This past weekend, the New York Times published a profile of an American Nazi that rightly stirred up a major backlash. The article, which dwells at length on the apparent normality of Tony Hovater, its subject, casts a revealing light on U.S. intellectual elites, who persist in underplaying the existential crisis facing the American republic. Amid increasing neo-fascist mobilization, and during the tenure of a president who routinely peddles far-right talking points and policies and equivocates on condemning white supremacists, the Times has produced a soft-focus profile of one of the founding members of the country’s leading neo-Nazi groups.
In other words, one of America’s papers of record, whose writers and editors routinely interact with the most powerful people in the world, has published an article that treats the specter of far-right violence, an increasingly present reality for millions of immigrants and people of color in the United States, as just another voice in the marketplace of ideas. It is as though fascism, the 20th century’s most murderous ideology, has become an obscure, little-understood footnote in history.
The only way such a piece could have been produced — despite the Times’ rigorous editorial standards — is if, at a fundamental level, its staff did not understand the threat represented by Hovater. Or, more to the point, Times staffers are not afraid of Hovater, the way so many of us are — we who are Jewish, Muslim, black, brown or queer, and who have always known that behind Hovater’s dog whistle references to “tradition” and “normies” (i.e., normal people) lies a genocidal vision for America’s future.
Or perhaps Times staffers are simply insulated and figure (correctly) that, when the violence begins, it will not be directed at people like them: wealthy, white and mobile. Hovater and his extremist associates are far more likely to prioritize the murder and expulsion of static, poor, black and brown communities — those who are close at hand. The “coastal elites” in New York, Washington and San Francisco, although reviled by the likes of Hovater and Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief of staff, as “cosmopolitan elites,” are protected from the real consequences of their politics by geography and privilege.
That, in any case, is how it has always been. The primary targets of white terrorism in the United States have always been local. Klansmen lynched their black and brown neighbors; however much they may have claimed to despise them, they did not travel to Manhattan to purge New York of its literati. The Nazis, likewise, organized ordinary Germans and ordinary Europeans to exterminate their neighbors, to loot their homes, to erase the memories of their ever having existed at all. There is, therefore, nothing novel or unique about Hovater’s humdrum suburban life. He is an ordinary monster — but such monsters have always been ordinary.