The Atlantic

It's Not That Hard To Avoid Normalizing Nazis

Read some 'Hitler-at-home' stories from the 1930s. Then, don't do what they did.
Source: Johnny Milano / Reuters

Why is it that, in America in 2017, the question of how not to normalize Nazis provokes heated debate? Is there a way to discuss the everyday life of fascists without normalizing? Although there are no quick and easy rules to follow, there are lessons—plenty of them—to be gleaned from history. The most powerful lessons emerge from the press coverage of the Third Reich, especially the soft-focus profiles of Adolf Hitler published in the 1930s. These stories set the journalistic gold standard for how not to write about Nazis.

Yet, as the row triggered by a recent profile of the “” reveals, many of us are still not sure what it means to avoid normalization. Richard Fausset wrote about Tony Hovater, a white nationalist living in Ohio, in a style that enraged thousands of readers. In their eyes, the focus on the commonplace—Hovater’s wedding registry at Target, say, with its muffin pan and pineapple slicer—resulted in distraction rather than analysis. The ’s national to illuminate “the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them.” But in a , Fausset himself admitted that the “quotidian details” he’d collected didn’t explain much about Hovater. Perhaps that was the point: Human lives and motives are opaque. Some readers applauded him for his journalistic courage and the newspaper for breaking new ground.

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