On 9 November 1938, incited by Adolph Hitler, the German Fascist Dictator, mobs of military, paramilitary and civilians smashed into and destroyed the houses and businesses of people known to be Jewish across Germany and Austria. This event happened about five years into Hitler’s rule and the progressive exclusion of Jewish people from German society. It was a precursor to much worse things, in particular the policy of the final solution, which led more than six million Jews – around half of all European Jews – to be murdered in the years to 1945.
There are some disturbing similarities and important differences between these events in 1938 and the current state of things. The most obvious similarity is the systematic breaking of glass, both in the USA at the State Capitol and in New Zealand’s own Parliament. The most obvious difference is that the Kristallnacht action was targeted at a group in society – people of the Jewish faith – whereas recent actions have been directed at governments.
The reason for this is obvious. Hitler used emergency powers to shut down opposition parties and run his own Reichstag (largely as a propaganda tool) from 1933 onwards. By the time he was readied for his assaults on parts of civil society, there was no democratic government to oppose him.
The fact that Donald Trump did not ‘own’ the Congress led to him inciting his followers to violence to bend the lawmakers to his will. Hitler would never have taken such a namby pamby route – he drove the opposition out by banning them under emergency powers and setting up an alternative government. It took Hitler five years of dictatorship to get to the Kristallnacht stage. Trump’s Kristallnacht took four years of Presidency and one of the largest propaganda (the purveying of fake truths) assaults since the second world war.
I think there is a lot to fear in the USA. Threat assessments there include escalating violence against government targets in all 50 states and further uprisings and violence. Some of you who read this blog accuse me of being hysterical. In reply, to treat what has been happening as ‘situation normal’ is clearly wrong. The rise of the Fascist right around the world has been evident for many years now and should not be ignored any longer. To an extent, the Covid situation has brought it to a head, with people combining race, post-truth, misogyny and now anti-Covid positions into a venal new politics highly amenable to political action.
While millions of people appear willing to do the work that Trump demands of them in the USA, things have been a lot quieter on the fake news front here in New Zealand. People have, I think, been more bemused than threatened by the issues raised by Billy Te Kahika and Jami-Lee Ross in the election campaign last year. Nevertheless, the party attracted 28,434 party votes, around two thirds of the 42k received by the equally daft New Conservatives. That is a reasonable haul in a small country like ours. About 1%.
Thursday’s protest at Parliament worked on very similar themes to the US actions, with a focus on ‘freedom’, specifically freedom to opt out of the Covid regulations. The following was on Newshub:
Billy Te Kahika… made his usual false claims about the virus’ mortality, praised local scientists (the Plan B group) who urged New Zealand adopt the lockdown-free Sweden response model, called for the death of a German economist called Klaus Schwab, called microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles a “purple pink-haired communist”, ridiculed experts who back vaccines, falsely claimed the new strains from the UK and South Africa aren’t more dangerous, and that five-year-olds are being taught about masturbation in schools.
This is not generally the same list of things coming out of the US, although there are significant overlaps in context and even more when you look at the overall vibe of the thing. Schwab is reviled by some on the right for his strong views that the world economy needs to be reset in the wake of the pandemic towards a kinder, more inclusive, capitalism.
Te Kahika’s grab-bag of goodies (why do these male right wingers always have to bring a sexual element into their campaigns, FFS?), however, is just the kind of rhetoric to which people with multiple grievances can cling, providing them allies in their struggles against power. It is the American Q-Anon in smaller form.
And just when you dismiss it as a small group of deluded persons, you start reading the comments on blogs like mine. Being a leftist blog, one would not really expect to be read by people on the other end of the spectrum, but evidently they love to disagree. Hence, in my last blog, I received this tantalising comment:
You folk are all in for a rude awakening, Trump is not going anywhere. have you not learnt the lesson stop following the fake news. Do we not have any journalists “worth their weight”
Is this a New Zealander? What is this rude awakening? Do they really believe that Trump will remain President? What is this (particular) fake news?
I know that some MPs (mainly from the National Party, I think) believe that our parliament buildings are far too insecure. If people are going to charge in to occupy, kidnap or disrupt, that is clearly the case. There are large public areas, a number of entrances and lots of spaces which are not protected by an electronic key. It would not take too much help from inside to open up the rubber door (a ground-level doorway which is widely used by staff) to intruders. I love the openness of Parliament but if we are moving into more troubled times then I guess a further tightening (for in the past there was virtually no security) will have to happen.
There are barriers to the rightist groups in New Zealand combining into a single movement. Race is important, and Te Kahika’s followers are notably brown, while there has always been a racist (white) right in this country. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and perhaps INCEL and Covid concerns might bridge the racial divide in the movement. Also, Trump is not their leader here. I doubt if Te Kahika is either. Leadership is important here, and that is a page that is yet to be written.
Our Kristallnacht this week was a small thing, much less disturbing than the mob that assailed Congress in the US and is poised to protest at every State Capitol next week. As is the custom in New Zealand, the actual window-smashing appeared to have been carried out by a lone person with mental health problems. But the confluence of that with the Te Kahika protest against Covid restrictions, protests against government measures to restrict freedoms (small as they are) and the much more frequent pops on social media outlining far right views, make me think that there is a rising tide of Fascist right views in Aotearoa. They may not be coming for us yet, but the price of freedom is, as they say, eternal vigilance.
Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.