It's actually not new, nor is it hip, cool or acceptable to call someone a "brown shirt." Those two words, used in an inflammatory way, make reference to Adolf Hitler's Sturm Abteilung, or "SA." And today, those two words are being used by one side of America's political aisle to describe their opponents.
The SA was a paramilitary arm of the Nazi party instrumental in Hitler's rise to power. They're often referred to as "brown shirts" because their military uniforms were brown. They, too, were eventually executed by their deranged leader along with millions of "others."
According to historian John Simkin of Spartacus Educational, the SA "were instructed to disrupt the meetings of political opponents and to protect Hitler from revenge attacks" and "were often former members of the Freikorps (right-wing private armies who flourished during the period that followed the First World War) and had considerable experience in using violence against their rivals."
Who does that sound like?
It sounds like the hordes of ill-informed and uninformed citizens who are regurgitating rumors, conspiracy theories, propaganda and right-wing lobby talking points -- as loudly and obnoxiously as they can -- in an effort to stifle opposing views and protect a status quo that doesn't protect anybody but corporations and the wealthy elite.
It sounds like the people holding up signs of our president with white face and a joker's smile. It's sounds like the people who are name-calling and holding up signs outside town hall meetings wishing the entire Obama family would die, signs with swastikas, signs with lies meant to breed fear and hatred.
What's interesting is that some right-wing conservatives have taken to calling liberals and progressives "brown shirts" and "Nazis." In fact, I was even called a Nazi in the comments on this blog last week, when I called out Rep. Patrick McHenry for lying to his constituents about President Obama's citizenship in an effort to stir an already stirred and angry base.
Today, it seems, it's tolerable to suggest people are Nazis, or part of the SA (aka "brown shirts"), because they have a differing opinion. Or, perhaps they're "different" people (meaning non-Caucasian, liberal or because they speak with an accent) who have opinions, ideas and beliefs that challenge the status quo.
Change is difficult. That's well known. However, just because something is difficult doesn't mean it's bad. And, just because change is stressful doesn't mean it's acceptable to drop all civility and start calling people names, being rude and dominating town hall meetings. That's not productive. It's not democratic. And, frankly, it makes you appear uneducated and barbarous.
So, what is a Nazi?
Well, history says Germany's Nazis were a large group of mass murders who singled out people who were different from them in some way -- be that due to political views, sexual orientation, race or religion. Then, the Nazis attempted to eliminate those segments of society from existence. (Note: They shouldn't be confused with today's Neo-Nazis, who are part of a post World War II, international hate-filled movement.)
They weren't tolerant. They weren't interested in civilized discussions of the day's issues. They weren't interested in critically thinking through complex problems.
They were into rule by fear and oppression.
They were angry after World War I. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war, left Germany in a bind. The country had been ravaged by war and now, according to the treaty, WWI was Germany's fault. They had to give up their arms, concede land and pay reparations.
Enter Hitler. He was a charismatic leader. He was a suicidal psychopath who ruled Germany as its totalitarian dictator. He was an evil man who tortured and killed millions of people because they were different.
Suggesting President Obama is Hitler-like is ridiculous and baseless. Suggesting people who have differing views are Nazi-like is also outlandish. It's intentionally mean-spirited discourse meant to frighten people who don't know any better.
Name-calling and disrupting meetings instead of listening to others is harmful to our democracy. It's un-American.
We the people are better than this.
We can rise above emotional arguments to discuss the facts and our differing view. But, in order to have a productive discussion, we have to spend time listening to other people's points of view, not shouting them down.
Practice not assuming. Practice not forming your retort while someone else is speaking. Practice truly paying attention to the person you are discussing an issue with. Practice compassion.
What you'll find is we're all much more alike that we are different. You'll find we all want the same basic things. You might also find sound solutions to our problems.
Stop the name-calling. Stop the mean-spirited discourse. Stop and listen.
From the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum:
"They don't look like monsters."