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by Katherine Dee
Wednesday, 26
July 2023
Dark Web
21:00

Did the DeSantis campaign know it was using a Nazi symbol?

The governor fired a staffer who included the Sonnenrad in a campaign video
by Katherine Dee
The video portrayed Ron DeSantis foregrounded against a Sonnenrad symbol. Credit: Twitter

Nate Hochman, National Review staff writer-cum-conservative darling, has been fired from the Ron DeSantis campaign for creating and promoting a video that featured a Sonnenrad. The immediate, and frankly reasonable, assumption after a gaffe like that was these people are trying to appeal to Nazis. Fair enough — they did evoke a Nazi symbol, after all — but the truth is probably a little less sinister, a little more idiotic, and much more embarrassing.

To people in the know, the notion of Hochman as a would-be ambassador to fringes of the Right is, at best, a misunderstanding. This is a claim made in a recent piece by Jonathan Chait, who argued that the National Review writer’s hiring was proof that DeSantis was attempting to court the far-Right. One can only speculate what the campaign was thinking by hiring Hochman, but his appeal to the (tiny) white nationalist demographic is a bit of a stretch. He’s not edgy or dangerous: he’s Alex P. Keaton with a goofy smile, popular podcast guest appearances, and a New York Times byline

So what happened? Hochman, who claims not to have known the Sonnenrad was a Nazi symbol, is suffering from Internet Overexposure Syndrome. For the media, and for many people in politics, Twitter is the centre of gravity, which can have a distorting effect  — see all the “trend pieces published off the back of viral Twitter stories — and it’s increasingly impacting politicians as well. The DeSantis campaign – which again and again has taken cues from what’s popular online – is by far the most egregious offender. 

Twitter is also, importantly, an online space where more fringe elements of the Right — like, for example, anime-loving young men who enjoy posting “Sonnenrad edits” — have some of the most visibility. More than visibility, they have a very specific-to-Twitter social cachet. Here, they’re the countercultural “bad boys”. Both their approval and disapproval can feel incredibly significant even if, in reality, they aren’t. 

But by spending too much time on the platform, it’s easy to forget that what’s irreverent online may come across as horrifying in the real world — as the cavalier use of the Sonnenrad shows. Hochman was the victim of a perfect storm of Internet-induced myopia, exacerbated by the DeSantis campaign’s desire to re-engineer the so-called “meme magic” behind Donald Trump’s meteoric 2016 rise. 

What the DeSantis campaign is missing, though, is that Trump’s online appeal can’t be recreated. The ex-president’s web popularity did not come from his campaign team: it was an entirely grassroots phenomenon. It was also nurtured by the press, and became a bigger story than it might otherwise have been. 

In 2016, what emerged under Trump was a parasitic feedback loop: story-hungry journalists went looking for an antagonist (“the alt-Right”) and a handful of fame-obsessed grifters were happy to play the villains. One could not exist without the other. Behind all of that was a much smaller group of genuinely Very Online supporters who, again, were much less significant than the media made it seem. 

Hochman’s Sonnenrad faux-pas was probably not a direct political appeal to self-identified “Nazis”, but rather an ill-advised attempt to emulate the mystique that parts of the Online Right boast in certain digital contexts. Unfortunately, the Twitter bubble meant that he underestimated the symbol’s significance in the offline world. One man’s meme is another person’s ADL hate symbol. It seems that the DeSantis campaign has forgotten that there’s a reason the originators of these memes choose to remain anonymous.  

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Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
4 months ago

Correction: National Review is not “the far right”. The fact that it continues to promote conservative ideas that would have been considered moderately right just a couple of decades ago is merely proof of how far Left the goalposts have been moved by the cultural and political elites – especially academia and the popular media – in the United States.
Donald Trump is no conservative, and never has been, but he has hijacked the far right who now see him as a martyr. Note that National Review has had a consistent and outspoken policy of distancing itself from Trump.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
4 months ago
Reply to  Gerald Arcuri

I think it’s safe to say The National Review is anti-Trump.

Martin Layfield
Martin Layfield
4 months ago
Reply to  Gerald Arcuri

Curious though that while Trump has become more right-wing over time, National Review has drifted further and further to the left.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 months ago

I don’t understand any of this and I’m happy about it.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I still can’t understand how it’s ok to send billions to a East European country that openly flaunts symbols like this, but a random, obviously false flag next to the truckers strike becomes a massive deal.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Geez Samir. My blood pressure just shot through the roof. The Nazi garbage was disgusting. The trucker protestors were truly diverse, every race, religion and creed in the country.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
4 months ago

Having watched it, I can say the real crime was not the Sonnenrad, but the video itself. What a piece of crap.

philip kern
philip kern
4 months ago

“these people are trying to appeal to Nazis” in the hope that they pick up the 300 or so N*z*s who vote in the US?

Last edited 4 months ago by philip kern
Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
4 months ago

Two comments on this were canceled by the Spectator World. I proposed they should publish a contemporary photo of this not very well known symbol, and another pointed out that the Guardian was very prone to claim to have uncovered Nazi symbols that let’s say were not well known. Yet oddly enough, actual SS runes as insignias of Battalions in a country that I will not name are ignored or explained away, one journo arguing that the SS rune in question just refers to a little village in Germany..

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
4 months ago

To the point of depleted uranium and cluster bombs, the United Kingdom and the United States are backing to the hilt people who broadly display the Sonnenrad.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
4 months ago

Not all conservatives are nazis but all nazis are conservatives.

Last edited 4 months ago by Champagne Socialist
Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
4 months ago

Not all Socialists are Nazis, but all Nazis are Socialists.

mike otter
mike otter
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

National Socialism = Socialism in one country. So if a Socialist is in a Country (a State as defined by UN Socialists) they are nazis in the German idiom. If they are in international airspace or waters i guess they are just hateful racists dirtbags. Interstingly the Sun Wheel is a tattoo widespread in heavy metal and rock music – aside from a few Norwegian outliers no-one with this ink that i know of would identify as an NSDAP supporter. Though some clearly support labour or the scots nats which is telling!

philip kern
philip kern
4 months ago
Reply to  mike otter

Naziism wasn’t contained within one country (unless you redefine ‘country’ to mean something like ‘Volk’ and overlook national borders between Germany, Austria, parts of Poland, and parts of Czechoslovakia).

R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago

“Staatsprasident Bolz [the conservative state president of Württemberg] says that Christianity and the Catholic faith are threatened by us. And to that charge I can answer: In the first place it is Christians and not international atheists who now stand at the head of Germany. I do not merely talk of Christianity, no, I also profess that I will never ally myself with the parties which destroy Christianity.
If many wish today to take threatened Christianity under their protection, where, I would ask, was Christianity for them in these fourteen years when they went arm in arm with atheism? No, never and at no time was greater internal damage done to Christianity than in these fourteen years when a party [i.e. the catholic Zentrum party], theoretically Christian, sat with those who denied God in one and the same Government.” – Hitler in February 1933 just weeks before taking power and throwing Bolz and other conservatives into camps.
The Nazis hated conservatives almost as much as they did Marxists. While they were forced into an alliance with some conservatives, their rhetoric was always furiously anti-bourgeoisie.

philip kern
philip kern
4 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

…and you can imagine what the (archconservative) Prussian aristocracy thought of an Austrian peasant. The disdain worked in both directions.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 months ago

You seem very comfortable throwing around labels. Unfortunately, they don’t really add much to discussion and make you appear aggressive and close-minded.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 months ago

Is this what passes for insightful commentary today?

Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
3 months ago

Not all comments here are idiotic but your comment is.