There are Nazis in America. We fought a war against them back in the 1940s. World War 2 to be precise. From what I remember of American history, I thought we had won that war.
The few past decades have seen a resurgence in neo-fascist movements across both the United States and Europe. The Nazis have returned. To be more accurate, there has always been some marginal acceptance of fascism, but recent circumstances in the United States and abroad have brought these extremist groups renewed support and public attention. Real and perceived grievances, as well as mainstream political recognition, have fostered a favorable climate permitting neo-fascist movements to grow within democratic states. It is present in Russia and Chechnya and large portions of the former Soviet Bloc with the Ultra-Nationalists, in Poland, in France with the National Front, in the United Kingdom with the National Action, and, for the focus of this discussion, in the United States of America and in Greece. Both the US and Greece have witnessed increased Neo-Nazi activity in response to a number of both internal and external factors. And although the two countries are quite dissimilar, and their circumstances are not equivalent, the parallels between the two fascist movements and their origins make for an interesting discussion.
Seva Gunitsky posits in their 2017 article for the Washington Post’s ‘Monkey Cage’ ‘These are the three reasons fascism spread in 1930s America — and might spread again today,’ the origin of the American Nazi was directly related to the domestic and international climate; the Great Depression, the fear of Communism, and the apparent success of Nazi Germany.
When discussing today’s Neo-Nazi, Gunitsky attributed the current resurgence to three similar factors: The Economic Recession from 2009 and the resulting growth in economic inequality, the fear of “globalist and elite technocrats,” and “the appearance of an ideological rival [in China] that seemed to outperform America’s corrupt democracy.” Additionally, a misplaced fear of immigrants and foreigners, precipitated by the perceived threats of extremism and terrorism, and magnified by the rhetoric of the current administration, has further empowered the American Neo-Nazi movement. Subliminal white nationalist sentiments by the same administration have likewise emboldened these movements by embracing ideals of white supremacists and racial separatists, while openly validating the perceived inferiority of non-whites.
It is important to discuss the differences between the perception and the reality of these issues and the role they play in creating and empowering neo-fascists movements as it vital in the analysis of both the American and Greek cases. Many of the issues raised by the Nazi groups constitute little actual danger, yet the perception of the threat is deeply rooted in the broader (sub-)cultural narrative stretching back to the Reconstruction Period following the American Civil War. In The Politics of Resentment, Kathy Cramer discusses the rural-urban divide and the feelings of resentment in rural, predominantly white, communities engendered by a mixture of real and perceived injustices perpetrated by less-rural populations and the notional ‘urban elite.’ The sentiments she discusses are reminiscent of, although to a lesser degree, that of the Ku Klux Klan, which was created out of and is focused within Southern, rural communities and which has become synonymous with the American Nazi.
Parallels to their American counterparts abound throughout the rise and resurgence of Greek neo-fascist movements, especially the Golden Dawn. The Popular Association—Golden Dawn—is a Greek far-right and ultranationalist political party with a history of violence, as well as strong ties to other Neo-Nazi parties both in Greece and across Europe. Both the social and political climate in Greece is a powder keg primed for extremism and violence by the continued effects of the Global Financial Crisis in 2009, which has had lasting social and economic effects within Greece. Many Greeks place the blame for their continued economic instability, as well as the influx of refugees following the Syrian Civil War, squarely on the European Union, leading to increasingly tense relations with the rest of the Eurozone. Greece has become a major hub for refugee movement into Europe from Turkey or across the Mediterranean Sea, which fuels the Neo-Nazi’s fear and hatred of the ‘other’ emblemized by these refugees, who represent a perceived danger due to their unwillingness to assimilate and participate in Greek society. These factors closely parallel the situation in America and help to illuminate common conditions that give rise to the neo-fascist movements.
The appearance of Neo-Nazi movements internationally constitutes a major threat to both democracy and peace. At the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally, at the refugee camp on the Greek island of Chios, and time and again across both Europe and America, these extremist groups have been willing to use violence and the threat thereof both to intimidate and to directly correct perceived injustices. The Nazis also feed off one another; according to Anthee Carassava for the Independent, the fascist party in the Greek government has been “energized” by the election and subsequent actions of US President Donald Trump. One of the Golden Dawn’s leaders, Elias Panagiotaros, was quoted saying that Trump and his views have validated their own and furthered their campaign for their far-right positions. “We should follow Trump’s beat,” [Panagiotaros] said. “We shouldn’t leave Greece like an open field for migrants to come and go as they want. We should reclaim our country and our interests and put them first, just like Trump.” Finally, the neo-fascist movements act as a destabilizing force within democratic countries. They polarize the population by generating fear of minorities and marginalized communities while also providing a voice for some of the basest of human instincts.
73 years ago, we fought and won a bloody war against one of the cruelest and most ruthless regimes in modern history, yet our governments and our people continue to permit this same enemy to live among us to this day. There are Nazis in America.