Gays, Nazis, and the GOP

All of the Republican presidential candidates say that gay people should be prohibited from getting married. But Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association says that gay people helped bring Nazism to Germany.

The first statement is an opinion, about which reasonable people can and do disagree. But the second one is a flat-out lie, which makes reasoned dialogue and disagreement impossible.
And here's why it matters: Several of the GOP candidates have allied themselves with the AFA. Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain have all appeared on Fischer's radio show. And the newest kid on the block in the Republican race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, was the featured speaker at an AFA-sponsored prayer rally on Aug. 6 at Houston's Reliant Stadium.
But none of these GOP hopefuls have challenged Fischer, who insists that Adolf Hitler and many of his storm troopers were gay. "So it was homosexual thugs that helped Hitler to form the Nazi Party," Fischer told a radio audience in June, adding that the Party began "in a gay bar in Munich."
The truth is precisely the opposite, as historians such as Geoffrey Giles and William Spurlin have shown. Rather than coddling or encouraging gays, the Nazis banned homosexual activity as early as 1935. The following year, they established a "Central Office for Combating Abortion and Homosexuality."
Like the termination of pregnancies, the Nazis maintained, homosexuality would harm the health of the "Volk"–that is, of the German people. Gays "undermine the natural will to life by propagating an aversion to marriage and the family," one Nazi author wrote in 1938.
Other Nazis worried that gays lacked the masculine virtues to defend the nation during wartime. "The new Germany has no use for criminals and weaklings, perverts and inverts, but requires instead straightforward and sincere manly souls," one propagandist wrote, "and so we must combat homosexuality with the means available to us–education, observation, the law, the police, and the courts."
And so they did. Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis arrested roughly 100,000 men as homosexuals. Most convicted gays were sent to prison; between 5,000 and 15,000 were interned in concentration camps, where they wore pink triangles to signify their supposed crime.
It gets worse. To win their release from the camps, some gays were forced to undergo castration. Others were mutilated or murdered in so-called medical experiments by Nazi doctors, who insisted that homosexuality was a disease that could be "cured."
Were some Nazis gay, as Bryan Fischer has asserted? Well, yes: Every big lie has a small grain of truth. Hitler and his advisors especially worried about homosexuals in his "SS" paramilitary force, who would supposedly put their own lusts ahead of protecting the Fatherland.
That's why Hitler authorized an edict in 1941 prescribing the death penalty–yes, the death penalty–for SS and police members found guilty of gay activity. "One should not tolerate homosexuality," Hitler told his aide Josef Goebbels. "The National Socialist State must be a manly state."
Before Hitler came to power, ironically, German socialists and communists tried to demean the Nazis by suggesting they were gay. The idea was picked up by the U.S. military during World War II, when American propaganda posters showed blond Nazi soldiers winking at each other.
And today, it's mouthed by the likes of Bryan Fischer. Seventy years ago we used anti-gay prejudice to discredit Nazism. Now Fischer is trying to use our hatred of Nazism to discredit gays.
Will it work? Much of the answer rests on Fischer's friends in the Republican Party, who have thus far stayed quiet on the question. Asked about Fischer's remarks before the Aug. 6 prayer rally, a spokeswoman for Rick Perry said they "aren't relevant to the event."
But they're deeply relevant to the event next November, when we will elect a new president. And nobody knows that better than Perry, who used the prayer rally to publicize his bid for the White House.
That's why he and the other GOP candidates need to denounce Bryan Fischer's comments for what they are: lies. The candidates have the right–indeed, the duty–to share their views on gay marriage and other contested public issues. But the gay-Nazi slur isn't merely a viewpoint or an opinion; it's a fraud. Let's see if the Republican presidential hopefuls have the courage to tell the difference.

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press).