Graffiti, Nazi guns, and the Gestapo

I agree with Ethan Strimling’s politics somewhat often, but his most recent blog post over at Agree to Disagree is perplexing. Strimling devotes nearly 450 words to fleshing out the 10-word question that serves as the title of the post:

“Why was there silence when ‘Gestapo’ was used against LePage?”

In it he asks why press and political circles did not rally against the fact that anti-LePage graffiti on the front windows of the recently closed restaurant Mesa Verde referred to the governor as the “Gestapo of Augusta.”

Mesa Verde in Portland. | Photo by Kathleen Pierce

Mesa Verde in Portland. | Photo by Kathleen Pierce

Puzzlingly, 40 of the words found in the the body of the piece are devoted to clarifying that Strimling knows the obvious answer:

I understand the difference between a governor saying something and some schmuck with a can of spray paint. Elected officials should always be held to the highest standards in regard to the language they use, as they represent entire constituencies.

But the rest of the piece goes on to suggest that even though Strimling just explained the exact reason why there was this so-called silence, “When someone compares our governor to the Gestapo, just like when our governor compares the IRS to the same, we must condemn the action forcefully and absolutely.”

While I am sure that Strimling’s heart is in the right place, we don’t have to “condemn the action” with the same force and absolution that we did with LePage’s remarks. A disgruntled restaurateur comparing the governor to the Nazi secret police is an act of bad taste. A governor publicly writing off something he is politically opposed to by associating it with the Nazi secret police is both insensitive and dangerous, particularly given his position. Some people listen to this guy for some reason. He is the ceremonial leader of his state political party. Whether we like it or not, Gov. LePage represents us Mainers. These are all things Strimling kinda-sorta underscored in his stretch of a “hot button” question (his tag, not mine).

And as I saw smartly posited in a comment on the Bangor Daily News Facebook page, “who do you direct the ‘condemnation’ at? It wasn’t even a business that is open, so to say ‘I’ll never do business with these idiots’ is sort of a moot point, even if it’s a true sentiment.” I found the sentiment to be both logical and something of a breath of fresh air, especially as it stood out among the dozens of resentful ramblings about the evils of multiculturalism and creeping socialism it shared the comment thread with.

Even more odd, in writing about this stretch of a controversy, Strimling never once mentions the fact that the RNC recently named its new innovation lab after a Nazi Pistol. Graffiti on the window of a failed restaurant, innovation lab named after a Nazi pistol… Graffiti on the window of a failed restaurant, innovation lab named after a Nazi pistol… Graffiti on the window of a failed restaurant, innovation lab named after a Nazi pistol…

Gotta keep it local, I suppose?

It is all very confusing.

I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Note: As I know that BDN readers tend to get particularly riled up about gun talk, I should preemptively point out a couple of things.

Like anyone with access to Wikipedia, or more importantly anyone who came up in a house with a father who made a hobby out of an adoration of firearms, I am aware that the Luger (AKA: Pistol Parabellum) both preexisted and outlived the Nazis. No it was not a their invention, nor was it named by them. It was, however, most notoriously used by Nazis and its etymology indicates being prepared for war. Words and cultural associations matter, and this is a word and cultural association that is not to be taken lightly. This is where Strimling and I are very much in agreement.

The GOP gave its digital technology tech labs a name that both indicates it is in preparation for war and that also happens to be a name of a gun popularized by its use by the Nazis. I don’t think that this was done with insidious intent—the GOP that I know and love isn’t capable of forethought so abstract—it was just really stupid and insensitive. Anyone who knows anything about branding is aware that at the very least a Google search is in order when testing out possible names. One mustn’t go very down the search engine rabbit hole to find that the collection between the word, the war, and the Nazis. With this in mind, they used it anyway. Why this party has a hard time courting anyone who does not spend 10 hours a day sitting in a recliner and watching the History Channel should not go too far above anyone’s head.

To reiterate, even though the connection was likely not intentional, it was ignorant, sloppy and insensitive. (It was also likely a huge hit with those in the GOP fringe that are sympathetic to white supremacy).

I brought this up in the context of Strimling’s blog post to suggest that not every passing reference to Third Reich vocabulary is worthy of equal scrutiny. Some incidences are more worthy of criticism and deconstruction than others, particularly given the choice between the words of a politician or party and those of—in the words of Strimling himself—a “schmuck with a can of spray paint.”

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.