How the Swastika Became a Confederate Flag

In Racism On

The white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Va., this month over a plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, shows how this is likely to go. The marchers feigned civility. But a closer look shows that the protest drew on the toxic symbolism of the Third Reich in ways that few Americans would recognize.

By wielding torches in a protest staged by night, the demonstrators nodded to Nazi rallies held during the 1930s at Nuremberg, where the open flame was revered as a mystical means of purifying the Aryan spirit. They reinforced this toxic connection by chanting “blood and soil,” a Nazi-era slogan that connected German ethnic purity to cultivation of the land and, more broadly, to the notion that the “master race” was divinely entitled to confiscate the holdings of “lesser peoples,” even if it meant slaughtering them along the way.

The demonstrators at Charlottesville — led by the theatrically inclined white supremacist Richard Spencer — had no real interest in the civic or aesthetic value of the monument they ostensibly came to defend. The essence of their argument was that any attempt to renounce Confederate ideology by moving this — or any — monument would be an assault on the so-called white race.

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