Every day this week, we’ve been doing a deep dive into the rise of extremism in 1920 and 30’s Germany. We’ve discussed the parallels in the politics of extremism then and now. Hatred of immigrants. Religious intolerance. The way angry young men were radicalized into paramilitary groups that did the bidding of a strong man.
But in the final examination, it’s not the fire of extremism that allows fascism to take hold all at once. It’s the lukewarm response of the moderate that let’s it creep in a little at a time.
We’ve all heard the quote by Martin Niemöller (even if many can’t name him or attribute it to him):
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
What we often forget is that these words were not a condemnation so much as a confession. Niemöller had been actively complicit in the rise of the Nazi Party. He was a monarchist and fierce nationalist who supported Hitler’s goals right up until the moment that he realized his phone had been tapped by the Gestapo and his “Protestant Emergency League” was under surveillance. As a result, he spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. He is now remembered as an important figure in the “Confessing Church” movement: a small faction of German Protestants who opposed the Nazi rise to power.
German politics in the 20’s and 30’s is far too complex to even summarize in one sitting, but is inarguably true that religion was at least as powerful a force in the short lived Weimar Republic as it is today in the United States.
In the mid 1930’s there were roughly 40 million Protestant Christians in Germany, and for many Germans their politics were indiscernible from the Church they attended or the Pastor they followed. There were about 18,000 pastors ministering to those Protestant Germans, and there were never more than about 3,000 of them who spoke up against Hitler.
So the remaining 15,000 ministers must have all been Nazis, right? A few brave clergymen spoke up, but their voices were drowned out by the fire of the jack booted preachers who fell into line behind the flag of the German Reich? Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there were no more pro-Nazi pastors than anti-Nazi pastors. Just about 3,000. So who were the rest?
The rest of those spiritual and political leaders in the Weimar Republic were “moderates” who chose not to take a side.
They didn’t hate immigrants…but they didn’t fight for them either. They weren’t antisemites…but they didn’t resist the attempted extermination of Jews. They weren’t fascists…
But they damned sure weren’t Anti-Fascists.
The moderates of Weimar Republic Germany, both in the Reichstag and behind the pulpit, remained conspicuously silent on the rise of extremist hate, and they let their society become one of the most rightfully reviled in history.
All week, we’ve been discussing parallels between modern America and pre-WWII Germany. In particular we’ve been examining how those similarities are manifesting themselves here in Central Oregon. Everybody who’s remotely awake right now can point to people like Joe Manchi, Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Biden, and other “moderate” Democrats who are failing in their job to fight back against creeping extremism. But are we willing to turn that lens on our own community and have the hard conversations about how we are allowing it to happen here?
On January 11th of 2021 (just four days after the Capitol Insurrection) a group of Central Oregon pastors who call themselves “Clergy for Justice” wrote a guest column for the Bend Bulletin titled “Choose love over fear, compassion not canceling.” Rather than take a head-on stance in opposition to the rise of violent nationalism that was threatening our Democracy, these members of the clergy urged the people of our community to remain moderate. Their greatest concern was not the armed insurrectionists who stormed the halls of our nation’s legislature. Their caution was that we must not “cancel” those who had tried to seize power in the name of “blood and soil.”
But it isn’t just these preachers who are guilty of appeasement and silence.
The Redmond City Council (with one notable exception) failed to condemn the fact that a member of the hate group “People’s Rights” wore a Confederate uniform and flew the traitorous Confederate flag in a fourth of July parade right through the heart of their City.
The Bend City Council was conspicuously silent when a member of the Bend Police Department was caught wearing a patch associated with the violent nationalist gang the “Three Percent”, wrote social media posts depicted a suppressed firearms and the words “I hate my government”, and was found to have a notebook titled “People to Kill” that he kept in his personal vehicle.
That same Bend City Council voted to destroy the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors living in the Emerson road camp, all to appease business owners and not “rock the boat.” They’ve stalled and procrastinated on creating any solutions to the crisis of houselessness in Central Oregon, because they so fear the hate from the vocal minority of anti-houseless bigots.
Here’s the part where you, the reader, need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
You need to be uncomfortable, because we don’t get to just blame the preachers and the politicians. We are ALL complicit in the rise of extremist hate that has become a clear and present danger here in Central Oregon.
Every day this week, the violent militia led by BJ Soper and Scott Stuart have been demonstrating outside of Redmond Highschool. They are coming armed for our kids, and have been actively trying to lure those children to follow them off campus. We have our very own Sturmabteilung in Central Oregon, and with the exception of a few brave parents today…absolutely fuckin nobody have stood up to them and said “Leave our kids alone.”
Edmunde Burke said (with one edit on our part) “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good (people) to do nothing.”
What are you doing?
***photo of Bend City Council, County Commission Candidate Morgan Schmidt, and Redmond Mayor George Endicott. Superimposed image of German church in the 1930’s. Text reads “Part Four:” in white, and “The Deafening Silence of the Moderate” in red.***