In response to my recent blog post criticizing the QAnon far-right conspiracy theory which alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a child sex-trafficking ring from which only Donald Trump can save the world through a “Storm” of mass incarcerations, one Comox Valley reader (CVr)felt my analysis fell short of recognizing that individuals in the QAnon movement are “normal people, no worse than us.”

Apparently CVr had been reading Ethan Zuckerman ‘s lengthy analysis of QAnon and felt Zuckerman saw real merit in QAnon in that it compels all of us to see the consensual nature of society rather than society as a concrete reality. Well—actually—Zuckerman’s summary of his commentary succinctly states “…QAnon represents a hazardous new form of participatory civics and digital storytelling.”

While I laud CVr for his attempts to stretch human understanding to cover all others rather than allowing misunderstandings to divide us into warring camps, my readings on the rise of the Nazis convinces me that the Nazi’s hideous agenda would not have been possible without the lack of backbone on the part of the German ruling classes. Then even as the world could see Hitler’s repugnant intentions the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain decided that if the British could just be concessionary to Hitler on some fronts, the Nazi’s might view the British more favorably.  Well, we all now know how concessions to the Nazis only fueled their greed and malevolent intentions.

While I respect and honour CVr for his expansive perspectives on understanding those with whom we disagree, my concern is that, as with the rise of the Nazis, we have to see clearly where our tolerance of the intolerant is taking us.

In other times I would have fully agreed with CVr that we need to be looking for common ground in all—especially with those we disagree with. And even in these times I will hold CVr’s perspective in mind as one way of viewing QAnon. But I happen to be reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich–William Shirer’s exhaustive, comprehensive, historical account of the Nazi era in Europe. I find the parallels between the Nazi tactics and the socially vicious views of QAnon –frightening.

Yes, disenfranchisement fuels movements like QAnon and the Nazis. What worries me is that we are learning too late the impact of economic, social and political disenfranchisement. That horse has long since bolted. 

Appeasement of belligerent hate has not/does not placate antisocial behavior. It didn’t in 1930’s Germany and it won’t in the United States.  Even the FBI has warned that fringe conspiracy theories like QAnon pose a growing domestic terrorism threat.

Let’s leave the last word to Pulitzer prize winning journalist Chris Hedges who notes in his most recent post  : “Trump and the Republican Party, along with the shrill incendiary voices on right-wing media, play the role the anti-Semitic parties played in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th century. The infusion of anti-Semitism into the political debate in Europe destroyed the political decorum and civility that is vital to maintaining a democracy. Racist tropes and hate speech, as in Weimar Germany, now poison our political discourse. Ridicule and cruel taunts are hurled back and forth. Lies are interchangeable with fact. Those who oppose us are demonized as human embodiments of evil.”

Hedges goes on to compare the rising right in the US to events leading to state terror during the war in El Salvador and cautions that “Those that resist as social unrest mounts will be attacked as agents of a foreign power and censored, as many already are being censored, including through algorithms and deplatforming on social media. The most ardent and successful dissidents, such as Julian Assange, will be criminalized.”

“We stand on the cusp of a frightening authoritarianism,” warns Hedges:

“Political dysfunction, a bankrupt and discredited liberal class, massive and growing social inequality, a grotesquely rich and tone-deaf oligarchic elite, the fragmentation of the public into warring tribes…” are, according to Hedges, equally true of 1930s Germany and 2020 America.

German Social Democrat Kurt Schumacher said in the 1930s that fascism  “is a constant appeal to the inner swine in human beings” and succeeds by “mobilizing human stupidity”—but he couldn’t have been more to the point today as hate filled rhetoric caters to “ the desperate desire for emotional catharsis, for renewed glory and prosperity and for acts of savage vengeance against the phantom enemies blamed for our national debacle.”

I am afraid that what we are seeing in Trump’s desperate efforts to stay in office mimic Hitler’s actions after becoming Chancellor when he simply passed a law ending civil liberties, enacting censorship and making himself dictator.  Given Trumps desperate electoral antics nothing is off the table yet. And he has these legions of QAnon already trained to take on the role of the Brown Shirts in the rise of the Nazi’s.

I wish, I wish, I wish that CVr was right: we can just go say some nice, inclusive things and all this will just go away: however, history just doesn’t offer much support for the ostrich effect in altering undesirable outcomes.  It certainly did not work in 1930s Germany. It is failing us today.

I don’t know how you legislate or ensure basic truth and civility in public discourse but I do know that social media is failing us–big time–in its self-imposed inability to demand civility and some degree of credibility in how we talk with each other. Every newspaper, even the far right ones, has some kind of code about minimal truth and decency in public communication.  Surely we can demand the same of social media!

Norm Reynolds