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Oped: In service to those we love, we must keep fascists separate from power
Fascists are targeting the trans community (and libraries) in Rhode Island, just as they did in 1933 Germany...
Reverend Martin Niemöller’s “First they came…,” usually rendered as a poem, is a classic of post-fascist regret. The statement is perhaps more poignant because Niemöller was an early supporter of the Nazi Party, only reconsidering his support when his church and his beliefs were targeted. The statement is suffused with hard-earned moral understanding, though it is difficult to feel too bad for Niemöller. Though imprisoned by the Nazis for his beliefs, he survived, unlike the countless victims of the holocaust.
“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.“
But despite the poetry of his words, Niemöller got it wrong.
The Nazis didn’t come for the communists, socialists, trade unionists, and the Jews first. The Nazis first came for the LGBTQ+ community, and Niemöller seems to have never considered that during his moral reckoning.
Brandy Schillace‘s Scientific American piece, The Forgotten History of the World’s First Trans Clinic, details how, shortly after Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazis targeted the clinic of sex researcher Magnus Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld saw members of the LGBTQ+ community as full people, acting by their true natures, not as deviants or criminals. Nazis disagreed.
Schillace writes about the May 6, 1933 Nazi raid on the clinic:
“Troops swarmed the building, carrying off a bronze bust of Hirschfeld and all his precious books, which they piled in the street. Soon a towerlike bonfire engulfed more than 20,000 books, some of them rare copies that had helped provide a historiography for nonconforming people.
“The carnage flickered over German newsreels. It was among the first and largest of the Nazi book burnings. Nazi youth, students, and soldiers participated in the destruction, while voiceovers of the footage declared that the German state had committed ‘the intellectual garbage of the past’ to the flames. The collection was irreplaceable.”
Reverend Niemöller, like other conservative ministers in Germany at the time, was in support of Hitler. Niemöller was a member of and participated in “right-wing and antisemitic policies and organizations.” He had just voted for the Nazi Party in March of that year. It was only after the Nazis began interfering with his rights as clergy that Niemöller began to reconsider his support. He was later imprisoned by the Nazis and released only after the war ended.
Niemöller, to my knowledge, never acknowledged the Nazi crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. He seems to have thought so little about them that he left them out of his famous poem.
Fascists are targeting the trans community (and libraries) in Rhode Island, just as they did in 1933 Germany.
Right-wing anti-trans activists are targeting school committees throughout Rhode Island trying to find one who will challenge the state's Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, and Transitioning Students Policy in court. See here, here, here, and here.
Donald Trump's ally Michael Flynn came to Rhode Island to spread anti-democratic, pro-fascist, and transphobic misinformation.
Anti-trans planning meetings are being held out of sight of the media.
Right-wing zealots are holding fundraisers for anti-trans school board candidates.
As I demonstrate in the stories linked above, these efforts are connected and represent a coordinated attack on schools, freethought, transgender rights, and more.
What Niemöller got right in “First they came…” is that once unleashed, fascism is a hungry beast. It won't be satiated when it has properly victimized trans children. It will quickly move on to devour all LGBTQ+ people. It will devastate women's rights, the rights of immigrants, people of color, religious minorities including Jews, and of course Marxists and union members.
Inevitably fascism will even scoop up some of those who are working so hard to implement fascism today. Like Niemöller before them, if they are fortunate enough to survive, they will live the rest of their lives in confusion and regret.
But many of us won't be that lucky.
In service to those we love, we must keep fascists separate from power. We can do this by outnumbering them at protests, supporting communities under threat, and opposing candidates and policies that smack of censorship, prejudice, racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, anti-democracy, corporate power, and monied interests.
It is our duty to win.