Hey Conservatives – Nazi memes are literal violence. Fight me

Nazis, fascists, and real clever racists are sneaky bastards. They have gotten good at sliding into conversations where they don’t belong, planting seeds of their hateful ideology in regular conversations. And if we let them get away with it, they will creep up on all of us. Arguably, they already have.

That’s why we have to know how to spot it and shit. We have to address it when a friend or family member shares a Nazi meme. They might not know they’re doing it, so I figure it’s only fair to give them a shot at backing away. This is based on a message I sent a friend in this exact situation before. Borrow, steal, or recycle to your heart’s content.

The Mega-Message

Hey friend, hey guy, hey buddy. The post that you just shared is inherently violent, and you probably ought to take it down. Before you react, give me a second to explain. I think our definition of violence is waaaaay too narrow, and it tends to leave out a lot of ways that a lot of people are harmed.

There’s two definitions of violence that I like:
1 – Violence is the power that limits peoples options
2 – To inflict violence is to remove an agent’s choice

I like these definitions because I think they cut to the heart of the matter: violence is an exercise of power. The format isn’t the focus to me. Emotional violence is just as real as structural violence, as is physical violence. And violence, any kind of violence, is a demonstration of your power and a concrete, direct threat that you could do even more violence if your demands aren’t met.

If you punch someone in the face, you limit how well their jaw works. But you also clearly send the message that you could hurt them more if you needed to. If you raise the price of insulin, you are using your power to extract money from desperate people, many of whom will inevitably die a slow and painful death in diabetic shock. That’s structural and economic violence. And if nobody stops you, you have proven that you have the power to set the price wherever you like.

And to directly address the issue at hand: if you spread anti-semitic ideas, whether in a joke with a friend or a meme on Facebook or a “no Jews allowed” sign, you are wielding power. You are using the power of your community to limit where Jewish people feel safe living, working, or shopping. If the community all laughs at these jokes or memes, or compliments the sign, they are all affirming that they don’t like having Jews in their midst. They are saying that they will side with the joker or sign-poster over the Jewish population if shit goes down. You are telling the local Jews that they are outnumbered and unwelcome. This is why people invented the word micro-aggression: one meme doesn’t prevent them from getting a job or a home loan, but many memes will. And preventing them from getting a job or a house prevents them from affording insulin or getting their kids adequate nutrition or avoiding eviction. That collective action is violence, but it can only be opposed on the level of the individual meme, joke, or sign. That opposition to the threat of violence is what you are labeling as “policing.” And the group that violence is being used against needs to be the one that defines it. Not me or you watching from the outside.

Addressing the Meme at Hand

The meme you shared displays Hitler, Stalin, and Mao next to each other, each with a death toll listed under their names. The basic format is designed to look innocuous and factual, but is incredibly anti-semitic if you poke it even a little. The creators of this format low-ball the body count of the Holocaust and wildly inflate the numbers for the other two to make it look like Hitler wasn’t so bad after all by comparison. That’s the first layer. The second is that communism has long been blamed on “the international Jewry”, recently rebranded as the “globalists”. Anything left of John McCain is a Jewish conspiracy to some people – namely, the kinds of people who make these memes.

In other words, the meme is saying that, actually, Jews killed billions of people, while the Holocaust wasn’t so bad and Hitler got a bad rap. That’s the meme. That’s the message it is trying to send. And that is what you are defending. I just want that to be super clear that [me or a person close to me] is [marginalized identity]. And jokes like this, in the not-very-distant past, have created cultural environments in which the people I love would have been rounded up and executed. Convincing people that Hitler wasn’t that bad is the first step to normalizing fascism, which, by definition, wants to exterminate anyone who doesn’t fit in.

A meme like this is a threat of violence. If it is allowed to spread, unopposed, it signals a clear support for, AT MINIMUM, the expulsion of an entire people. At worst, it sets the stage for ethnic cleansing. According to the people who make memes like this one, I am a race traitor and should be hanged for marrying a Jewish woman. So no, I don’t support their freedom of speech or their right to spread their memes where they like.