Michael Gerson started his Friday Post column, “Banish the Cyber-Bigots,” this way:
The transformation of Germany in the 1920s and ’30s from the nation of Goethe to the nation of Goebbels is a specter that haunts, or should haunt, every nation.
The triumph of Nazi propaganda in this period is the subject of a remarkable exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (where I serve on the governing board). …
The adaptive use of new technology was central to this achievement. The Nazis pioneered voice amplification at rallies, the distribution of recorded speeches and the sophisticated targeting of poster art toward groups and regions.
Gerson then pivots to the dangers of the Internet, aka “belligerent brutopia,” specifically of the anti-Semites and other racists in comments sections. He notes the use of “CAPITAL LETTERS” and the “absolute freedom of the medium.” He quotes an ethicist on the “option of anonymity” that leads to the particular brutality of the online sphere.
Well here’s the thing. A few weeks ago, I visited the very Holocaust Museum exhibit on Nazi propaganda cited by Gerson. At the end of a remarkable tour through grotesquely anti-Semitic posters, films, and audio is a guest book. The book asks visitors: “Do you think propaganda is a problem in our own society?”
In that book, on page after page, are comments calling Obama a Nazi.
The one pictured above reads, all in caps: “OBAMA — THE NEW HITLER / WAKE UP!! AMEN!”
The entry here reads: “‘YES WE CAN’ HERE WE GO AGAIN” with a swastika next to it. Yet another compares Obama’s putative plans for death panels to Hitler’s policies, and ends with “Sound Familiar — Wake Up America.”
None of which disproves Gerson’s thesis, exactly. But it’s worth remembering, if nothing else, that the Internet certainly has no monopoly on racism and bigotry.