It was shortly after prominent Nazi Richard Spencer got punched in the face during the inauguration of Donald Trump that I dug out my old anti-Nazi pin and started wearing it every day. I put it on automatically, the way I put on my wedding ring and my Livestrong bracelet in memory of a dear friend lost to cancer. I know it’s only been weeks since our new world order took over, but putting that pin on already feels as normal as slipping on socks.
I picked up my pin in Timeless Taffeta, an old clothing resale shop on Westheimer, now gone to wherever formative clothing buys of yesteryear go when they pass on. It wasn’t a political statement then, back in 1999. I was just looking to fill out my Dr. Frank-n-Furter leather jacket that I wore in weekly performances of The Rocky Horror Picture Show over at the River Oaks Theatre, where I was cast director of the Beautiful Creatures. I always played my Frank as a victim of fascism who had absorbed the philosophy until he embodied it in his own queer way, sort of the proto-Milo Yiannopoulos, but way more attractive. I hung up my open-toe, closed-heel pumps long ago owing to adulthood and bad knees, but the pin survived as a life counter for Munchkin games, quietly whiling away its retirement next to an old Spies Like Us (great ska band) pin while the wife and I tried to kill each other in a pun-heavy card game.
Now, it’s my badge, and it seems to make people very uncomfortable. Good.
In the now-famous video in which Spencer gets socked in the mouth, the last thing he does is explain his Pepe the Frog pin. If you don’t know what that is, Hillary Clinton tried very hard to warn us, but she relied on people reading and I think we can all agree that was a terminal mistake on Boss Lady’s part. My various social media identities are usually filled with vitriolic responses bearing Pepe’s crudely drawn face, especially following articles like this one. Much as I hate that irritating green mug, I will admit that the alt-right happened upon a memorable symbol.
But nothing is iconic like a swastika. The History Channel made sure of that. Nazis have been the go-to bad guys my entire life. A formative moment in my childhood was shooting a Hitler clone in the face at the end of Bionic Commando, and not just because it was the first time I saw a swear word in a video game (“damn,” oh, for the innocent past). No meme has endured like “Nazis are bad,” and that’s one of the reasons people like Spencer and the alt-right and even our current president go to great lengths to distance themselves from the label, though not the actual ideology. They see Nazism as a branding problem.
Which is like why I like wearing my pin. Ostensibly, the Nazis are either all gone or so old I could probably kill the remaining ones with a volleyball and a cache of travel miles. However, the ideas that made the Nazis happen didn’t blow their brains out with Hitler in his bunker. Ideas, as V for Vendetta reminded us, are bulletproof. The only difference between historical Nazis and their successors screaming on YouTube is institutional power, and since January 20 I am not all that certain the distinction holds.
I’ve noticed when I’m talking to parents at my daughter’s school’s pick-up and other mundane places that glances at my pin spark comment. Not about it, but usually in support of Trump. I’ve gotten remarks about the horrors of a $15 minimum wage, socialized medicine, the dangers of various Muslims, stuff about Hillary Clinton’s emails, and on and on and ad infinitum.
It’s rather clear to me that wearing the pin makes Trump supporters feel accused, even though I’m nominally only expressing dissent against a German political party that died before I was even born. Openly stating, “I am anti-Nazi” seems to make them ask, “Does he think I’m a Nazi?” So my question is, “Are you?”
Every person should ask himself, at least once a week, if he is one of the baddies. I get the feeling a lot of Trump supporters are just finding out the importance of that question. Does taking away health care for millions of people make you a prick? Is a poorly-thought-out ban on travel from predominantly Muslim countries the work of a fascist? Will my screams of “BUILD A WALL” end up hurting children? Will abortion restrictions make already tragic circumstances even worse?
Am I a Nazi? Or at least a sympathizer?
The phrase “Make America Great Again” is meant to invoke the Eden-esque specter of the 1950s when everything was apparently wonderful. My wearing an anti-Nazi pin is meant to invoke that same era, when people were forced to decide which side of an objective evil they were on following one of the greatest wars in history. The ideas of the Nazis didn’t die after Hitler’s suicide. They evolved, like a virus, and they survive today.
Why do I wear an anti-Nazi pin? Because apparently some folks need a reminder about how close their beliefs are to those the Nazis embodied.