Thursday, December 07, 2017

Pushing Back Against The Times' Understanding Of Normalizing Nazis 101


-by Valley Girl

I’ve been following the fall-out from the New York Times article A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland. (By the way, early versions have the title as "The Neo-Nazi Next Door." I’ve read everything I could find. Two articles particularly struck me, out of the many I’ve read.

One is from Damon Young titled A Line-by-Line Response to the New York Times’ Response to the Backlash It Received for Publishing a Nazi Puff Piece. In addition to writing for The Root, Damon Young is also a columnist for GQ. The response Damon Young gives is to this defense by the NY Times: Readers Accuse Us of Normalizing a Nazi Sympathizer; We Respond. In the following, I’ve added who said what, because the original formatting in the article challenged my copy and paste abilities. Damon:
On Nov. 25, the New York Times published “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland”-- a piece about the wedding registry, eating habits and eyebrow maintenance of an Ohio man who also happens to be a Nazi. This profile bothered quite a few people, who were somewhat annoyed that the country’s biggest and most important newspaper would give a white nationalist a Better Homes and Gardens cover spread.

The Times was kind enough to respond to that response. And I felt it was only right to top off the response lasagna by giving a response to that response, which is underneath the Times’ response to the response.

Response response response response response response response.

The Times explained:

A profile in The Times of Tony Hovater, a white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer in Ohio, elicited a huge amount of feedback this weekend, most of it sharply critical. Here’s how the piece came about, why we wrote it and why we think it was important to do so.

This should be fun.

NYT: The genesis of the story was the aftermath of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August, the terrifying Ku Klux Klan-like images of young white men carrying tiki torches and shouting “Jews will not replace us,” and the subsequent violence that included the killing of a woman, Heather D. Heyer.

Damon: Those images were truly terrible, and the murder of Heather D. Heyer was horrifying. As was the response from the president of the United States of America about what happened in Charlottesville.

Fortunately, we have institutions like the New York Times that we can depend on to bring us the truth during these dark hours and to ensure that white supremacists and Nazis are thought of and treated the same way you might treat a roach scurrying across a kitchen counter.

NYT: Who were those people?

Damon: Um, wait. You literally just answered that question in your last paragraph. Those people are white supremacists. And just to reiterate that point, you refer to them as "young white men carrying tiki torches and shouting 'Jews will not replace us.'" What the hell is happening here? Did you have a stroke between the writing of these sentences?

NYT: We assigned Richard Fausset, one of our smartest thinkers and best writers, to profile one of the far-right foot soldiers at the rally. We ended up settling on Mr. Hovater, who, it turned out, was a few years older than another Ohio man, James Alex Fields Jr., who was charged with murder after the authorities said he drove his car into a crowd of protesters, killing Ms. Heyer.

Damon: But why, though? You could have assigned an intern for this task. Shit, you could have assigned me. I would have just emailed Hovater.

"Yo, dude. You still on that Nazi shit?"

If he replied "Yes," I would have written the story on the spot. And it would have been called, "“Tony Hovater Is Still on That Nazi Shit and There’s Really Nothing Else to See Here." And the entire text of the story would have been "Nazis gonna Nazi."

NYT: Our reporter went to Ohio to spend time with Mr. Hovater and submitted several drafts and updates in between assignments that included Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the Roy Moore campaign in Alabama. The story finally ran online Saturday.

Damon: It’s great that Richard Fausset has other responsibilities at The Times other than existing as the Ohio-Nazi Whisperer. I’d imagine the Ohio-Nazi-whispering beat to be quite dry.

NYT: Whatever our goal, a lot of readers found the story offensive, with many seizing on the idea we were normalizing neo-Nazi views and behavior. "How to normalize Nazis 101!" one reader wrote on Twitter. "I’m both shocked and disgusted by this article," wrote another. "Attempting to 'normalize' white supremacist groups-- should Never have been printed!"

Damon: If the goal of devoting thousands of words to a fucking Nazi in Ohio wasn’t disgusting, then what was it? Seriously. What was the fucking point of this? We already know that Nazis exist in America. And we already know that some of them shop at Target. So, again, what was your goal?

NYT: Our reporter and his editors agonized over the tone and content of the article. The point of the story was not to normalize anything but to describe the degree to which hate and extremism have become far more normal in American life than many of us want to think.

Damon: I, for one, am sorry that your reporter and his editors agonized over doing the fucking jobs that they are paid to do. That reporters and editors would be expected to report and edit and vet is truly a travesty, and I’m sure the family of Heather Heyer would agree. I will organize a candlelight vigil for your newsroom this evening.

NYT: We described Mr. Hovater as a bigot, a Nazi sympathizer who posted images on Facebook of a Nazi-like America full of happy white people and swastikas everywhere. We understand that some readers wanted more pushback, and we hear that loud and clear.

Damon: Yes. It would have been nice, if the New York Times decided to run a profile on a Nazi, for said profile to have provided more pushback. Because if there’s one thing we know about Nazis, they can always use more pushback. There’s never a point, in regard to Nazis and pushback, where you might step back and say, "You know, I think this Nazi pushback is overkill now." Because there is no overkill with Nazi pushback. Just underkill. And by "underkill" I mean "a profile in the New York Times."

NYT: Some readers also criticized the article for including a link to a webpage that sells swastika armbands. This was intended to show the darker reality beyond the anodyne language of the website. But we saw the criticism, agreed and removed the link.

Damon: Wait, y’all did what? Y’all gave the Nazis a branding platform? What the fuck is wrong with y’all?

NYT: Some readers did see value in the piece. Shane Bauer, a senior reporter at Mother Jones and a winner of the National Magazine Award, tweeted: "People mad about this article want to believe that Nazis are monsters we cannot relate to. White supremacists are normal ass white people and it’s been that way in America since 1776. We will continue to be in trouble till we understand that."

Damon: Yeah, some people saw the value in the piece. And some people put lettuce in the microwave. What’s your point?

NYT: But far more were outraged by the article. "You know who had nice manners?" Bess Kalb, a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live, said on Twitter. "The Nazi who shaved my uncle Willie’s head before escorting him into a cement chamber where he locked eyes with children as their lungs filled with poison and they suffocated to death in agony. Too much? Exactly. That’s how you write about Nazis."

Damon: Bess Kalb has a point.

NYT: Others urged us to focus our journalism less on those pushing hate and more on those on the receiving end of that hate. "Instead of long, glowing profiles of Nazis/White nationalists, why don’t we profile the victims of their ideologies?" asked Karen Attiah, an editor at the Washington Post. "Why not a piece about the mother of Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed in Charlottesville? Follow-ups on those who were injured? Or how PoC are coping?"

Damon: Of course, profiles on the people directly harmed by this hate speech and violence would be much more compelling. But that would require whiteness—white maleness, specifically—to be uncentered. And uncentering whiteness is harder than eating just one Lay’s potato chip, apparently.

NYT: We regret the degree to which the piece offended so many readers. We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story. What we think is indisputable, though, is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them. That’s what the story, however imperfectly, tried to do.

Damon: There’s a difference between shedding light and handing someone the spotlight. I agree that light is necessary to expose and, if required, shame. But y’all basically gave him and the thousands like him the light and the mic. Instead of truly depicting him for who he is, you let him take a selfie. And it’s not wrong to believe that "No country for Nazi selfies" should be an editorial edict at the New York Times.

NYT: As always, we want to continue hearing from our readers. Please share your thoughts in the comments. We will be reading them.

Damon: Wait, you’re going to do more work? Shit. Do I have to organize another vigil?
The second article that particularly struck me was What the New York Times’ Nazi Story Left Out-- The history of America has been written by normal white racists living in normal towns, by Jamelle Bouie.
The conceit of "A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland," the New York Times’ profile of Tony Hovater-- a neo-Nazi who helped start the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white nationalist group-- is that there’s something incongruent in Hovater’s ordinary Midwestern life and his virulently racist and anti-Semitic beliefs. "Why did this man-- intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases-- gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?" asks the writer, Richard Fausset, in a subsequent piece explaining the editorial decisions behind the story and reflecting on his conversations with Hovater.

Hovater’s extremism may demand some additional explanation, but there’s nothing novel about virulent white racism existing in banal environments. That, in fact, is what it means to live in a society structured by racism and racist attitudes. The sensational nature of Hovater’s identification with Nazi Germany obscures the ordinariness of his racism. White supremacy is a hegemonic ideology in the United States. It exists everywhere, in varying forms, ranging from passive beliefs in black racial inferiority to the extremist ideology we see in groups like the League of the South.

A look back to the past is instructive. In 1921, one of the deadliest anti-black riots in American history occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A mob of white men, eager for retribution after the alleged assault of a young white woman, descended on the city’s prosperous Greenwood neighborhood, dubbed the "Black Wall Street" by admirers. Armed with pistols, rifles, and a machine gun-- as well as a plane equipped with rudimentary bombs--this makeshift army burned Greenwood to the ground, killing hundreds in the process. We don't know who gave order to the mob, organizing and amplifying its lethality, but we can identify the men who participated.

Virulent racism doesn’t just exist in seemingly banal environments; virulent racism has shaped their very existence. [sidebar]

They weren’t, as white Tulsans would later learn, the working-class men drawn to the city’s oil wealth and frontier atmosphere. No, they were Tulsa’s white elite--its respectable middle class. "Photographs of the tragedy also showed that many in the white mob drove the most expensive cars and dressed in clothes beyond the means of the average roughneck," notes Tim Madigan in The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. They were recognizable. Ordinary.

The same was true of the anti-black mob that destroyed parts of Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1919. It was true of the one that lynched Rob Edwards in Forsyth County, Georgia, in 1911, and later drove the blacks of Forsyth out of the county. From the Ku Klux Klan of the Reconstruction South to the White Citizens Councils of the Jim Crow South, ordinary men and women have always been enforcers for the racial order.

Likewise, those seemingly ordinary environments are themselves part of the story of American racism. As James Loewen describes in Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, the human landscape of the Midwest was shaped by rigid segregation. "Beginning in about 1890 and continuing until 1968, white Americans established thousands of towns across the United States for whites only. Many towns drove out their black populations, then posted sundown signs. Other towns passed ordinances barring African Americans after dark or prohibiting them from owning or renting property; still others established such policies by informal means, harassing and even killing those who violated the rule." Hovater's home, Huber Heights, Ohio, was one of those places. Virulent racism doesn't just exist in seemingly banal environments; virulent racism has shaped their very existence.

If the focus on Hovater's mundane life paints an inaccurate picture of racist ideology as abnormal, then the larger decision to profile a neo-Nazi further obscures the forces driving our politics at this moment. Even with their greater visibility in public life, extremist racists like Hovater remain fringe figures who can make a splash in the media—and provoke violence—but do little else.

By contrast, more "moderate" forms of white racism-- the everyday, ordinary varieties that rarely elicit protest outside of public forums-- are politically powerful. They are what had a profound influence on the 2016 election, what President Trump stokes and feeds on when he tweets against black athletes and celebrities, and what shape some of the limits of the possible in our politics. Someone like Hovater might have a relatively high profile, but what's fueling the return of explicit racism to our politics is something appropriately banal and, yes, ordinary.
And, if anyone is interested in what has happened to Tony Hovater... well, he, his wife, and his brother-law have lost their jobs at the 451 Grill. One writer says that a reference to the "Haystack hamburger" in the original article allowed people to figure out that he worked at the 451 Grill. Well I couldn’t find that reference in the article. But, however it was discovered, the 451 Grill responded in part:
A November 25th New York Times article featured one of our employees. In the article, the employee shared his political views, specifically those of being a white nationalist. The article went on, illustrating some very disturbing images and thoughts from this individual. The 571 Grill and Draft House does not share any of these views with this person, nor was the owner aware of them prior to the publishing of this article.

Since the release of this article, we have been swamped with phone calls and social media messages that are threatening and intimidating to both us and our employees. These hateful and disturbing messages are truly saddening to those of us who just want to serve delicious food and cold beers.

Due to these very disturbing threats, the employee who was featured in the article suggested that we release him from employment. We have done so and have also released his wife and her brother who also worked for us. We felt it necessary to fully sever the relationship with them in hopes to protect our 20 other employees from the verbal and social media threats being made from individuals all over the country, and as far as Australia. We neither encourage nor support any forms of hate within our establishment.
Oh, yeah, and someone published Hovater’s home address, and as a result he’s been forced (decided) to leave the rental house, to move to an undisclosed location.

"Hovater tells The Post he's moving because he can no longer afford the rent and because of safety concerns. 'It's not for the best to stay in a place that is now public information,' he said. 'We live alone. No one else is there to watch the house while I'm away.'"

Two more points-- the first: Richard Fausset kinda sorta defended himself (poor me) in an article at the NY Times titled I Interviewed a White Nationalist and Fascist. What Was I Left With? You can read the whole thing it you want. But below, I’ll give some choice parts, along with my responses.
Fausset: There is a hole at the heart of my story about Tony Hovater, the white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer.

VG: No shit.

Fausset: And yet what, of any of this, explained Mr. Hovater’s radical turn? What prompted him to take his ideas beyond his living room, beyond the chat rooms, and on to Charlottesville, where he marched in August alongside allies like the neo-Confederate League of the South and the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement, which bills itself as "America’s Premier White Civil Rights Organization?" Where was his Rosebud?

VG: Where was his Rosebud? WTF. Rosebud? That ends a paragraph, and no further reference to Rosebud is given. I assume he was referring to the movie Citizen Kane, in a hoity toity way. Unless, and my thoughts did go there, he was asking if Hovater had failed to sexually satisfy his wife, by failing to find her rosebud?

Fausett: On the phone, Mr. Hovater responded to my question by rattling off names of libertarian academics, making references to sci-fi movies and describing, yet again, his frustration with what he described as the plodding and unjust nature of American democracy. As he did so, I was thinking about an album I grew up with by the Minutemen, the Southern California punk group, and its brilliantly koanic title: What Makes a Man Start Fires?

VG: WOW! How cool Fausset claims to be (or so he thinks) by mentioning the influence a Southern California [virulently anti-fascist] punk band had on him. The Minutemen or aka the Missingmen, as I learned when I went to Youtube to listen to this band’s music. I could barely understand a word of the album he references. Green Day they are not [Ed- D. Boon and Mike Watt were a major influence on early Green Day].

VG: And Fausset closes his agonizing "mea culpa" by asking again "What Makes a Man Start Fires?" Gosh, it’s a toss-up as to whether he was taking about Hovater, or referring to himself, given all the fall out from his horrible NY Times article.

Now, on to the second point: how does a reporter report on and interview neo-Nazi white supremacists? Here’s how it’s done: From a Vice broadcast-- Charlottesville: Race and Terror-- VICE News Tonight (HBO).

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At 4:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Corporatism requires such thugs to do their dirtiest work. Plausible deniability, you know. And since NYT is a corporate entity, what else can one expect from the Paper of Corporatist Propaganda?

At 5:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We beat 'em before; We'll beat 'em now"

Should be ""We beat 'em before; We ARE them now"

Ok. Nice piece showing the NYT for what it is... shit. But you cannot deny that whenever the US looks at itself in the mirror it seems to get comfy real quick with whatever distorted visage is looking back. It is not realistic to imagine a Nazi/kkk rally in, say, Sacramento... yet. But it's not that far off.

Alabama always elects racists. In a short time they'll probably elect a devout Christian pedophile racist. The usa elected a proudly boastful racist sex predator only 12 years after re-electing proudly boastful torturers.

Naziism and KKKism can't be that far off.


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