Town responds to Nazi salute prom photo

CNN's Don Lemon discusses a viral prom photo that shows a group of boys appearing to flash a Nazi salute and the Wisconsin town's reaction to this photo.

Posted: Nov 13, 2018 10:40 PM
Updated: Nov 13, 2018 10:55 PM

It's a terrifying sight: A pack of young white men, their arms extended in an apparent Sieg Heil salute, most of them smiling and seemingly laughing.

It's a type of image we've seen before, maybe in a WWII documentary, maybe at a Holocaust museum, maybe as part of an educational curriculum about the horrors of Nazi Germany.

This photo, though, isn't from a museum or a textbook. It's of high school students in Wisconsin, and it was taken last year for the prom. It has gone viral and, of course, with good reason:

When we've seen historic WWII photos of this sort, they have served to remind us not just of the mass genocide of Jews, people with disabilities, Roma people, LGBT people and other minorities, but of the dark fact that an entire nation got behind that genocide. And that a sophisticated government waged an effective propaganda campaign that relied on a long-existing chauvinism of white Germanic Christian superiority. And that while of course not every single German was on board, a great many were culpable.

The rise of Adolf Hitler, and the Holocaust that followed, was not the story of a malleable but ultimately innocent populace exploited by a powerful and malevolent few. It was instead a story we always see with autocrats, dictators and genocidaires: one of a powerful few backed by a malevolent many.

Some who are sympathetic to the Wisconsin students -- white non-Jews, one imagines -- will be tempted to write this off as teenage antics for which the young men should not pay a significant price. One of those people appears to be Peter Gust, the motorcycle photographer who took the photo and posted it on his website. I can imagine that many people saw the photo and wondered if this could have all been avoided if there was an "adult in the room." It turns out there was.

Gust claims the photo is "innocent," and is actually of the kids waving goodbye to their parents (I don't know how people wave in Wisconsin, but I've never seen it done like that). Gust has also taken the photo down and complained about "jerks" who are being online bullies -- by which he apparently meant the people angry about the photo, and not the teenagers who appear to be making a Nazi salute.

The photo was also tweeted on a parody account called @GoBaraboo with the caption "We even got the black kid to throw it up." If the photo was of an innocent group wave, why would it be notable that the one African-American kid participated?

The school administration is now investigating, and Baraboo police tweeted that they are assisting. It's unclear why police would be involved with this -- throwing up a Nazi salute is disgusting and offensive, but it is not and should not be illegal. Still, the school needs to take this seriously. That doesn't mean just a slap on the wrist. The school should have a policy on racist bullying (and if it doesn't, it needs to implement one immediately), and the students should face meaningful consequences -- suspension at the very least, and certainly alerting any colleges to which these students have been accepted.

Right-wing terrorism, including white supremacist and anti-Semitic terrorism, is the biggest domestic terror threat Americans now face. Is each student who raised a Nazi salute in that photo a potential terrorist? Of course not. But this is not merely youthful hijinks. We don't know why these particular young men went along with this pose, but it bears a chilling similarity to the gesture of genocidal regimes that many white supremacist terrorists display. It's no joke.

This should also be a moment of reckoning for the community that raised up these young men. They didn't have to learn the Sieg Heil salute at home to have grown up in a culture that tacitly or even explicitly overlooks or endorses bigotry. At least one student wrote to a reporter that bullying and bigotry are par for the course at Baraboo High School.

One has to wonder what messages these teens absorbed from the authority figures and adults around them (not to mention the adults in the White House) to conclude not only that throwing up a Nazi salute would make for a great photo, but also that it would be funny to tweet and share it.

The facts of this story point to one possible conclusion: This wasn't a shameful moment about which everyone thought better after the shutter clicked. It lived online for many months — and only now when it is under public scrutiny has there been a reaction. The Twitter account on which it was shared Sunday night — on Armistice Day — has now been made private. What does this incident say about the values of these young men as they leave high school and enter the adult world?

Repudiating hatred and bigotry must happen at home. But we also need leaders and authority figures, from teachers to the President of the United States, to model goodness, open-mindedness and intolerance of hate and bigotry. On that, we are failing, from Wisconsin to Washington.

Huntsville
Mostly Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 63°
Florence
Partly Cloudy
° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: °
Fayetteville
Partly Cloudy
65° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 65°
Decatur
Mostly Cloudy
64° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 64°
Scottsboro
Partly Cloudy
66° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 66°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

 

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 531094

Reported Deaths: 10978
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson765441522
Mobile40979804
Madison34763503
Tuscaloosa25781452
Montgomery24331589
Shelby23431249
Baldwin21135308
Lee15886171
Calhoun14505314
Morgan14300279
Etowah13834353
Marshall12222223
Houston10571281
Elmore10061205
Limestone9964151
Cullman9670193
St. Clair9657243
Lauderdale9428241
DeKalb8831186
Talladega8223176
Walker7236277
Autauga6920108
Jackson6813112
Blount6661137
Colbert6301134
Coffee5512119
Dale4831111
Russell441238
Chilton4294112
Franklin425682
Covington4121118
Tallapoosa4029152
Escambia393476
Chambers3563123
Dallas3551151
Clarke351061
Marion3119101
Pike310877
Lawrence300298
Winston274472
Bibb260764
Geneva250077
Marengo249764
Pickens234461
Barbour230857
Hale222977
Butler215969
Fayette212462
Henry188744
Cherokee184945
Randolph180241
Monroe177440
Washington167339
Macon159250
Clay156256
Crenshaw152357
Cleburne148941
Lamar142535
Lowndes138853
Wilcox127130
Bullock123041
Conecuh110529
Perry107726
Coosa107228
Sumter104532
Greene92334
Choctaw60624
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 854360

Reported Deaths: 12276
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby959681622
Davidson89465938
Knox50796635
Hamilton44378495
Rutherford43100435
Williamson28040217
Sumner24052349
Montgomery20315227
Wilson18838235
Out of TN1842298
Unassigned17005134
Sullivan16846295
Blount15513193
Bradley15062150
Washington14623245
Maury13517172
Sevier13408175
Putnam11398175
Madison11185242
Robertson9768131
Anderson8768172
Hamblen8616173
Greene7889156
Tipton7371102
Coffee6911122
Dickson6841112
Cumberland6748133
Carter6639158
Gibson6533146
McMinn651898
Bedford6512129
Roane6302105
Jefferson6222124
Loudon614069
Hawkins6110107
Lawrence595387
Monroe585595
Warren554681
Dyer5429106
Franklin515490
Fayette509076
Cheatham455856
Obion454196
Cocke451199
Lincoln436663
Rhea435375
Marshall419958
Campbell415763
Weakley414765
Giles3999100
Henderson379576
White366070
Carroll362283
Macon362278
Hardin357868
Hardeman352964
Lauderdale319644
Henry319376
Claiborne318173
Scott313645
Marion312847
Overton301661
Wayne296234
Hickman284446
McNairy282554
DeKalb280354
Smith277939
Haywood271462
Grainger263050
Morgan250239
Trousdale250222
Fentress242347
Johnson240939
Chester214851
Bledsoe214611
Polk208224
Unicoi204249
Crockett203248
Cannon192331
Union190734
Humphreys180327
Grundy179334
Lake170426
Sequatchie170229
Benton166740
Decatur158939
Lewis158226
Meigs139025
Stewart132528
Jackson132336
Clay110331
Houston109533
Perry106728
Moore101217
Van Buren84823
Pickett76024
Hancock59112

Community Events