Obama urges voters to protect democracy, complacency could lead to fascism

By Updated at 2017-12-09 09:23:18 +0000


Many US right wing commentators have hit out at former President Barack Obama after he evoked Nazi Germany in a bid to encourage voters to remain vigilant and protect democracy.

"We get complacent and assume that things continue as they have been, just automatically, and they don't," Obama said in comments to the Economic Club of Chicago earlier this week.

"You have to tend to this garden of democracy - otherwise, things can fall apart fairly quickly. And we've seen societies where that happens," he added, referring to the late 1920 and 1930s.

"Now, presume there was a ballroom here in Vienna in the late 1920s or 30s that looked pretty sophisticated and seemed as if it, filled with the music and art and literature and science that was emerging, would continue into perpetuity," Obama said.

"And then 60 million people died. An entire world was plunged into chaos." "So you've got to pay attention and vote." About 60 million people died in WWII.

During the event, the former President mentioned similar themes of responding to a changing political landscape, mentioning examples from America's history.

"FDR is one of my political heroes. In my mind, the second greatest president after Lincoln. ... But he interned a bunch of loyal Japanese Americans during World War II. That was a threat to our institutions," he said.

'Joseph McCarthy rose to corrosive prominence at the midpoint of the 20th century by riding hysteria and spurring it on,' writes Solomon. Sadly, some 'lawmakers on Capitol Hill seem inclined to let it happen again.'

"There have been periods in our history where censorship was considered OK. We had the McCarthy era. We had a President who had to resign prior to impeachment because he was undermining rule of law. At every juncture, we've had to wrestle with big problems."

Obama also defended the necessity of a free press.
"During my presidency, the press often drove me nuts," he said. "There were times where I thought reporters were ill-informed.

There were times where they didn't actually get the story right. But what I understood was that principle of the free press was vital, and that, as President, part of my job was to make sure that that was maintained."

Images of the speech were shared on Twitter by some of 1,800 talk attendees — mostly business leaders in the Chicago area.

Right wing commentators seized on the comments as inappropriately comparing current US President Donald Trump to the mass-murdering fascist Adolf Hitler.

Obama never mentioned Trump or Hitler by name.
Right-wing TV Fox News commentator Jesse Watters said the comparison was "horrible."

"I thought Obama was better than this. To compare his successor to Adolf Hitler. Horrible. Horrible. Just demeaning. Beneath him," he said in a discussion on The Five talk show.

The racist comments of Donald Trump


US President Donald Trump is not known for political correctness or a use of language that takes sensitivities into account. The list of his racist comments is long. Here's a round-up.

Hateful rhetoric, insulting tweets, or - such as this week since the far-right violence in Charlottesville - his inability to clearly identify and distance himself from right-wing extremism.

Many of Trump's statements and attitudes have been met with consternation and outrage the world over.

Trump on Obama: 'Why doesn't he show his birth certificate?'

A black president? For followers of the racist "birther" movement, it was inconceivable. Trump was long the most prominent among them to sow lies about Barack Obama's background, claiming he was born in Kenya, not the US, and was not Christian.

"Why doesn't he show his birth certificate?" Trump said in a 2011 interview for US broadcaster ABC. Trump followed up this initial falsehood during the 2012 presidential campaign, tweeting: "An 'extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that @BarackObama's birth certificate is a fraud."

Trump continued to call Obama's legitimacy into question even after the White House released Obama's birth certificate. Only as a candidate for president himself, in September 2016, did Trump changed course, saying: "President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period." Neither he nor Obama have publicly said if Trump ever apologized for spreading the lie.

Trump on Mexican immigrants: 'Criminals and rapists'

Mexico and its citizens were a regular target of the Trump campaign. "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," he said in 2015. "They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists."

"And some," he added, "I assume, are good people."
This view formed the basis for Trump's campaign promise to build a border wall and "make Mexico pay for it."

Trump on dead Muslim soldier's mother: 'Allowed to speak?'

United States Army Captain Humayun Khan was killed in Iraq in 2004.

His parents, Americans with Pakistani roots, spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, criticizing Trump's candidacy and its inherent racism. The father, Khizr Khan, spoke; his wife, Ghazala, stood by him.

Trump's interpretation of the scene: "If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably - maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say."

Many on social media described his comment as disrespectful as well as overtly anti-Muslim.

Trump on Arabs and Muslims: 'Islam hates us'

Trump's anti-Muslim and Arab sentiments have been routinely quoted. In a 2015 ABC interview, he expressed the completely made-up claim that Arabs celebrated the September 11 attacks.

"There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down." It never happened.

In early 2016, Trump said on CNN: "I think Islam hates us." And later: "We're having problems with the Muslims, and we're having problems with Muslims coming into the country."

The latter comment led to one of Trump's first major policy moves as president: A travel ban for people from six Muslim-majority countries, the legality of which was challenged and largely struck down in court.

Trump on right-wing extremism: 'Racism is evil,' or is it?

Trump was at first quiet following last weekend's violence between left and right-wing protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Then the president blamed "violence on both sides," without explicitly calling out neo-Nazis and other racists. Following fierce criticism at home and abroad, Trump finally made a clear statement: "Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs."

However, at a press conference just a few days later, Trump changed course: "You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent," he said.

Trump's critics charge that he has not done enough to credibly distance himself from white-supremacist and other right-wing movements. His aide, Steve Bannon, was editor-in-chief of Breitbart News, a mouthpiece of the far-right movement known as alt-right.

Many right-wing activists and groups feel emboldened by Trump's comments. Critics say he does not do enough to distance himself from white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan or the alt-right movement.

What are the links between US and German neo-Nazis?


Swastikas on shields. Cries of "Blood and Soil." Nazi symbols and slogans were on full display in the Charlottesville confrontations. DW looks at where US and German neo-Nazis overlap.

Confederate flags were to be expected at last weekend's far-right "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. After all, the organizers' self-described purpose was to protest the removal of a statue of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who led the South in the American Civil War in its fight to secede and continue slavery.

But alongside white supremacists and white nationalists, the rally also drew neo-Nazi groups, who brought swastikas, anti-Semitic epithets and T-shirts splayed with the words "Blood and Soil."
Though the rise and fall of the Nazi party took place in Germany, Nazi ideology is alive and well in the United States.

There are more than 90 far-right hate groups in the United States

A transatlantic history

To understand the present day, Federico Finchelstein, an expert in the history of transatlantic fascism at the New School, said it is important to remember there are strong historical ties between German and American Nazism that go back to before the rise of the Nazi party.

The Nazi party admired US racist and segregationist policy during the early 20th century, modeling its Nuremberg laws on Jim Crow legislation, which mandated public segregation.

Hitler himself admired German stories about the American West by Karl May. "His idea was that the US was an example of Aryan conquest," Finchelstein told DW. Hitler's belief is echoed in many American neo-Nazis' perception of themselves as inheritors of the Aryan legacy.

Numerous neo-Nazi movements rose and fell in the US, including the German American Bund in the 1930s, the American Nazi Party in 1959, and the National Alliance, founded by William Pierce in 1974.

A Bund parade in New York, October 30, 1939. At this point in history, Germany had already invaded Poland and war was declared in Europe. The U.S. would remain neutral for another two years.
(Credit: Library of Congress)

The nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes in the US, has reported that 99 neo-Nazi groups - those that admire Hitler and perceive "the Jew" as their primary enemy - exist in the United States today, with many having attended the Charlottesville rally.

Nazi symbols

The neo-Nazi groups there displayed Nazi symbols including the infamous swastika, an ancient symbol used by Hitler as the Nazi Party's primary symbol.

But other Nazi emblems were present, too. These included the Othala, a pre-Roman rune used by the National Socialist Movement of America since November 2016 that once was a favored symbol of the Nazi party. They also showed off the Black Sun, a symbol favored by Heinrich Himmler, a leading Nazi and chief of the paramilitary SS.

Some of the far-right protesters came dressed in Nazi-era style steel helmets and fully armed in paramilitary style. In Finchelstein's opinion, invocation of violence evokes fascist ideology, such as Nazism.

He also said there "is a clear understanding" in the United States of what the German Nazi symbols mean and that people showing them were aware of their significance.

'Blood and Soil'

No less present than the symbols of Nazi ideology were words - both written and heard - whose roots lie in Nazism.
Supporters of Vanguard America, one neo-Nazi group present at the Charlottesville protest, bore shirts with the group's slogan "Blood and Soil" and chanted it aloud.

The phrase is a translation from the German "Blut und Boden," which expressed the idea dear to Nazis that ethnic purity is based on blood descent and land.

Other far-right individuals were members of some 31 Troll Army "book clubs" founded by the neo-Nazi newspaper The Daily Stormer.

The daily digital publication takes its name from "Der Stürmer," a Nazi propaganda newspaper founded by Julius Streicher in 1923 that advocated for the extermination of the Jews.

Anti-Semitic sentiment went beyond this group association to explicit statements, with nighttime neo-Nazi marchers crying, "Jews will not replace us," and at least one white nationalist captured in a Washington Post video saying his goal was "killing Jews."

Links between leaders?

Though the historical ties and the common ideology between neo-Nazi movements in the US and Germany are well documented, the proven extent of ties between German and American neo-Nazi organizations today remain more nebulous.

Most connections fall into the blurry area of extreme right-wing groups that deny neo-Nazi missions even as they employ elements of the ideology.

National Alliance founder Pierce died in 2002, but the neo-Nazi "frequently moved in NPD circles and spoke at NPD gatherings" in Germany, Thomas Drumke, an expert on US right-wing extremism at the Technical College for Public Administration, told DW, using the acronym for the right-wing National Democratic Party of Germany.

Drumke also said Richard Spencer, a leader of the "alt-right" - a catch-all branding euphemism for mainly US far-right, nationalist and white supremacy groups - "maintains very close ties to the Identitarians" in Europe.

This group denies that they are neo-Nazis - as does Spencer - with both claiming a desire to preserve white identity.

Spencer made headlines in November 2016 when he repurposed Hitler's "Sieg Heil" cry with his words, "Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!" and was greeted with Nazi stiff-arm salutes from the audience.

Spencer spoke at the Charlottesville rally, where the Identitarian-inspired American spin-off group Identity EVROPA was also present.

Additionally, the Institute for State Policy, a think tank in Schnellroda, Germany, that advocates turning away from modern liberal democracy, invited US white supremacist leader Jack Donovan to speak at a February 2017 conference.

The think tank's other guests have included members of the NPD, the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Identitarians.

Germany's public international broadcaster-DW'