Hitler managed to persuade a German court to hand him a mild 5-year sentence for treason, rather than deporting him or imprisoning him for life. But he’d had to tone down his bigotry for the courts, and his followers were upset.
They needn’t have worried.
Hitler, once his future was secure, was more than happy to return to spouting his poisonous antisemitism. He assured them that his earlier ideas about the Jews were, if anything, “too mild.” He cast the conflict between Jews and Germans as “a question of life and death.” He turned his attention toward spewing venom to Rudolph Hess, who compiled his ravings into the book that would become Mein Kampf. He amped up his exterminationist rhetoric, describing Jews as parasites, freeloaders, “a dangerous bacillus,” maggots, and poisoners. He called for their extermination.
So, remember: if a Nazi or other bigot dials back their rhetoric in the face of legal trouble or social sanctions, don’t trust their change of heart until it’s backed up by subsequent, sustained actions. Watch for them to return to and possibly intensify their previous hateful speech and actions. Once the coast is relatively clear, they will revert to their true selves.
Hitler spent a mere ten months in prison, and once he was released, he set about unifying his followers before reaching out for new ones. He’d learned how to dog whistle. Because more educated people wouldn’t respond as favorably to overt bigotry, and because fomenting hate and violence could get him silenced or deported, he resorted to a more veiled antisemitism. He would speak about “one single enemy.” He used racist humor and metaphors.
He would link “Jewish” to despised values like urbanism, materialism, and greed. For comic relief, he joked about “upstart Jewish composers, scribblers, painters who drown our Volk in their pathetic trash [Dreck].” In a typical three-hour speech, Hitler would mention Jews in passing, as in a slur against the “Jewish press” for promoting decadent “Jimmy [probably a reference to Jim Crow] culture.” He would blame moral degeneration on sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews, which he called “racial treason” (Rassenschande) or “bastardization.”
These are all techniques and phrases that have been used by our modern Nazis, virtually word-for-word.
At that time, in the mid-1920s, the Nazis had secured less than 6% of the vote. Hitler knew he had to modify his rhetoric to appeal to a broader swathe of the German electorate. He stopped proclaiming his racial hate at every possible opportunity, expressing it only where and when it would further his ambitions. And he wasn’t afraid to accuse critics of being just as antisemitic as he was.
The projection is familiar, but with a plurality of the electoral college behind him, our off-brand American Hitler doesn’t have to soften his own rhetoric. You do, however, see our modern Nazis putting a civilized mask over their abhorrent ideology in order to win over a wider swathe of the population. They know they can’t win the numbers they need if they’re too open with their hideous beliefs. So they follow the lead of their hero Hitler, and dial it back in public. The fact they’re becoming bold enough to be a bit more careless with showing their true faces should terrify us. They wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t think they had enough support to get away with it.
We must drive these views back underground by exposing them for what they are and making it utterly clear they have no place in a civilized democracy. We need to make Nazis afraid again. We’ve seen exactly what happens when they seize power and become bold.