As children, my brother and I often pestered our father with the question: “What did you do in the war, dad?”
The war we spoke of was the Big One: World War II, the last war America participated in that was viewed with a black-and-white moral clarity.
America erred in the lead up to and the early part of the war—we turned desperate Jewish refugees of Germany’s Nazi government away, denying them asylum and we incarcerated Japanese civilians, in the name of national security—but by the time I knew about the war in the late 1960s, America had for years been firmly established as the Good Guy.
The Big Bad Guy was Nazi Germany, as led by Adolf Hitler. My father fought in the Pacific theater of operations, but his best high school friend was killed in Italy as the Allies fought to take Italy back from fascists. Another childhood friend was part of the American force that liberated Dachau, the Nazi’s longest-operating concentration camp.
Even as youngsters, we unequivocally knew who the bad guys were.
These days, not even all elected officials are clear on why Nazis aren’t to be tolerated.
Recently, Gabrielle Hanson, an alderman and mayoral candidate in Franklin, Tennessee—my hometown—thought it was a cute idea to invite a neo-Nazi group to escort her and her husband into a public mayoral forum and to stick around and try to intimidate not only journalists but also ordinary citizens.
Since the Oct. 2 event, members of the group, called the Tennessee Active Club, have continued their intimidation tactics, posting on the encrypted chat app Telegram the addresses and home photos of some of Hanson’s critics. The posts are usually accompanied by messages about “silencing” critics, “beating the s- – – ” out of them—the latter meant for yours truly—or violent references to “The Turner Diaries,” a 1978 novel that is often called the white supremacists’ bible.
Yet, even though Brad Lewis, the leader of the Tennessee Active Club, has referred to himself as “an actual literal Nazi,” Hanson has not apologized for inviting the group to the Franklin forum and told her colleagues on the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen that they have brought the recent uproar on themselves.
Williamson County elected officials stayed pretty quiet on the Franklin mayor’s race in spite of Hanson’s prior actions, including her ridiculous claims about LGBTQ people when she was pushing for the city to deny a permit for the annual Pride day. They said nothing when news emerged that she had pleaded guilty to two charges of promoting prostitution in Texas in the 1990s—to be clear, I recognize people can change over time, but even after her past actions were reported, she has failed to own up to them—or when another news story reported on some of her other lies. In other words, it takes a lot for civilized Franklin politicians to get riled up.
But bringing Nazis into the community was a bridge too far. Hanson’s fellow aldermen excoriated her at Tuesday’s regular board meeting, following statements by Reps. Sam Whitson and Jake McAlmon, and Sen. Jack Johnson, all Republicans.
Alderman Bev Burger, whom many in Franklin view as the most conservative alderman on the board, who voted with Hanson to deny Franklin Pride their 2023 permit and who has donated money to Hanson in past elections, asked Hanson if she’s trying to tear up the city by bringing in a group of avowed white nationalists.
“Is it your mission to divide our city?” Burger asked at the Tuesday meeting. “Because you’re doing a bang-up job of it right now dividing our community.”
I argue that Burger is wrong. If anything, Hanson has united Franklin’s Democrats, old guard Republicans and independent voters, and that’s how it should be. A universal truth is that everyone should be able to recognize the immorality of supporting self-proclaimed Nazis or of wanting their support.
There’s nothing morally sound about authoritarian governments like Nazi Germany that were predicated on the supremacy of the white race, enacted a genocide of the Jewish people and targeted the country’s LGBTQ residents for death,as well, and I feel certain that when asked, most Americans would agree with my statement.
But not all Nazis look like Adolf Hitler, and not all white nationalism is as obvious as a swastika.
White nationalists, emboldened by former President Donald Trump, walk among us. You will not know them by how they look, and if they run for office, they may not be as clumsy as Hanson has been about revealing their politics.
Trump will almost surely be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024, warts, indictments and all. And his nomination will further embolden neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
We must use Franklin and Hanson’s mayoral run as a test case on a smaller scale. We must remember our fathers and grandfathers who fought—and in some cases, died—to keep Nazism and Fascism from winning. We must think of our Jewish friends, many of whom have family members killed in the Holocaust, and our Black friends, hated for the color of their skin, and we must defend them, for defending them is defending America.
Let the politics of hate unite us in opposition rather than divide us.
Now more than ever, tough and fair journalism is important. The Tennessee Lookout is your watchdog, telling the stories of politics and policy that affect the people of the Volunteer State.