You know, I’ve heard of Civil War re-enactors, but Nazi re-enactors?
From The Atlantic:
That second guy from the (far) Reich? Yep, that’s Richard Iott—dressed in a SS uniform… with, a bunch of Nazi re-enactors.
Iott, whose district lies in Northwest Ohio, was involved with a group that calls itself Wiking, whose members are devoted to re-enacting the exploits of an actual Nazi division, the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, which fought mainly on the Eastern Front during World War II. Iott’s participation in the Wiking group is not mentioned on his campaign’s website, and his name and photographs were removed from the Wiking website.
When contacted by The Atlantic, Iott confirmed his involvement with the group over a number of years, but said his interest in Nazi Germany was historical and he does not subscribe to the tenets of Nazism. "No, absolutely not," he said. "In fact, there’s a disclaimer on the [Wiking] website. And you’ll find that on almost any reenactment website. It’s purely historical interest in World War II."
Iott says the group chose the Wiking division in part because it fought on the Eastern Front, mainly against the Russian Army, and not U.S. or British soldiers. The group’s website includes a lengthy history of the Wiking unit, a recruitment video, and footage of goose-stepping German soldiers marching in the Warsaw victory parade after Poland fell in 1939. The website makes scant mention of the atrocities committed by the Waffen SS, and includes only a glancing reference to the "twisted" nature of Nazism. Instead, it emphasizes how the Wiking unit fought Bolshevist Communism.
So, is it okay to dress like a Nazi so long as it’s only the ones who invaded Russia?
Historians of Nazi Germany vehemently dispute this characterization. "These guys don’t know their history," said Charles W. Sydnor, Jr., a retired history professor and author of "Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-45," which chronicles an SS division. "They have a sanitized, romanticized view of what occurred."
The actual Wiking unit has a history as grisly as that of other Nazi divisions. In her book "The Death Marches of Hungarian Jews Through Austria in the Spring of 1945," Eleonore Lappin, the noted Austrian historian, writes that soldiers from the Wiking division were involved in the killing of Hungarian Jews in March and April 1945, before surrendering to American forces in Austria.
Did Iott withdraw from the group and have it scrub all references of his members due to his campaign? No, but the actual reason is kind of worse:
Iott says he does not recall exactly when he joined the Wiking group (his name appears on a unit roster as far back as 2003), but did so with his son "as a father-son bonding thing." He says his name and pictures were removed from the Wiking website not out of concern that they would harm his political career, but because he quit the group three years ago, after his son lost interest.
After some reflection, Iott realized his participation might offend… veterans groups. Jews? Not so much….
In a follow-up email today, Iott seemed at pains to address concerns that his conduct may have alienated veterans groups but made no specific mention of possible offense to Jews or human rights groups: "Never, in any of my reenacting of military history, have I meant any disrespect to anyone who served in our military or anyone who has been affected by the tragedy of war. In fact, I have immense respect for veterans who served our country valiantly, and my respect of the military and our veterans is one of the reasons I have actively studied military history throughout my life."
Wow…. I’m speechless.
[UPDATE:] According to the Toledo Blade, Bill Maher covered this on his show as well. Oh, and the biggest paper in the district covered it as well.