If you think things have gotten weird, hang around. We ain't seen nothing yet.
Case in point: below is a video of a neo-Nazi group holding a conference in Washington DC this past week, during which they celebrated Donald Rump's election victory.
The organization has an official name, but I'm not going to bother looking it up. And I'm not going to refer to them as "alt-right." They're Nazis.
Let's give a look, and a listen:
See what they're doing there? They're making that crazy Nazi salute. In a sense, a nice thing about Rump's victory is that the cockroaches are all coming out where we can see them better. Normally, they scatter when the lights go on.
But what about that salute? We think of it as the Heil Hitler salute (or we used to). And it is, in fact, currently against the law to make this salute in public in Germany or Austria.
But where did it really come from?
Remember Fake Rome?
There's a funny human tendency, which is to idealize a past time which the idealizer never experienced, and which probably didn't exist in the way the idealizer imagines.
The 1950s in the United States is often given as an example of this. Many people have nostalgia for that decade, and think of it as an ideal time of low crime, prosperity, and universal happiness.
There may have been an element of that. There were also a lot of segregated schools, bathrooms, water fountains and restaurants, not to mention plenty of back alley abortions.
Ancient Rome gets similar treatment. Below is a painting called The Oath of the Horatii, made in 1786 by Jacques-Louis David.
It is an idealization of the warrior spirit of the Romans. It is also the first known depiction of the hand gesture that 230 years later would become the Nazi Trump Salute.
|Nobody in Rome ever made this hand gesture, except by accident. David invented it as something wicked cool to put in a painting.|
The Fake Becomes Real
Naturally, people being how they are, everybody in Italy quickly decided that warriors in ancient Rome really did make that hand gesture.
Over the intervening centuries, the gesture even became known as the Roman Salute. Its popularity accelerated dramatically in 1914, when a film called Cabiria was released in Italy. Cabiria was an epic film that celebrated Italy's ties to its Roman past, and Rome's wars of conquest.
Characters in the movie made copious use of the Roman Salute - a hand gesture, which I might have mentioned, actual Romans didn't make.
Cabiria was written by an extreme right-wing Italian nationalist named Gabriele d'Annunzio. In 1919, at the tail end of World War I, d'Annunzio found himself in charge of the Italian occupation of the Croatian city of Flume.
Being highly creative, and totally insane, d'Annunzio started having all the Italian troops greet each other with this made up symbol of Roman martial power. By the early 1920s, the Fascist Party had begun its rise in Italy, and they adopted the salute as their own.
Mussolini Shows 'Em The Hand
In 1922, Benito Mussolini, aka Il Duce, became Prime Minister of Italy. For a few years, he made a show of presiding over an Italian democracy, but in 1925 he decided enough was enough.
He appointed himself dictator, and the Roman Salute became the greeting of choice in Fascist Italy. By December 1925, all government administrators were mandated to use it.
In 1932, the handshake was outlawed, and was replaced by the Roman Salute. By 1938, the Italians were revising history by editing handshakes out of previously existing movies and photographs. They even started editing handshakes out of photos of people from other countries.
Here Comes Hitler
|Adolf Hitler - dour, pissed off, not nearly as much fun as Mussolini. Way better at conquering things, though.|
Former starving artist, World War I veteran, and all around madman Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1932, after a decade long struggle to seize power.
The Nazi Party had been making the salute off and on since 1923, but they went all in once Hitler took over. Their original reluctance about it stemmed from the fact that it was an Italian, and not a German, hand gesture.
They fixed that apparent problem by simply deciding that it was a German gesture, and calling it the Hitler Salute. See? That was easy. In 1933, they made it mandatory for all government employees.
Oddly (or not), Hitler never completely gave up the handshake like his friend Mussolini. Of course, the salute, and the Fascism that went with it, didn't really work out in the end for its two most popular proponents.
Italy was badly outclassed in World War II and exposed as a second rate power by the Americans and English. Mussolini ended up shot, stabbed, and spit upon - his corpse hung upside down at a gas station and stoned by an angry mob (of Italians, no less).
Germany, after a brief flirtation with world dominance, utterly collapsed and was overrun by its enemies. Hitler wound up trapped in Berlin, cowering underground in a bunker while the Russians swarmed above him. He shot himself in the head rather than be captured.
|Just hanging around - Benito Mussolini reaps the whirlwind.|
Unrelated, But Every Bit As Bizarre
Coincidental, but entirely unrelated to the evolution of the Nazi Trump Salute, was something called The Bellamy Salute.
This odd hand gesture looks awfully similar to the Roman Salute, but was actually popular in the United States well before the Roman Salute really took off in Italy.
It was introduced in 1892, and was the original gesture that American schoolchildren made when saluting the flag. In 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted the hand-over-your-heart gesture, so that little boys and girls could finally stop making the exact same salute as bloodthirsty fascists and Nazis.