Opinion

Trump Republicans Love Candace Owens Because She Sells Their Brand of Fascism

It's no coincidence that Trump's key boosters serially rehabilitate Hitler's nationalism, or that Candace Owens loves the idea that the Nazi dictator just wanted to 'make Germany great again'

Candace Owens of Turning Point USA and Mort Klein of ZOA arrive at a House Judiciary Committee hearing discussing the rise of white nationalism on Capitol Hill. April 9, 2019
AFP

This week, Republicans chose a 29-year old hard right provocateur who frequently speaks about the threat of Islam destroying the West as their expert witness to testify on the rise of white nationalism.

Candace Owens is the Communications Director of Turning Point USA, a political action group closely aligned with President Donald Trump.

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She was joined by ZOA president Mort Klein, a supporter of Pamela Geller and Stephen Bannon, who likewise frequently disparages Muslims and Arabs. Both Islamophobes attempted to blame the New Zealand massacre on "the Left," despite the explicit white nationalist ethos of the alleged murderer, who cited Owens by name as his inspiration.

This is part of a broader misinformation campaign by Republicans that seeks to portray Nazism itself as a "socialist" ideology. Among *countless* other proofs of this gross falsehood, the entire spectrum of rightwing parties voted in favor of the Enabling Act in 1933 which legitimated Hitler's dictatorship, while every socialist voted against it.

Other times, Republicans redefine "globalism" to refer to fascism’s military conquests, as if most nationalist movements have not historically sought to expand their influence beyond their borders. Or, they simply dismiss Hitler as "crazy," as Owens did again yesterday.

These falsehoods have been frequently debunked, but a closer look at Owen’s defense of Hitler at a speech two months ago - replayed at the hearing by Rep. Ted Lieu - reveals a deeper reason for their misinformation campaign.

In February, Buzzfeed released a video showing Owens defending Trump’s embrace of nationalism by insisting that the term’s application to Hitler was unfair. "If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, she explained, "OK, fine."

She continued: "The problem is that he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize. He wanted everybody to be German, everybody to be speaking German. Everybody to look a different way. To me, that’s not nationalism. In thinking about how we could go bad down the line, I don’t really have an issue with nationalism. I really don’t."

The backlash came fast and furious. Setting aside her ironic attack on "globalization" at a British event designed to export the gospel of Trumpist nationalism, many focused on her dangerous ignorance.

For example, anti-Semitism was at the very core of Nazism, which began implementing an anti-Semitic agenda from the moment it came to power. "Making Germany Great Again" meant, above all, targeting and removing Jews as part of the Nazi promise to restore pre-modern racial hierarchies.

Owens - who enjoys an audience of over a million followers on Twitter - responded quickly via video, repeating two counterpoints over and over. First, she tapped Trump’s favorite ad hominem fallacy and described the news source that exposed her video as the lying "scum of the Earth." Secondly, she doubled down on her ignorance of Nazism and Hitler, dismissing him as "not a nationalist" but rather as a "homicidal, psychotic maniac who was bent on world domination."

She repeated this almost verbatim at yesterday’s Congressional hearing, including this doubling down: "A nationalist would not kill their own people." 

Hitler, of course, was an extreme nationalist. He viewed the world through the prism of ethno-nationalism, understanding the entire history of humanity as simply the rise and fall of nations based on their ability to maintain racial purity.

Nor did Hitler seek to "make everyone speak German" through his conquests, a ridiculous claim that misunderstands his entire nationalist worldview and the history of the war.

The primacy of the "Aryan" nation over others, and of the national collective over any individual, sat at the center of his worldview. When he murdered German Jews, he was not, as Owens claimed, "murdering his own people," according to his worldview.

Most importantly, Owens’s open attraction to Nazism, with its program to "make Germany great," as she put it, followed by her attempt to exclude Hitler and the Holocaust from the camp of nationalists, reveals a profound truth about Trumpism and those who are attracted to it.

Trumpism is a variant of fascism. Owens - a devotee of Trumpist nationalism - lacks a sense of how Nazism, a fascist movement that elevated the (racially defined) good of the nation above all other values, was at its core an indecent, evil movement well before it developed plans for genocide.

She openly defended Nazism, apart from its global conquest, because it has unsettling parallels to elements of Trump’s program.

For example, twentieth-century fascists did not seek to assimilate outsiders into their nation, as Owens claimed. On the contrary, fascists viewed humanity as peoples divided by immutable national identities.

Like Trump, they actually sought alliances with other ethno-nationalist movements, preferring authoritarian despots to liberal democracies. It was precisely such a foreign movement Owens was trying to nurture in Britain, during that lecture.

As with Trumpism, Nazis and other fascists glorified a mythic, national past while blaming all problems on a demonized, scapegoat minority. They promised a glorious future once that enemy was defeated; they promised, just as she celebrated, to make Germany great again. 

Nazi troops bearing torches march in Berlin to celebrate Hitler taking over power on Jan. 30, 1933
AP

As with Trumpism, fascists like Hitler promoted a male superman who presented himself as the singular hope for the nation - recall Trump’s "I and I alone can save us" - and the restoration of "traditional" gender and ethnic hierarchies, including opposition to sexual "deviance." (The famous book burning image of the Nazis was of the library of a pioneering institute of sex and gender research.)

Nazis and other fascists shared with Trump a view of the world as a Darwinian struggle of winners and losers, and like Trump, they valued violence as a positive good - appreciating the "beauty of violence" - and frequently engaged in violent rhetoric.

The list goes on. Fascists attacked the free media (Nazis kept repeating the mantra of the "lying press") as a way of gaslighting readers and neutralizing the threat of their exposure. They attacked the judiciary while engaging in a years-long struggle to replace its judges with new ones sympathetic to the party, part of what the Nazis called Gleichschaltung. They demonized political opponents - including the leader’s personal opponents - as internal "enemies."

And they nearly always came to power with only a large minority of support, consistently put over the top by conservative elites who preferred them to moderate liberals.

None of this is to say that Trump is Hitler, a gross overstatement. Among many other differences, Hitler was a true nationalist. Trump, in contrast, exploits nationalist rhetoric to amass power for the purpose of personal enrichment.  

But this moment allows us a window into the appeal of Trumpism among those who fail to recognize its inherent indecency. And it helps us understand why one of his most important spokespeople – in Britain to export ethno-nationalism, and in Congress to double down on and defend it - might be attracted to the idea of Nazis making Germany great again.

Joshua Shanes is Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston. He has published widely on modern Jewish politics, culture and religion and is a frequent public speaker on these issues