Read: The shooter’s manifesto was designed to troll
The original Nazis were open about their intentions, but their strategic insincerity created a fog of doubt that allowed observers to avoid the obvious. In 1922, The New York Times infamously declared that many believed “Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.” In 1930, even after the Nazis had become the second-largest party in the German legislature, the Times assured its readers that “there is no present basis for assuming that the Nazis will attempt to make anti-Semitism a militant issue in their legislative program.”
Many of the ideological descendants of the Third Reich have raised the banners of liberal principles in their defense. They say they are defending free speech, or due process, or democracy—but their only purpose is to empty these concepts of meaning, to make them as contemptible to their ideological opponents as they are to them. In this, too, they resemble their ideological forebears.
As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism, Nazi supporters were “satisfied with blind partisanship in anything that respectable society had banned, regardless of theory or content, and they elevated cruelty to a major virtue because it contradicted society’s humanitarian and liberal hypocrisy.” A horrified reaction to such expressions of cruelty merely affirms the importance of being cruel. “Vulgarity, with its cynical dismissal of respected standards and accepted theories, carried with it a frank admission of the worst and a disregard for all pretenses which were easily mistaken for courage and a new style of life,” she wrote.
The ideas in the shooter’s screed are placed beyond argument, presented as expressions of iron laws of nature. Such writings intend to bait the earnest into making fools of themselves. Both race itself and whiteness by extension are biological fictions made real only by society’s embrace of both concepts; the pseudoscience concocted to justify such definitions changes with political necessity. The shooter’s definition of who counts as white would not have applied 100 years ago, but white supremacy is a nostalgic ideology, one that looks at the past not for wisdom or knowledge, but for fairy tales of pristine white societies that never existed.
Graeme Wood: A repulsively casual terrorist manifesto
“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words,” wrote Jean-Paul Sartre in his 1946 essay “Anti-Semite and Jew.” “The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors.”