Circulating on Telegram channels lately has been a 12-second video of a Chihuahua puppy snuggling up to a tiny, chirping chick, eventually resting its head upon the chick and falling asleep. The caption reads, “Love Animals, Hate Antifa.” If such a politicized caption to an innocuous video proves a surprise to readers, the purveyor of the content will come as a shock: WAP1488, an unabashed neo-Nazi community with more than 1,000 subscribers.
The Godfather of Fascist Terrorism
This is just one of a score of videos with the “Love Animals, Hate Antifa” label circulating in recent months, and one small part of an even larger phenomenon of national socialists using animals to promote their message. Defying the more commonly-identified brutal aesthetic, certain national socialist circles have jumped on a bandwagon elsewhere used on dating profiles and in advertising: gain appeal by featuring animals.
From Telegram to Reddit
WAP1488 serves as one of the most unadulterated manifestations of this attempt to wed animal rights and national socialism. The name of the organization alone signals its ideological disposition — the numbers being a reference to the “14 Words,” a slogan of the white power movement, and to the Nazi salute “Heil Hitler” (“H” being the eighth letter in the Roman alphabet).
“There was widespread support for animal welfare in Nazi Germany among the country’s leadership,” the group’s pinned post reads. “Adolf Hitler and his top officials took a variety of measures to ensure animals were protected.” What follows is a list of the various conservationist and anti-hunting efforts by the likes of Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goring, men more widely known for their role in orchestrating World War II and the Holocaust.
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The post goes so far as to observe that “Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels described Hitler as a vegetarian whose hatred of the Jewish and Christian religions in large part stemmed from the ethical distinction these faiths drew between the value of humans and the value of other animals,” a statement followed by an observation that “Hitler planned to ban slaughterhouses in the German Reich following the conclusion of World War II.” This last comment is perhaps most jarring to mainstream audiences, given the morbid irony of Hitler’s use of slaughterhouses in the form of concentration and extermination camps that killed millions of Jewish people, individuals with disabilities, sexual minorities, Romani, intellectuals and political opponents.
Beyond these written arguments articulating Nazi care for animals are scores of photographs and videos of Nazis with animals. Not only is there an array of images of Nazi soldiers playing or relaxing with German Shepherds and cats, but also dozens of images of Hitler posing with dogs, rabbits and fawns. At times, the images do not feature humans at all, and yet they still publicize this line of reason, typically through tea-cup-sized animals perched among Nazi uniform.
This is not just a strategy of WAP1488, though. It is a tactic used by many supporters of national socialism. Telegram channels such as the NSDAP International (almost 10,000 subscribers), the NSDAP (more than 5,000 subscribers) and the nSDAP International (almost 2,500 subscribers) now all fairly prominently feature animal-centric images and rhetoric.
Meanwhile, on Reddit, several subreddits discussing national socialism post both official Nazi propaganda of animals and unofficial Nazi-animal content. Perhaps exemplary of this is one private subredding called r/awwschwitz, which describes itself as a subreddit “for pictures of adorable or cute things that one would not normally associated with positive emotions,” and which an observer characterized as a dispenser of “all your cutesy Hitler needs.”
More than just cute photos and references to Hitler’s alleged vegetarianism, a common refrain among neo-Nazis across various platforms is one claiming that the current German animal welfare legislation is the descendant of Nazi policy. In fact, contemporary national socialists depict Nazis as being trailblazers of animal rights and preservation of the natural world. The obscuring of these “facts” are then denounced as attempts by biased media to unjustly vilify Nazism and all its devotees.
The Nazi Regime
Universal cuteness of fuzzy baby animals aside, it appears that there exists a propagandistic through-line between the arguments of Nazis then and certain national socialists now. Current national socialists rely heavily upon the plethora of staged animal-Nazi propaganda produced and initially disseminated in and by the Third Reich itself. Scholars such as Norbert Bromberg and Verna Small, Arnold Arluke and Boria Sax and Jan Mohnhaupt have described high-ranking Nazis as demonstrating a public interest in animal welfare due to some mixture of personal affection for animals and political messaging.
To the latter point, it is clear that many of these images were staged rather than natural displays of affection, as signaled by the unnatural poses and contexts of the photographs — soldiers patrolling war-zones bending over to play with cats, Hitler staring off into the distance flanked by a dog standing on hind-legs in the same pose, and kittens curled up in Nazi helmets that dangle from fences. All of these images may simply exist because the regime felt that an articulated interest in animal welfare for the purposes of presenting a compassionate and trustworthy side to the public, but also to normalize their social Darwinist ideas and vilify racial, ethnic and religious others that they strove to paint as cruel toward animals.
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In the Third Reich, the “other,” and Jewish people in particular, were characterized as brutal toward animals. This was most frequently discussed in relation to alleged cruelty in the kosher butchering process, which Nazi propagandists noted as being evidence of Jews’ “other” status and depicted as ritualistic and sadistic. Meanwhile, Nazi attacks on intellectuals — particularly Jewish ones — also made use of animal welfare issues, claiming that Jewish scientists engaged in the practice of vivisection (operating on live animals for experimental purposes), tormenting their test subjects and fulfilling Jewish bloodlust.
Curiously, the Nazis also produced a plethora of propaganda that painted these “others,” their enemies, as animals in their own right, the only animals for which the Nazis did not show any care. The Nazis waged a relentless propaganda campaign dehumanizing their opponents, particularly Jewish people. Nazi propaganda depicted Jews as rats, snakes, spiders and other unpopular animals.
It is significant to note the animals most often chosen: those with multiple appendages, such as spiders and octopuses, to reflect the narrative of Jewish control over society; or dangerous, poisonous or diseased animals. The snake, for instance, harkens back to parallels of the creation story and Satan in the form of a snake, whilst rats carry diseases and spiders fatal venom.
Today’s National Socialists
National socialists today rely upon the exact same framing of these issues, though with an expanded pool of racial, ethnic and religious communities to vilify and with one additional purpose. Juxtaposed with other national socialist content, be it animal-Nazi propaganda or otherwise, are images of the “other” as subhuman or as animals, as well as animal cruelty perpetrated by non-white peoples.
In the latter case, the most commonly used scenarios are Jewish kosher slaughter practices and Kapparot (used by some communities in the lead up to Yom Kippur to cleanse the person of sin through the transference of sins to a chicken, which is then ritually killed in the street); halal slaughter practices by Muslim communities; the killing and consumption of dog meat in China and South Korea (taken as metonyms for all Asian cultures); detusking elephants and other killings of large animals; and vivisections by pharmaceutical companies.
The examples have been carefully selected, attempting to characterize non-white people as inherently violent, as Kapparot and the Yulin dog meat festival are annual, while the vivisections, religious slaughtering and big game hunting are relatively common practices. National socialists use these moments of violence against animals to make audiences wonder: Would these “others” attempt to mainstream such practices if given the opportunity?
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Beyond this, though, is an implication of supremacism, with white people displaying the more advanced emotions of empathy and compassion absent in the “uncivilized” communities that commit animal cruelty. The videos and images are incredibly violent — blood spurting, animals squealing and resisting their victimization, and carcasses in disrepair. Aside from being graphic in their own right (as any slaughter video, kosher, halal or otherwise, is want to be), the cruelty in these videos may be said to also encourage audiences to extrapolate — if this is how these communities treat innocent animals, how might they treat white people?
Using a Different Brush
Finally, in addition to the obvious attempts to paint the Nazis as less brutal than these other groups through their contrasting approaches to animal welfare, the use of animal content is meant to chip away at mainstream anti-Nazi sentiment. These images clearly seek to generate an implicit connection between viewer and subject, resulting in the humanizing of individuals involved in a regime considered so brutal that it is widely denounced as unequivocally inhumane.
As social media commenters in these sections — even those professing not to be radicalized but mere observers of said content — have noted, seeing and hearing about Nazis’ care for animals has the effect of chipping away at the whole evil characterization of the Nazis as depicted in mainstream history. According to the logic of neo-Nazi propagandists, if Nazis were not always cruel and instead cared for innocent animals, then the stories about Nazism — and by extension national socialism — are exaggerated; if stories of their cruelty are exaggerated in this regard, then perhaps they are dramatized in other areas as well, such as in relation to the Holocaust. Meanwhile, if Nazis were caring for animals, i.e., the innocent, then it would stand to reason that they vilified communities that were not innocent and instead the bloodthirsty “others” living in Germany. Thus, neo-Nazis use animal welfare concerns to pull at a thread of the metaphorical tapestry of Nazi evil, a thread that they want to tug to the point where it entirely unravels.
It warrants reiterating that absent from this modern national socialists analysis is any acknowledgment of the unprecedented violence and cruelty of the Nazi regime. No matter how many kittens SS officers held or dogs that Adolf Hitler posed beside, the reality is that the most brutal butchers of life were the German National Socialists themselves. All of the torturous behaviors Nazis projected onto the “other” — experimenting on and brutally slaughtering living beings — were acts that Nazis committed against other humans.
Advertisers and people on dating apps use animals in their content to grab attention, appear relatable and induce those positive thoughts that incline the viewer to further consider them. While for different goals, the same is true for national socialists today. Thus, a puppy falling asleep with a chick speaks less to national socialist interests in the cute and more with their hope that, in time, they can draw viewers near and make them dream of a national socialist world.
*[Fair Observer is a media partner of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right.]