BERLIN, Germany — The German government expressed revulsion Wednesday at Nazi-style salutes such as those performed at a recent far-right event in Washington, but said it was confident the United States can tackle the issue.
Video published by The Atlantic showed participants at the event Saturday raising their arms in salute during a speech by Richard Spencer, head of the white-nationalist think tank National Policy Institute.
“Speaking generally, whenever we see videos from anywhere showing people raising their hand to do Hitler salutes we are repulsed,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Wednesday after being asked about the clip .
“It goes against the principles and values of our politics,” he added.
Nazi Germany was responsible for genocide and war that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people in the 1930s and 1940s, including some six million Jews. After the war, Germany made it a criminal offense to display Nazi imagery — including the salute, which was usually accompanied by the cry “Sieg Heil!” which translates as “hail victory.”
Seibert said the fact that the incident is being widely discussed in the United States was a good sign. “We have great faith in American civil society, media and politics to address such bad developments, such terrible events,” he said.
White-nationalist groups have existed in the United States for decades but drew increased attention last summer when activists showed up at the Republican National Convention to celebrate Donald Trump’s nomination as the party’s presidential candidate.
Spencer, who is credited with coining the term “alt-right,” was filmed Saturday saying “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” to cheers from the audience, drawing some Nazi salutes.
Speakers at the conference described Trump’s election victory as “the victory of will,” using the name of a famous Nazi propaganda film that championed Hitler and the Nazis’ rise to power in 1930s Germany, The New York Times reported.
Spencer said that white identity was the driving factor behind the movement and that since the meteoric rise of Trump, white people have been “awakening to their own identity.
“To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, and explorer and a conqueror. We build. We produce. We go upward,” he claimed. “Within the very blood in our veins as children of the sun lies the potential for greatness.”
Since Trump’s election, much ink has been spilled over his campaign’s part in the rise of the alt-right, a vague grouping of far-right nationalists who have taken a hard line against immigration and what they see as the cultural degradation of America. Spencer has made clear that in his eyes the alt-right is by no means a mere nationalist movement but one based on a doctrine of white supremacy and hatred toward Jews and non-whites.
Last week, Spencer’s Twitter account was suspended for violating prohibitions on “violent threats, harassment, hateful conduct,” leading him to lash out at what he called “corporate Stalinism” and saying that “there is a great purge going on,” according to AFP.
Much of the recent focus on the alt-right stems from Trump’s appointment of his campaign CEO and Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen Bannon as a senior presidential adviser, who earlier this year said that Breitbart News is “the platform for the alt-right.”
Trump insisted Tuesday that Bannon is not racist or extremist, as asserted by many critics, and that he — Trump — rejects the alt-right.
“It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why,” Trump told the New York Times.
Of the gathering Saturday in Washington, Trump said, “I condemn them. I disavow, and I condemn.”