First, I want to thank everyone for the feedback on the article I published yesterday, “About the Gasthof’s Nazis, We’re Talking About the Wrong Thing.” The feedback has been largely positive, and the response to this article (both good and bad) has been truly overwhelming. I wrote the bulk of the article on Tuesday afternoon, when the only report was the initial City Pages article and the subreddit thread.
I was disturbed by what I perceived to be a general rush to vilify these “reenactors” as anti-Semites, when I personally didn’t see convincing enough evidence to support the claim that they deliberately and maliciously hated Jews. (Remember, the prevailing narrative at the time of my writing was that it was a bigger “WWII reenactment party,” where all sides were represented.)
By the time the Star Tribune picked up the story and added their own reporting, my opinion piece was already finished and ready for publication. I was happy with how it turned out, and decided that the new information provided by the Star Tribune didn’t change my feelings or opinions on the issue. By the time City Pages further updated their report with even more photos and information, my article had already been published.
I still believe it’s important not to jump to conclusions. Calling someone an anti-Semite when they’re not is just as hateful as calling someone a dirty Jew, or a kike. That was the point I was trying to make, and I stand by it. Hate is hate, and I refuse to hate people until I don’t have another option.
As Tuesday progressed, I was directed toward the Facebook pages of two “reenactors” quoted in the article, Jon Boorom and Scott Steben. Most of each of their pages are blocked to the public, but among even just the little that’s not, I found disturbing images and text that made me think this wasn’t just a gathering of extremely ignorant WWII enthusiasts. (You can visit their Facebook pages yourself, or see the most recent City Pages update, published this morning, in which a picture is posted of Mr. Steben proudly displaying an SS tatoo.) Around that time, more pictures, and more first-hand accounts surfaced that painted a picture of this party not as a WWII appreciation party, but an excuse to dress up like Nazis, pretend to be Nazis, and have a night on the town.
I’ve also talked personally with people who gave me first-hand accounts, both of the party itself and separate interactions with the men mentioned above, that further confirms this was a gathering filled mostly, if not completely, with anti-Semites. I’m disturbed, and ashamed, and saddened. I can’t know if all the partygoers are willful anti-Semites, nor can I currently claim to know anything about whether any of the anti-Semites have ever acted on their hatred of Jews. But I can no longer support the view that these people are just ignorant of memory and sensitivity.
I still don’t want to hate people. It serves no purpose and perpetuates a culture of fear, anger, and violence. But I’m running out of options.