose head was Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer. Von Verschuer was a hero in the American eugenics circles and his long-time assistant’s name was Josef Mengele, aka the Angel of Death (der Todesengel), who went on to run Auschwitz where he performed deadly human experiments and personally selected prisoners to go to the gas chambers.

“There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States.”

Adolf Hitler, Austrian dictator and renowned asshole

Luckily, by the end of the 1940’s, eugenics was frowned upon and the United States finally got its shit together. Wait. What’s that? We performed over 2,000 involuntary sterilizations on poor black women without them knowing or consenting after the war? Nearly 3,500 Native American women were sterilized way into the ’70s?! Well, at least we didn’t have our own Nazis. Oh, goddammit, America!

American Nazi bullshit

The Free Society of Teutonia was one of the first National Socialist groups to rear its ugly head on American soil. Formed in 1924 by four German immigrants, the group was vocal critics of, you guessed it, Jews and Communists… and also the Treaty of Versaillies. They also had their own militant knock off Sturmabteilung. Though, two years later, probably due to “free” sounding too damn commie for good citizens of Chicago, they changed their name to the Nationalistic Society of Teutonia. They held on to that name and a thank letter from Hitler himself until 1932 when they decided to take their relationship with the failed Austrian art student turned dick-tater, erm, dictator a bit further and changed their name again, this time to Friends of the Hitler Movement. They held on to that name for six more months. They dissolved as a group in 1933 because Americans had seen that Nazis were bad and we all went on to be humane and loving Americans…

… Except I made that last part up. Because what really happened was this: The Friends of Hitler Movement dissolved because Heinrich Spanknöbel was given the authority in 1933 to form an American Nazi organization. This organization became known as the Friends of New Germany. This organization operated only for two years and membership had reached that of 5,000-10,000 people. So, the fairly new Friends of New Germany dissolved and all memberships were transferred to the German American Bund. Besides hating on Jews, Commies, and the super difficult task of promoting a favorable view of Nazi Germany, the German American Bund was known for ethnic violence, embezzlement, and sedition. One of the highlights for this group was hosting a rally of roughly 20,000 at Madison Square Garden in NYC on February 20th, 1939. The House Committee on Un-American Activities put an end to them in 1941. And that was kind of that for nearly twenties years until the National States’ Rights Party was founded in my home state of Tennessee and George Lincoln Rockwell formed the American Nazi Party, which still operates today.

Let them eat Shoney’s!

It has been nearly two years since the Unite The Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I still haven’t figured out roughly how four years of the Confederacy equals “heritage” or what “white pride” or “white heritage” means exactly, besides the obvious racist garbage. Hell, I’ve been white my whole life and I can’t say what “white culture/heritage” is nor what there is to be proud of. And yet, when I head back home to Tennessee, I’ve heard more times than should be necessary, “Why can’t I be proud to be white or celebrate my white heritage?” I’ve looked at maps and atlases and never found White. “Then why is there Black Culture and Black Heritage and Black Pride, huh?” I reckon it has a lot to do with how shitty white people treated them. You know, enslaved them, robbed them of their heritage, culture, and identity. Even after they were freed, we segregated them. And from this grew their own culture. “Well, my family is Scottish. Why can’t I be proud of that?” Didn’t realize you couldn’t. “But they’re white.” I’ve learned over the years that the people back home just want to argue and go on believing what they’ve always believed no matter what. They will continue to love their Confederate flags and banally go on being proud of the insubstantial white culture and heritage.

Which is probably why Stormfront decided to make my home state and even my hometown their new gathering spot. “Tennessee is, like, the place now,” the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, Heidi Beirich said. “They love Tennessee. The state has to rent to the public.” Which means they can gather at the state parks, like the Cumberland Mountain State Park, and get rooms for their meetings, security from park rangers, and not fear losing their rental spaces no matter how much the public protests and complains. But in 2017, the white-supremacists made the mistake of reserving spots for dinner at a local restaurant called the Beef & Barrel. The mistake wasn’t that the owner, Bruce Cannon, got wind that a bunch of racist goons were coming to eat at his establishment and he decided to tell them to hit the road. No, it wasn’t that. In fact, Mr. Cannon said he would serve them “as long as they respect [their] fellow customers, staff and business.” It wasn’t until the business started getting 1-star reviews online in protest that they decided maybe letting Neo-Nazis eat there wasn’t such a hot idea. [Author’s note: On a good day, the restaurant is a solid 2.5-star joint. On a good day, you’re food and waiter/waitress might be warm. Good days, though, are like a 1-in-5 chance. Bad days, ho-ho, what can be said? I had a waitress dump my lunch on the table and my lap. Not a sorry, not an offer to get another plate, just “Enjoy now!”] The racists ended up at Shoney’s instead, where it’s everyone’s last choice, everyone is welcome, and everyone has a good chance of leaving with the runs.

Misadventure in the Habitation of Devils: Or, The Age of Bond Villain Rejects

It was Fall Semester ’04 of my freshman year in college. It was a War Time culture and the job fair was in full swing. Job fairs, at least the ones I grew up with on the Plateau in Tennessee, meant military recruiters, a minimum of two from every branch with not one but two tables complete with tri-fold presentation boards. I was used to them being there. In high school, they came regularly to our lunch breaks while we ate our rectangle pizzas and told us how we too could help stop Terrorism. In return for getting revenge, we could receive money for college and travel the world for free, as long as there was a conflict in that area of the world. It was serious business for them and, in a War Time culture, business was good. So good that they didn’t like others intruding on their territory. The schools were in so tight with the military that a local high school kicked an invited “recruiter” out who for distributing literature from the Quakers and Veterans For Peace alternatives to military enlistment. The issue was mainly a quote by General George Marshall, which goes like this: ” Our enemies are not people.… They are desperation, poverty, and humiliation.”

They all had the same pitch. It had been the same pitch since 9/11. I normally ignored them. It was best not to approach them because if you did, they were sure to get your info and bombard your mailbox with brochures and follow-ups as to why you haven’t been returning their calls. Ignoring them worked pretty well for a while until someone in a green uniform yelled at me: “A gun is cooler than a sword!”

It wasn’t a sword, though. It was a fencing foil. But the recruiter dumbfounded me with his exclamation. And what he said next was even better: “I could kill you before you even drew that thing.” Even if he hadn’t killed me before I drew the foil, the worst I could have done with the thing would be jab him with the knowledge that no matter how hard I poked him with it, the chances of doing anything fatal was slim to none. He took my confused stare as interest: “You ever hold a gun?”

If you’d forgotten, like he clearly had, this was the South. Not only was it the South, where guns seem to grow on trees or, at the very least, could be bought at any Wal-Mart along with a gallon of milk and loaf of bread, but I had also been a Boy Scout and not only had I earned my Rifle and Shotgun Shooting merit badges, I repeated the courses twice at Summer Camp. So I told him, yeah. “Then what’s the sword for?” he said, as if I were some sort of knight or musketeer roaming a job fair at TTU. I explained to him I was on the fencing team and he explained he was with the U.S. Border Patrol. He talked to me like I was retarded and told me I should trade my sword (he continued to call it that despite me repeating it was a foil) for a uniform and a gun. “It’s safer than the army and you don’t have to go to the Sandbox. Just Texas, Arizona, or New Mexico. You will still get to shoot at people, too.”

That was his pitch. Trade in your sporting equipment, young man, and join the U.S. Border Patrol. You might even kill someone. He seemed surprised when I told him I wasn’t interested, as if he couldn’t believe any young American in 2004 would ever turn down the chance to shoot at people with little to no legal consequences.

Going on 15 years later, my friends and I still laugh at that bizarre encounter with the U.S. Border Patrol recruiter. And 15 years later, it’s hard not to feel déjà vu to a certain degree and, in some cases, cranked up to 11. And why not? Both pushed for a structure to be built separating the US from Mexico, offered up tax cuts to the Rich, have a “unique” way of talking, and only got where they are today because of their fathers.

There are also similarities between how supporters view the two presidents. Televangelists evangelicals claim that both Dubya and Trump are on a mission from God like some sort of modern day Jake and Elwood Blues. Republicans also seem to have a following that lean towards the love-the-President-or-get-out mentality whenever their guy is in office. As Aaron Monroe puts it on Twitter:

Your all traders and should be deported. God bless America & President Trump.

Even with the grammar and spelling mistakes, the message is clear. And it is a hypocritical message I’ve heard my entire life from both sides of the political aisle. An ex-girlfriend’s mother and my father didn’t have a lot in common except they both believed one should “respect and support the President no matter what.” Well, that was until Obama entered the White House. Then all of a sudden it was that N-word President this and that N-word President that, and my all-time favorite: “He’s the American Hitler!” So much for respecting the President no matter what. It was never my cup of tea, or my beer as the Germans say, anyway.

Back then, it was often thought the vilest man alive was Karl Rove, then the human puss, Steve Bannon, pretty much said, “Hold my beer.” It was also thought that Guantanamo Bay detention camp was a pretty low point even for our standards. Oh, us in 2003, I’d hate to tell you to “hold our collective beer,” but “hold our collective beer.” Because not only is Gitmo still around, but now we’re locking up children, separating them from their parents, forcing them to take care of other children, and not giving them diapers or tooth brushes. And guess where we’re doing it, old us. Yeah, concentration camps.

But who can be surprised that there are concentration camps in America today given our long history of allowing Nazism within the borders and the rise of hate groups and crime in the past few years? Apparently the GOP, that’s who. Though, do they really believe these camps for migrants are anything but concentration camps, as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez correctly referred to them as, or do they just want to distance themselves from Nazis? After all, they don’t have to like Nazis, just get their votes come election time. Why shake things up when you can argue about the semantic meaning behind “concentration camp,” despite “concentration camp” clearly being defined as a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard, and when you can just make fun of the offending party on Twitter? After all, that’d be major points with the voters seeing how she ticks the boxes of the party’s less favorable groups: Female, check. Environmentalist, check. Latino, check. Possible commie, check.

It’s a graph!

Click Images For Full-Resolution

These Congressmen** seem to be under the delusion that there was only one time in history where there were such things as concentration camps and any other mention of the term would be a direct comparison to the labor and death camps of Nazi Germany. Though, what they are doing would be comparable to Henry Stimson or Robert A. Taft (Republican politicians during WWII) saying to the Jews, homosexuals, blacks, Roma, communists, disabled people, clergy, etc., of that time, “Concentration camps? You people aren’t in Cuba! How dare you use that word… Outlandish!” And, as I’ve said before, Dan Crenshaw’s statements that for it to be a concentration camp one must be “unjustly sought out and confined” and therefore what is happening in the USA isn’t concentration camps as the “[m]igrants are illegally crossing the border” is false or that calling these camps as such is belittling to the Holocaust due to legality is at the very least conflicting. How so? Well, everyone who ended up in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany had broken a law established by the Nazi government.

That is not to say what happened to the people who went to the camps wasn’t unjust (it was extremely unjust, in a moral and humane sense), but it was legal in the eyes of the lawmakers in the Third Reich to put them in the camps. The latter is what Crenshaw is implying: The migrants have broken the law as written down by the the Lawmakers of the United States of America and therefore are justly getting their punishment. In short, Crenshaw is negating his own argument within his own argument. And he misses the fact that requesting asylum is not against the law.

Crenshaw ends his tweet with a call to support Mike Rogers’ H.R. 3056: “If you’re worried about conditions at the border, why don’t you do something about it & support @RepMikeRogersAL’s bill securing billions in humanitarian aid.” It reads like a brat’s response. As if saying, “You can’t be that worried about it if you’re not supporting our legislation!” Or maybe he just doesn’t see the inhumane treatment as that bad or he himself finds it completely normal to drink water from a toilet or maybe he doesn’t see overcrowding as dangerous or unconstitutional. Who knows. I have a hard time believing that anyone with degrees from Tufts and Harvard is an idiot. A heartless bastard, sure, why not.

H.R. 3056 calls for more money to be funneled into the concentration camps. It is a call to spend money on building bigger and better concentration camps instead of utilizing other avenues of handling the situation, including cheaper and alternative options to indefinite detention (as requested by ICE) such as the Family Case Management Program (launched in 2015 by DHS and trashed by them after Trump took office) or ankle bracelets and social workers as used during the Obama administration.

Ed Burmila, former assistant professor of political science, wrote an article, Out of sight, Out of Our Minds, discussing Australia’s own immigration catastrophe and telling us to “crane their necks and look across the Pacific to see what it will look like in practice.” Burmila describes the camps on the tiny island nation of Nauru as “a humanitarian Chernobyl, a moral blight on the nation, and both a great expense and tremendous embarrassment to those Australians who care about such things as not being pointlessly cruel to the most helpless segment of humanity.”

“The White House must be giddy with joy at the embarrassment of options available for a similar scheme in the United States. Which genius from the Cato Institute—or will it be the Hoover Institute? Maybe AEI?—will propose rebuilding the Puerto Rican economy by turning it into our very own legally ambiguous floating prison! … Or we could outsource our cruel immigration policies as easily as we outsourced torture to servile, semi-authoritarian allies in the War on Terror.”

Ed Burmila, Out of Sight, Out of Our Minds

But it is my opinion that we can’t have much faith in the GOP leadership, whose approval ratings thrive on their voters getting whipped into a frenzy by the POTUS’s xenophobic and dehumanizing rhetoric. You have to look no further than their lackluster responses to the camps being referred to as concentration camps. They want to paint anyone calling those camps what they are as antisemitic to court Jewish voters while not scaring off their loyal base who want the damn things operating in full swing. There is no sympathy for the children nor the adults detained in these camps. There is only dime store knock-off contempt for the word being used because many of them haven’t made the leap their President has and declared themselves Nationalists. And they won’t do anything to stop these camps from existing because their very existence functions as a fluffer for their jingoistic voters.

But welcome to America, folks. We’ve let this behavior and rhetoric thrive in our society and we have infected ourselves with a disease that, much like herpes, will never go away. This disease will rot anything and everything it touches. For those capable of feeling shame, it will be the dark cloud that is always on the horizon, a terrible memory etched into the minds of those who weren’t even there nor alive to experience it. It will be the inheritance we leave for all future generations.

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