Over the weekend, former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger made a video addressing the attacks on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when a slew of Trump supporters-turned-domestic terrorists stormed the building in an attempt to overthrow the government. In it, Schwarzenegger detailed his experience as a child in post-WWII Austria, saying he was “surrounded by broken men drinking away their guilt over their participation in the most evil regime in history.” Schwarzenegger went on to say that his father would come home drunk once or twice a week and would “hit us,” something he had “never shared... so publicly” until that moment, because it was a “painful memory.”
Schwarzenegger also compared the insurrection carried out on Jan. 6 to Kristallnacht, known as “the Night of Broken Glass.” “It was a night of rampage against the Jews carried out in 1938 by the Nazi equivalent of the Proud Boys,” Schwarzenegger said. “Wednesday was the Day of Broken Glass right here in the United States. The broken glass was in the windows of the United States Capitol. But the mob did not just shatter the windows of the Capitol, they shattered the ideas we took for granted.”
Theatrics aside (at one point, Schwarzenegger holds up the “Conan Sword” as music swells in the background, comparing tempering the steel of a sword to tempering U.S. democracy), Schwarzenegger’s heart was in the right place, even if his metaphors were questionable. He was clearly upset about the insurgency, and as a Republican, he is one of the very few who is doing the bare minimum of publicly denouncing Trump and those who supported the attempt to overturn an election result.
But Schwarzenegger's invocation of Kristallnacht also seemed to have opened the door for self-victimizing Republicans to compare losing their Twitter followers to Kristallnacht — a contrast that is as deeply insulting as it is factually inaccurate.
From Nov. 9 to Nov. 10 in 1938, in what is now known as Kristallnacht, Nazis in Germany “torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools, and businesses, and killed close to 100 Jews.” In the wake of the destruction and loss of life, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Many historians cite the violence of Kristallnacht as being the first step of the Nazi's “final solution” to what they referred to as the “Jewish problem,” leading to the systematic murder of 6 million Jewish people in the Holocaust.
Now, Republican politicians and political talking heads alike would like us all to believe that losing a few thousand Twitter follows is akin to the carefully orchestrated attempt to destroy an entire population of people. “I have lost 8,000 followers on this twitter account in one day,” Rep. Steve King (R-IA) tweeted. “Apple, Google, Facebook, & others have cancelled many conservatives. Last night was cyber god’s Kristallnacht!” And after Apple, Google, and Amazon kicked Parler — a social media cite growing in popularity among conservatives and white supremacists — off their platforms, Fox News commentator Jeanine Pirro said, “Now that they’ve won, what we’re seeing is the kind of censorship that’s akin to a Kristallnacht, where they decide what we can communicate about.”
These claims of victimhood by Republicans and conservative commentators is hardly new. It is the very victimization that fueled the insurgency at the Capitol: the idea that white men and women are “owed” full control of this country, and anything less than complete control is somehow an affront to their god-given rights. But comparing private companies upholding their terms of services to the night that helped pave the way for the Holocaust takes that faux-victimization not only to a disgusting level, but a dangerous one.
The coup at the Capitol was fueled in no small part by white grievances — the idea that something is being “stolen” from white people. Trump was able to harness that toxic white fragility and turn it into votes. Now, he has successfully taken it a step further and is doing the work of long-standing white supremacist organizations by radicalizing predominantly white Americans and convincing Republicans that they are the real victims in a violent attack that could have very well ended with the live execution of sitting congresspeople. This is no more apparent confirmation of this than the recent PBS NewsHour/Marist College poll, which found that 47% of Republicans believe the rioters’ “actions were mostly legitimate.”
Yes, those who stormed the Capitol were wearing Nazi-affiliated T-shirts and waving Confederate flags. Yes, many were known members of white supremacist domestic terrorist groups. But not everything needs to be compared to Kristallnacht. Not the terrorist attack on the Capitol, and certainly not Republicans losing followers on Twitter.