To paraphrase an old saying: If you’re defending your Nazi comments, you’re losing. Ever since Ben Carson doubled down on a passage from his book in an interview with CNN last week, the GOP front-runner has been trapped in the news cycle, tweaking and clarifying his remarks that Jews exterminated in the Holocaust could have prevented their fate if only they had been armed with guns.
Carson makes a Nazi analogy roughly every few months, but now that he is polling as high as 21 percent, he's seeing more swift and intense backlash: He was grilled about the comments in several follow-up interviews, and the Anti-Defamation League released a statement calling Carson’s understanding of the Holocaust “historically inaccurate.”
But waiting in the wings were defenders at Fox News and right-wing blogs such as The Federalist, both of which voiced unqualified support for Carson’s history lesson and even took things further. Fox News contributor and frequent on-air guest Keith Ablow, part of the channel’s "Medical A-Team,” went as far to blame the slaughter on European Jews themselves.
“Granted, hindsight is 20/20. But it turns out it was a bad idea for any Jew to have turned over a gun. It was a bad idea for any Jew to have boarded a train. It was a bad idea for any Jew to have passed through a gate into a camp. It was a bad idea for any Jew to do any work at any such camp. It was a bad idea for any Jew to not attempt to crush the skull or scratch out the eyes of any Nazi who turned his back for one moment,” wrote Ablow, who has previously written that the U.S. should declare an American jihad and that President Obama would not address Ebola because of “ his affinities” for Africa.
Backlash to Ablow’s piece was equally swift, but so far Fox News has been mum on the criticism. When reached for comment on Monday, the network declined to say whether it planned to retract -- or even address -- Ablow’s op-ed.
From Chain Letter To News Cycle
While Carson’s high-profile status and deadpan delivery may have shined a new spotlight on the argument that strict gun laws somehow enabled the Holocaust, the Nazi-fication of gun control has a longer history than the current presidential election cycle: In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, the trope was elevated to meme status as it began to crop up all over Twitter, Facebook and conservative blogs among those looking to combine a “defense” of the Second Amendment with the standard right-wing portrayal of Barack Obama as an effete yet iron-fisted fascist/communist/Muslim dictator.
The last conservative figure to take the idea as far as Carson did was Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, known to America as John McCain’s 2008 election mascot, “Joe the Plumber.” Wurzelbacher first sported the trope in a campaign video during his failed run for Congress in 2012:
Following a wave of outrage, Wurzelbacher defended the comparison on Twitter: “Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that his agenda would not be possible unless the people were disarmed. (Facts, Liberal hate them & ignore them).” In fact, he appeared to have borrowed heavily from an email chain letter that dates back as far as 2003, recorded for posterity at the myth-busting site Snopes.com.
“Germany established gun control in 1938, and from 1939 to 1945, a total of 13 million Jews and others who were unable to defend themselves were rounded up and exterminated,” the email read, listing a handful of other totalitarian regimes that supposedly endorsed gun control. “If you value your freedom, please spread this anti-gun control message to all of your friends.”
Carson Brings It Back
Now in a cycle only the age of the Internet could produce, Carson has taken in the ramblings of a chain letter, regurgitated it in print and on national television and somehow managed to convince columnists at Fox News and other outlets to amplify the reference in a series of columns and blog posts.
Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that his agenda would not be possible unless the people were disarmed.(Facts, Liberal hate them & ignore them)
— Joe the Plumber (@RealJTP) June 19, 2012
The idea that gun control enabled the Holocaust has been tackled by certain scholars ever since the NRA began to beat that drum back in the early 1990s. After the Sandy Hook shooting gave it new life, journalist Michael Moynihan took the time to debunk the meme at length in Tablet, a Jewish general interest magazine that could hardly be described as a liberal rag, home as it is to many critiques of the Obama administration and hardline pro-Israel op-eds .
“An unarmed population is undeniably more passive," Moynihan wrote. "But whatever gun legislation Congress is formulating in the aftermath of the barbarism in Newtown, there will be no Gestapo knocking on doors, rifling through attics and closets, requisitioning handguns.”
“By all means, let the debate on gun control roil,” Moynihan added, “but for once, let’s leave Hitler out of it.”
Three years and hundreds of U.S. mass shootings later, Ben Carson and the online bands of hardline conservatives would like to answer: “No.”