Friday, February 24, 2012

Republican Racism Example #26: The Pretend Nazi And The Pretend Plumber



Rich Iott (pictured here second from the left) poses with fellow members of Wiking, a re-enactment group that relived the adventures of a Nazi SS unit that murdered Jews in the Soviet Union during World War II.  Iott lost as a Republican candidate for the U.S. House in Northwest Ohio in 2010 and he's now backing Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher.  (Photo take from The Atlantic website at http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/10/why-is-this-gop-house-candidate-dressed-as-a-nazi/64319/)

One’s a pretend Nazi.  The other is a pretend plumber.  They are political bunker mates.  Sounds like a bad sitcom.  Instead, it’s one of the saddest farces on this year’s electoral stage.

Rich Iott, with enthusiastic Tea Party support, won the Republican nomination in 2010 for the United States House of Representative in District 9 in Northwest Ohio. Like other Teabaggers, he railed against the evils of taxes, big government and Obama’s health care plan.   He was zealously anti-abortion and called for deporting all “illegals” from the United States.   He lost but today is a close ally of Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher who made a name for himself in 2008 for a well-publicized confrontation with then-candidate Barack Obama over the presidential hopeful’s tax proposals.

As a Congressional candidate in 2010, Iott proudly touted his lack of political experience as an asset.    What he didn’t brag about was his weekend hobby.

At least as far back as 2003, Iott and his son began spending weekend reenacting the adventures of a Nazi unit deeply involved in Holocaust-related atrocities, the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking.  They joined an Ohio group called Wiking, which recreates the experience of the SS men minus that whole messy genocide thing.

The real-life SS division took part in the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union and once included the infamous Josef Menegle, the evil doctor of death at the Auschwitz concentration camp who conducted gruesome medical experiments on living inmates and helped select who was immediately slaughtered and who would be subjected to more prolonged torture.  

Among the activities of the 5th Panzer Division was the mass execution of 36 Jews in the Ukraine slightly after the German invasion.  The victims were forced to run a gauntlet, where they were beaten with rifle butts before being lined up and shot, their bodies dumped in a bomb crater.  They were also involved in the murder of Hungarian Jews in March and April1945 when the ultimate outcome of the war was no longer in doubt. 

As Dr. Robert Citino of the University of North Texas’ Military History Center told The Atlantic, “The entire German war effort in the East was a racial crusade to rid the world of 'subhumans,' Slavs were going to be enslaved in numbers of tens of millions. And of course the multimillion Jewish population of Eastern Europe was going to be exterminated altogether. That's what all these folks were doing in the East. It sends a shiver up my spine to think that people want to dress up and play SS on the weekend."


An SS man murdering a mother and child in Ivangorod, Ukraine in 1942.    Republican Congressional candidate Rich Iott thought re-enacting the adventures of SS men on weekends was a way to get closer to his son.

Iott joined the Nazi reenactors to enjoy what he called a “father-son bonding thing.”   Interviewed by The Atlantic in 2010, Iott said he was drawn to Wiking because:

"I've always been fascinated by the fact that here was a relatively small country that from a strictly military point of view accomplished incredible things. I mean, they took over most of Europe and Russia, and it really took the combined effort of the free world to defeat them. From a purely historical military point of view, that's incredible."

With his whitewashed memories of the Third Reich, wearing an army surplus SS uniform didn’t embarrass Iott, nor did it apparently cause any shame for his weekend Nazi warrior buddies.  The Wiking website, as reported by Atlantic reporter Joshua Green, downplayed the real unit’s role in the Holocaust and accentuated the positive.  Briefly describing Nazi ideology as “twisted,” the website spent far more screen space praising the SS men for their brave crusade against Bolshevism. As the Atlantic reports, the site’s text included this surprising rave review for Hitler’s boys in Russia:

“Nazi Germany had no problem in recruiting the multitudes of volunteers willing to lay down their lives to ensure a ‘New and Free Europe’, free of the threat of Communism. National Socialism was seen by many in Holland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and other eastern European and Balkan countries as the protector of personal freedom and their very way of life, despite the true underlying totalitarian (and quite twisted, in most cases) nature of the movement. Regardless, thousands upon thousands of valiant men died defending their respective countries in the name of a better tomorrow. We salute these idealists; no matter how unsavory the Nazi government was, the front-line soldiers of the Waffen-SS (in particular the foreign volunteers) gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free.”


Nazis represented a "protector of personal freedom and their very way of life" for millions of Europeans, according to the fanciful website of the "Wiking" SS reenactment group to which GOP Congressional candidate Rich Iott belonged .  Above, Holocaust survivors at the Ebensee concentration camp after their liberation on May 6, 1945.  Unable to fit on the bunks, these victims of Nazi "freedom" slept on the floor during their confinement. (Photo from http://history1900s.about.com/library/holocaust/blphospital10.htm).  

Iott left WIking in 2008.  Iott insisted to the Atlantic that he did not admire Nazis and that his reenactments were motivated by a love of history. After Iott was interviewed, photos and text referring to him was scrubbed from the Wiking website.  (For more, see the original Atlantic story at http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/10/why-is-this-gop-house-candidate-dressed-as-a-nazi/64319/)

He later told CNN anchor Anderson Cooper that he did consider the Nazis the lesser of two evils in their battle with Soviet communists.  “They were doing what they thought was right for their country. And they were going out and fighting what they thought was a bigger, you know, a bigger evil.”  The Republican Jewish Coalition called the candidate unfit for public office.   According to polls, the story had little effect on voters’ choice, but Iott still lost, in what was overall a landslide election for the GOP, to Democratic nominee Marcy Katpur by almost 36,000 votes. 

Fast forward to 2012:  this year, Ohio is losing two congressional seats because of a population decline documented in the last census.  The seats of Democratic incumbents Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich have been combined.  Joe “The Plumber” (who is not really a plumber) is running for that seat.  He secured and has been bragging about the endorsement of Iott. 

Wurzelbacher’s deputy campaign director Phil Christofanelli called Iott a “job-creating businessman” in an interview with Talking Points Memo and said of his Nazi outfits, “He has a whole collection, it’s one of the thing he does. I don’t know all the costumes he does, but he has a whole wardrobe of different army costumes.  Joe has actually seen his collection, I understand.”


Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher is proud of Rich Iott’s endorsement because his political  ally is “not actually a Nazi.”  (Photo from the Talking Points Memo website at http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/02/joe-the-plumbers-campaign-rich-iott-is-not-a-nazi.php?ref=fpnewsfeed)


Christofanelli further said of Iott, “Rich Iott is not a Nazi, and has no affiliation any kind of Nazis.” For more, see http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/02/joe-the-plumbers-campaign-rich-iott-is-not-a-nazi.php?ref=fpnewsfeed 

That's right: SS uniforms are "just costumes."  And swastika armbands are just fashion accoutrements. 

By the way, that sounds like a terrific campaign slogan should Iott ever run for office again.  “Rich – He’s Not Affiliated With Any Kinds of Nazis.”  Too bad Joe the Plumber is affiliated with Nazi apologists and Holocaust trivializers.



Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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