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In history, on April 1, 1924:
Adolf Hitler is sentenced for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch (apologies for mispronouncing Putsch) of November 8, 1923. The attempted coup in Munich by right-wing members of the army and the Nazi Party was foiled by the government, and Hitler was charged with high treason. Despite his conviction, Hitler was out of jail before the end of the year, with his political position stronger than ever.
Germany was in the midst of a national crisis in the early 1920s. After World War I, its economy was in shambles, and hyperinflation caused widespread discontent. Hitler and the Nazis stepped into this breach with often-racist demagoguery that attracted a significant following throughout the nation.
The failed coup turned out to be quite a boon for Adolf Hitler. His trial brought him more attention and publicity than ever before. With a crowd of thousands-including press from around the world-watching the proceedings, Hitler made the most of this opportunity by going on the offensive.
Hitler rose to power through democratic means by exploiting the suffering with nationalism and scapegoating. Suffering is always an opportunity for charismatic con artists and brutally power-hungry, authoritarian leaning leaders; it makes people eager for someone to blame and more receptive to the dehumanization of the Other.
Hitler went on with the help of millions to murder 6 million Jews.
Only 43% of Americans know that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany through a democratic political process according to Pew.
The Holocaust didn’t start with the gas chambers. The Rwandan genocide didn’t start with killings that followed. It started with dehumanization. Dehumanization is behind cruelty, and it’s behind genocide. But it can be halted at any stage, according to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide.
The U.N. points out we must have the will of applying the lessons learned from Rwanda, Srebrenica, and the Holocaust so that we can identify risk factors and prevent genocide rather than to wait to when people are being killed.
Throughout history, dehumanizing rhetoric enables the path to mass killing. It’s not necessary, of course. There can be genocide without dehumanization. But dehumanization is understood by experts as a common preparatory path toward mass murder. It’s important to recognize and prevent dehumanization.
How do we get to a point where large sections of society accept that others are “unworthy of life”? It takes a lot of work to upend the moral code that we are judged on how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable among us, but Republicans managed to do that with little blowback when they championed Trump even after he had mocked Gold Star families and a disabled reporter.
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Mainstreaming that kind of cruelty shouldn’t be easy. In a healthy democracy, it wouldn’t be. With responsible corporate stewardship in media and social media, it wouldn’t be.
But we don’t have either here. And so the House Judiciary Committee Republicans only deleted their “Kanye. Elon. Trump.” tweet after Ye praised Hitler, but they left it up even after he called for the death of Jews.
This is not a party we can trust to guide us morally, after all it’s being led by Donald Trump.
Authoritarians often use Christianity as a cover for their cruelty and as part of a cultural Christian nationalism underneath which they can grab massive amounts of power.
Elon responded to Kanye after Kanye praised Hitler by suggesting Jesus would turn the other cheek. That’s a grotesque and wrong way of using Jesus to justify giving a platform to hate.
Hate spreads. It has to be contained. It’s not something to be elevated. Remember, Elon had already given Kanye his account back after he called for the death of Jews. So he gave Kanye an account with huge reach and then suggested we turn the other cheek as Kanye’s speech created a path for violence against Jewish people at a time when the DHS already warned anti-Semitism is at a historical high.
Elon unsuspended the Twitter account of a neo-Nazi who founded the infamous white supremacy website Stormfront and said women should be “raped and locked in cages.”
“Officials are predicting that Twitter will contribute to more violence in the months ahead, citing the proliferation of extreme content, including support for genocidal Nazis by celebrities with wide followings and the reemergence of QAnon proselytizers and white nationalists,” the Washington Post reported Saturday.
The New York Times reported: “Hate speech on Twitter has jumped since Elon Musk took over, researchers found. Musk ‘sent up the Bat Signal to every kind of racist, misogynist and homophobe that Twitter was open for business,’ the head of one of the research groups said.”
Responsible people try to prevent dehumanizing speech. They don’t elevate it and give it a huge platform.
Shouldn’t people who hold global communications power be expected to know the basics about how Hitler rose to power and the role that dehumanizing hate speech plays in violence? Or, do they perhaps know the basics and just not care. Or even worse, do they know the basics and seek to help rising fascism?
Yet, we have to “educate” social media platform owners about the dangers of elevating hate speech. Of rewarding it with their algorithms. Over and over again.
Elon Musk grew up in racist Apartheid Africa, an authoritarian culture that kept South Africa dominated by minority whites. The New York Times reported on Musk’s background, “Interviews with relatives and former classmates reveal an upbringing in elite, segregated white communities that were littered with anti-Black government propaganda, and detached from the atrocities that white political leaders inflicted on the Black majority.”
That’s not encouraging. It gets worse, because his father Errol tried to defend Elon’s upbringing:
“Still, Errol offered a description of their lives that underscored how removed they were from the country’s violent reality. They got along well with Black people, he said, pointing to his children’s good relationship with their domestic staff, and he described life in South Africa during apartheid as being mostly better and safer than it is now.”
This gives a perhaps heightened example and insight into the kinds of people who own almost all of our media now: Out of touch billionaires whose idea of getting along well with marginalized people is that the people serve them and they feel they have a good relationship with the servants. What is missing from this point of view is how the servant feels. The servants don’t get important jobs at prestige outlets. We don’t hear their voices. They aren’t humanized for the culture. They aren’t centered. The frontline workers, the people working in low level service industry positions, they aren’t telling the stories.
We can’t be surprised, then, when Elon runs Twitter as a platform to disrupt the desire for democracy it helped illuminate and elevate under better leadership.
Elon has brought in his Right-wing contempt for humanity and is elevating anyone who has a large platform to assist in this mission. Yes, it’s true that he finally re-suspended Ye after the man posted a swastika inside the Star of David. But much like the Republican Party finally deleting their “Kanye. Elon. Trump.” tweet, he managed to move the bar in the process simply by having no moral code and no one to stop him.
It's predictably ironic that Elon, the supposed Free Speech absolutist, is using Twitter now to disrupt the power of societal response to businesses’ free speech.
The first amendment provides no protection from negative public response, or what the Right contemptuously refers to as cancel culture. Twitter gave people access to mass communication, it gave the People power to talk back, to regulate if you will, what the government cannot. Globally, we started important discussions about racism, bigotry and misogyny.
Elon is destroying the platform for those discussions and, in its place, elevating Nazis. Not only is he silencing his own critics, but critics of oligarchs, of unchecked power, of assaults on democracy and of encroaching fascism.
Elon is using Twitter as a missile of harm, disinformation, and hate. We are all challenged to remember history in this moment, so we can push to inform others and hope to prevent another movement of mass violence. Human rights and human dignity are the antidote to all of this hate.
As we struggle to center human dignity, it’s important to remember that Democrats just beat the odds during the 2022 midterms precisely because people are sick of the extremism coming from the Right. Plenty of Republican voters joined in to support Democrats instead of their own party to protect democracy. People don’t want this vile hate and extremism.
Elon’s Twitter is putting all of that ugliness on parade for the entire world to see.
It doesn’t speak well of the “values” motivating Republicans that they endorse and dine with people who praise Hitler and say horrifically dangerous things. They’re telling on themselves.
This isn’t Russia or Hungary, and while it can most certainly happen here, so far it is not working for them. Stay vigilant and remember to stand up for those among us who are being targeted. Stand up for human dignity. Together, we can do this.
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