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Dear Conservatives: You Should Really Stop Bringing up Hitler

The Right’s invocation of history’s worst tyrants isn’t as big a rhetorical win as they might think.
A group of women from Moms for Liberty holding various protest signs
(Moms for Liberty)

Last month, Moms for Liberty — a far-right activist group known for their controversial attempts to ban books in schools — caused even more controversy when one of their chapters included a quote attributed to Adolf Hitler in a recent newsletter. (They later apologized after first trying to add some context to their usage of the quote.) More recently, Ryan Helfenbein, the Senior VP of Communications at Liberty University, one of the world’s largest Christian universities, had this to say:

What we’re discovering as parents and conservatives is… education really is evangelism. So, if you don’t control education, you cannot control the future. And Stalin knew that, Mao knew that, Hitler knew that. We have to get that back for conservative values.

As with Moms for Liberty, Helfenbein’s comments — made at Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority, which is billed as “the nation’s premier pro-faith, pro-family event” — received no small amount of criticism and pushback online, as evidenced by the comments and quotes on the original MeidasTouch tweet. Unlike Moms for Liberty, though, Helfenbein didn’t apologize for his comments; instead, he tweeted a longer clip, presumably in an effort to provide more context.

On the face of it, such statements seem like total absurdity, if not outright political suicide. Why would anyone seek to bolster their politics by referencing some of history’s most cruel and infamous despots and tyrants, men who were responsible for brutal regimes that killed and imprisoned tens of millions of human beings?

If I try to be as fair-minded and equitable as possible, I don’t think that Moms for Liberty, Helfenbein, and others on the Right think that’s what they’re doing. I think that they think they’re making illustrative comments about what they consider to be left-wing indoctrination. I think that they think they’re drawing some “obvious” parallels between apparent left-wing authoritarianism and the techniques employed by Hitler et al., and saying that they need to “fight fire with fire.”

Obviously, however, many aren’t taking it that way.

Set aside, for the moment, the corollary to Godwin’s law which states that anyone who resorts to comparing their opponent to Hitler has automatically lost the debate. The criticism leveled against Moms for Liberty and Helfenbein stems from the fact that many look at the Right’s references to Hitler et al., then look at the Right’s own statements and actions, and subsequently draw some parallels of their own.

Put simply, conservatives really aren’t doing themselves any favors as so-called defenders of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when they:

Conservatives may think they’re landing some heavy rhetorical blows in the culture war. But for many, the Right’s invocations of Hitler et al. don’t read as warnings or thoughtful critiques of political opponents. Rather, they read as advocating for a model of cultural and political dominance that’s worth emulating — regardless of what history’s taught us.

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