Each year, neo-Nazis travel to Wunsiedel, Germany, in a racist pilgrimage, as the town was once the site of the grave of Rudolf Hess, the deputy to Adolf Hitler. Tired of having their streets swamped by racists and anti-Semites, the townspeople concocted a genius plan to hit back at the Nazis — by using the Nazis.
Called Germany's most involuntary walkathon, in 2014 the town gathered enough sponsors to fund "Nazis Against Nazis." Henceforth, for each step a neo-Nazi takes in Wunsiedel, supporters donate money to organizations working to combat Nazism and help those emersed in the ideology reprogram. Essentially, it's socially conscious trolling.
While "Nazis Against Nazis" is a sincere effort to create a silver lining for an unfortunate situation, it doesn't mean the townspeople don't use the opportunity to mock their unwelcome visitors. According to ThinkProgress, signs are posted en route with sarcastic words of encouragement like "If only the Führer knew!” and “Quick like a greyhound! Tough like leather! And as generous as never before!" Checkpoints with snacks also speckle the streets so that the marchers can see how much they've raised to fight their cause while refueling to walk even further. Shame is a brutal teacher, but a teacher all the same.
By the end of the 2014 march, HuffPost reported that the neo-Nazis in Wunsiedel had raised almost $12,000 for their opponents, and that success has inspired other towns struggling with the same problem to start trolling for good. Per Vice, the town of Remagen started their own charity walk and saw their neo-Nazi visitors' numbers diminish by nearly half.
“I don’t know if Nazis Against Nazis is the reason the group shrank,” Fabian Wichmann of the Center for Democratic Culture in Germany told Vice, "but we see that the neo-Nazis see our actions, discuss them, and think about how to handle it. I think they have no idea how to combat our actions.”
Word of the Wunsiedel method has traveled overseas, and just this week, concerned American Stephanie Frank put out a call to turn white supremacist rallies into fundraisers for social justice. She told ThinkProgress that she's heard back from quite a few people who are interested in pursuing the tactic and learned that there are groups attempting to organize similar events in California and in Maine.
The ultimate goal of "Nazis Against Nazis"-inspired action is to uphold the right to free speech while also making it clear to racists and fascists that their views have no place in the United States. It's ingenious — fund the progressive resistance while denying neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members the chance to whine "But the First Amendment!"
America's alt-right is built on misplaced and misdirected anger, and since they can't channel their emotions correctly, the rest of the nation might as well do it for them.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Wikimedia Commons user Dguendel