The US Holocaust Museum is sounding alarm bells over the institutionalization of white nationalism in American politics after a neo-Nazi group masquerading as a policy think tank gathered in Washington over the weekend.
The organization, which calls itself the National Policy Institute, convened at a large conference hall at the federally owned Ronald Reagan Building on Saturday to “hail” President-elect Donald Trump for his victory earlier this month.
The gathering has been decried by several Jewish organizations, but the Holocaust Museum spared no pleasantries, characterizing the organization an imminent threat: “The Holocaust did not begin with killings: it began with words,” the museum’s statement reads. “The museum calls on all American citizens, our religious and civic leaders and the leadership of all branches of the government to confront racist thinking and divisive hateful speech.”
Video from inside the conference circulated online over the weekend.
“Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” declared its founder, Richard Spencer, who in 2008 coined the term “alt-right” for a movement that has now shaken the American establishment. In doing so, he described an effort to cast white identity – ethnic nationalism – as a legitimate political priority.
Audience members responded to Spencer’s call with a Nazi salute.
In his speech, the man characterized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an “academic racist” questioned whether the modern-day “Lügenpresse”– a Nazi German term for “lying press” – had worked against Trump in order to protect an establishment agenda he has for months described as in the Jewish interest. “One wonders if these people are people at all, or instead soulless golem,” he said with a smirk, referring to a Jewish story of an amorphous creature willed into being to protect the Jewish people.
“He implied that the media was protecting Jewish interests,” the Holocaust Museum’s statement continues. “He said that America belongs to white people.
His statement that white people face a choice of “conquer or die” closely echoes Adolf Hitler’s view of Jews and that history is a racial struggle for survival.”
The alt-right movement came to the fore during the US presidential election, when its supporters came out of the woodwork to support the Republican presidential nominee. Trump has drawn criticism for naming Steve Bannon, former head of Breitbart News, a website he once described as the “platform for the alt-right,” as his chief White House strategist.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who is a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that seeing a video of Nazi salutes in the heart of Washington was sickening and intolerable.
“America is Israel’s closest ally and our relationship is built not only on mutual interests but also on deeply held shared values of freedom, tolerance and democracy,” he said. “In the spirit of those shared values I call upon the leaders of the United States to publicly condemn expressions of Nazi sympathy and fascism as well as rising antisemitism.”
Lapid noted that his father survived the Holocaust but most of his family did not.
“One of the greatest mistakes humanity ever made was a failure to recognize the danger of fascism early enough and tackle it head on,” he said. “The Jewish people paid the price for that with the murder of six million of our people.
“We cannot let history repeat itself,” Lapid continued. “I have every confidence that President Obama and President-elect Trump oppose this abhorrent phenomenon. Now is the time to translate that opposition into unequivocal condemnation and swift action.”