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Twitter Rips NYT for Report on ‘The Nazi Sympathizer Next Door’: ‘What The Hell Is This?’

There’s a new report in the New York Times out today actually headlined “In America’s Heartland, the Nazi Sympathizer Next Door.”

No, seriously.

Richard Fausset filed a report on a man named Tony Hovater who, um…

He is the Nazi sympathizer next door, polite and low-key at a time the old boundaries of accepted political activity can seem alarmingly in flux. Most Americans would be disgusted and baffled by his casually approving remarks about Hitler, disdain for democracy and belief that the races are better off separate. But his tattoos are innocuous pop-culture references: a slice of cherry pie adorns one arm, a homage to the TV show “Twin Peaks.” He says he prefers to spread the gospel of white nationalism with satire. He is a big “Seinfeld” fan.

He has guested on a podcast for “a website called Radio Aryan,” he talks about how “Jews run the worlds of finance and the media,” and has the following insights to offer on race:

He is adamant that the races are probably better off separated, but he insists he is not racist. He is a white nationalist, he says, not a white supremacist. There were mixed-race couples at the wedding. Mr. Hovater said he was fine with it.

“That’s their thing, man,” he said.

Online it is uglier. On Facebook, Mr. Hovater posted a picture purporting to show what life would have looked like if Germany had won World War II: a streetscape full of happy white people, a bustling American-style diner and swastikas everywhere.

“What part is supposed to look unappealing?” he wrote.

Now, in case such a profile in the New York Times about someone with remarkably repugnant views boils your blood, there is some supplemental material by Fausset reflecting on the piece itself.

The main question here, as Fausset writes, is “Why did this man — intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases — gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?”

And, well, he still doesn’t have a clear answer:

After I had filed an early version of the article, an editor at The Times told me he felt like the question had not been sufficiently addressed. So I went back to Mr. Hovater in search of answers. I still don’t think I really found them. I could feel the failure even as Mr. Hovater and I spoke on the phone, adding to what had already been hours of face-to-face conversation in and around his hometown New Carlisle, Ohio.

On the phone, Mr. Hovater responded to my question by rattling off names of libertarian academics, making references to sci-fi movies and describing, yet again, his frustration with what he described as the plodding and unjust nature of American democracy. As he did so, I was thinking about an album I grew up with by the Minutemen, the Southern California punk group, and its brilliantly koanic title: “What Makes a Man Start Fires?”

To me, that question embodies what good journalism should strive for, as well as the limits of the enterprise. Sometimes all we can bring you is the words of the police spokesman, the suspect’s picture from a high school yearbook, the acrid stench of the burned woods.

The profile, meanwhile, is not going over well on Twitter, with many expressing how shocked and appalled they are by the Times‘ decision to run it:

[image via EQRoy / Shutterstock.com]

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Follow Josh Feldman on Twitter: @feldmaniac

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