Every time I mention politics on my blog, I receive howls of protest that it’s inappropriate to talk about how bad ideas about history relate to current events, as though history doesn’t inform how we live today. At the same time, no one seems to complain when the purveyors of these bad ideas about history use the platforms their popularity affords them to advocate for political positions. We have seen, for example, Jim Marrs use the popularity of his ancient astronaut and anti-government conspiracy theories to advocate for rightwing political positions, alongside transparently ridiculous anti-Obama propaganda, such as his claim that Obama was conspiring liberal elites to commit mass genocide against conservative Americans. We have similarly seen Steve Quayle use his quack claims about Nephilim and the coming reign of Satan to openly accuse Democratic politicians of being in league with Lucifer and of being actual demons. (This is ironic because last week Steve Bannon, the chief strategist for the candidate Quayle supported, Donald Trump, cited Satan as a role model.) But it’s not just that; specific claims about history serve to underline and underscore the way we think about current events, as when pro-Trump political action committee spokesman Carl Higbie cited Japanese internment as precedent for creating a national religious registry for Muslims.
Like it or not, bad ideas from history and about history cannot be separated from the political moment, and never more so than when they are used to justify injustice. It is on this point that I want to call to your attention the rant that Nephilim theorist and Christian proselytizer L. A. Marzulli delivered on his blog last week demanding that he not be exposed to people and ideas that disagree with him. His list of reasons was very long, so forgive me for condensing somewhat to make the point:
I’m a white guy. To be more precise, I’m an Italian White-guy and I’m tired of being called a racist just because I agree with president-elect Trump that we should build a wall. I’m tired of hearing that I’m privileged or “I didn’t make that” when all my life I’ve worked hard and no one gave me anything. […] I’m tired of hearing about the plight of men who think they’re women trapped in a mans body and then want to use the woman’s bathroom. […] I’m tired of hearing that it’s a woman’s right to choose, which, in my opinion, is the most fallacious argument of the 20th and 21st century. […] I’m tired of being told that Evolution is a fact when the fact is Evolution is the biggest bunch of hooey ever foisted on the public. […] What I’m not tired about is knowing that Jesus is the Messiah and He will return to set up His literal millennial kingdom.
Yes, L. A. Marzulli is a precious little snowflake who needs his safe space to get away from all the hate. I won’t even complain today that his plea to be left to his ideology came only days after he ranted that “snowflake” Millennials like Miley Cyrus need to be confronted with truth so they can “wake up.”
No, I have a different point to make today.
Did you catch what he said in his second sentence? This is of such importance that I’m going to put aside the conservative boilerplate that fills his unoriginal screed to explain in detail to L. A. Marzulli how his ignorance of history has led him down the road to hypocrisy.
L. A. Marzulli says he is white and Italian: “I’m an Italian White-guy,” he writes. Now as it happens, I, too, am an Italian-American (on my father’s side) and know the century of struggle for acceptance than Marzulli blithely dismisses as a false accusation of “privilege.” The fact of the matter is that L. A. Marzulli can claim to be both Italian and white precisely because Italian-Americans were able to join into the privilege of whiteness. This was not always the case, even in the lifetimes of Italian-Americans still living. To pretend otherwise is a lie and offensive to all those who lived and died unable to enjoy the same privileges as Marzulli and I do.
I know I bring this up a lot, but it’s important to repeat: When the fringe historian Thomas Sinclair ranted about how “the threatened Spanish or Latin domination,” by which he meant Italians and other southern Europeans, was destroying the moral fabric of white America in 1893 and called for an end to immigration from Italy and the other southern European countries, he was not speaking in isolation. His was the opinion of perhaps a majority of those who identified as “white” in the nineteenth century—Anglo-Saxons, Scots, Welshmen, Germans, and Scandinavians, essentially the so-called Aryans, Anglo-Saxons, and those politically aligned with them. Sinclair contrasted Aryan ingenuity against Latin laziness, and Protestantism against Catholicism in what he viewed as a race war between whites and Latins (then the word for southern Europeans, not Latinos), or what he called “a gigantic Armageddon contest of blood and belief.”
When he wrote, this wasn’t just the idle bluster of wealthy conservatives engaging in the prejudice of comfortable privilege. Two years earlier, on March 14, 1891, the largest mass lynching in American history took place in New Orleans, Louisiana. Several Italian immigrants were found not guilty of murdering the police chief of New Orleans, and white Louisianans dragged eleven of them into the streets and lynched them all, setting off a wave of anti-Italian hate crimes across the United States. Teddy Roosevelt declared the hate crimes to be “rather a good thing,” while the New York Times thundered that the Italian immigrants were “sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins, who have transported to this country the lawless passions … of their native country.” Calling Italians “a pest without mitigation,” the paper compared them to rattlesnakes and declared that the criminal justice system should not apply to Italians, and that “every good citizen” (read: white man) would be happy to see Italians lynched.
Just as Donald Trump has called on Muslims to report fellow Muslims for jihadi activity, a New Orleans mayoral committee of fifty white citizens told Italians to report their family and friends for terrorist activity or face “harsh and stringent methods outside of the law.” They meant that white people would simply kill Italians at will, with the sanction of the government. The man who signed his name to those words, white supremacist Edgar H. Farrar, would become the president of the American Bar Association.
Oh, and the guy who started the wave of hate crimes by leading the lynch mob? He got elected governor of Louisiana, saying while in office that Italians were “just a little worse than the Negro, being if anything filthier in habits, lawless, and treacherous.” In fact, Parker told Italian-Americans, in a letter to a leading Italian-American newspaper, that Italians had to be careful because their crimes and general unsavoriness created a “stigma” which all white people will ascribe to the whole Italian race.
Compare the strikingly similar rhetoric about Mexicans today: “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
And here’s the rub: Like Donald Trump today, that governor, John M. Parker, considered himself a champion of the people and a radical reformer. He was even progressive, fighting for women’s suffrage and the end of the KKK. (OK, so he wasn’t that much like Donald Trump.) His hatred and his politics were somewhat at odds, but it was par for the course at the time, and again today.
Such hate did not end there but continued for decades. H. P. Lovecraft, that bottomless font of racism, gave voice to the worst instincts of the anti-Italians, writing in a letter of October 12, 1928 that politicians were going too soft on immigrants, saying that Democratic presidential candidate Gov. Al “Smith, to my mind, is a direct exponent of the newer-immigration element—the decadent & unassimilable hordes from Southern Europe & the East whose presence in large numbers is a direct & profound menace to the continued growth of the Nordic-American nation we know.” Lovecraft wanted to make America great again by making America white again, and white was synonymous with Nordic.
I think you get the point.
This is why I find L. A. Marzulli’s rant not just the pious fraud of a holy hypocrite, but offensive to all those, like my own family, who suffered under the burden of not being white enough to please the self-appointed Aryan elite, whether they called themselves WASPs, Nordic, Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic, or just American. When my great-grandfather immigrated to this country, he had to live in the Italian ghetto because “white” Americans wouldn’t rent rooms to him anywhere else in town. His son, my grandfather, fought for the United States in World War II at a time when “white” Americans questioned whether an Italian could fight for the United States without secretly trying to aid Italy. The U.S. government declared Italian immigrants to be “enemy aliens,” though the worst government actions fell on those who had not yet gained U.S. citizenship. Even in my father’s lifetime, “white” Americans still hurled anti-Italian slurs (“dago,” “wop,” and the ever-present “garlic-breath”) openly on the street.
Nor was this confined to Italians, even among the groups today considered “white.” We all remember “No Irish Need Apply,” which some modern scholars have tried to whitewash from history. Even Finns—lily white as anyone!—were discriminated against and accused of being secretly Asian. My mother’s side of my family is Polish, immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the city directory of Auburn, New York, deep into the twentieth century, their names and addresses were listed separately from “real” citizens, in a section in the back of the book reserved for all the scum of Eastern Europe, lumped together as “Austrians.” Their names couldn’t appear alongside the “real” Americans.
This changed over time. L. A. Marzulli and I can identify ourselves as white only because the self-proclaimed “real” whites promoted Italians (and Poles) to what social scientists often call “provisional whites,” people who could be counted as white when convenient but who retain the taint of ethnic identity. The people who were “real” whites at midcentury—WASPs, Scots-Irish of the heartland, Nordics and the Teutonic—let Italians and Poles into the club because of fear of a greater enemy: Blacks and Latinos. Worried that “white” Americans would no longer be a racial majority in the United States, they expanded the definition of whiteness to preserve a somewhat diminished hegemony. Within a few decades, this was forgotten, and the label of “white” now fits more securely, thanks to the shrinking pool of “white” Americans, down now to just 63% of the population, or 77% if Hispanic whites are allowed “provisional” status in the counting.
When Marzulli crows about his white privilege, he either ignorantly or offensively omits the fact that the privilege he resents being told he possesses isn’t the natural birthright of all free men but a specific set of political, economic, and social privileges created by the consent and consensus of “mainstream” society. Marzulli might want to forget this, but I have not, and it makes me angry to hear someone who emerged from the same history of discrimination and oppression wield those same cudgels against others, as though to say “I’ve got mine. Go away.”
None of this is to say that one can’t be Italian and against immigration or for conservative politics (God knows my uncle is all of these) but rather that it is the height of hypocrisy to openly advocate specific arguments against new immigrants that were used against your own ancestors, within living memory, while pretending they did not and should not apply to you, as Marzulli has done at many points over the course of the long election cycle. Any privilege that comes to us by the acquiescence of the self-described “real” Americans can be taken away just as easily when the definition of a real American changes, and we should not forget that. There is a reason there are a dozen or more ethnic insults for Italians and Poles and almost none for rich WASPS. More importantly, there is a reason that Americans of British ancestry call themselves only American while Marzulli felt compelled, even in his denial, to qualify his whiteness with the adjective Italian.
11/21/2016 11:39:30 am
I'm sure this was heartfelt, Jason. But it rings shallow coming from a man who had no qualms plastering the "Nazi" label on an elderly Jewish woman.
11/21/2016 11:50:16 am
What Jason ACTUALLY wrote about Halpern:
11/21/2016 12:10:51 pm
I didn't call her a Nazi. I called Frank Joseph a Nazi, which he was. Lots of people have worked with him or for him, unwittingly or not, including your bosom friend Scott Wolter, who published articles in Joseph's magazine and anthologies, and David Childress, who did the same. Wolter even carpooled with Joseph to the AAPS conference, which Joseph wrote about online a few years ago. "Ex-Nazi leader" is a fair description of who Joseph is, and a good indication of where he came from. Since he was a key advocate in the Burrows cave saga--Richard Flavin noted that he seems to have entered the story when he met Burrows, a prison guard, while serving time for child rape in the prison where Burrows worked--how could it not be relevant that he also helped to midwife Halpern's work on fringe history after she worked on the material from that same cave? If you feel it is too shocking to note that he was a Nazi, pray tell: Why should I be complicit in hiding that fact from those who might want to believe in the claims he pushes?
8/3/2018 03:03:59 am
I only needed to go one third into this article to realize it wasn't worth venturing any further. ...Poorly written, and so obviously filtered through the author's leftist nonsense. ...Not worth any more of a comment.
11/21/2016 11:41:13 am
Superb post. It's saddening that some would want to erase the history of discrimination against certain groups, like Italians and the Irish.
11/21/2016 11:19:59 pm
"I've seen films where the Irish character was called a Mick or Irish, as if it was necessary to identify the character as such."
11/27/2016 08:05:31 pm
Hopefully you like Trae Crowder as he wants to 'drag Dixie out of the dark'.
11/21/2016 11:56:15 am
In the histories of most of the countries that I have read over the years there does seems to be these cycles of initial dislike or even hatred followed by grudging acceptance then full acceptance.
11/21/2016 12:16:36 pm
Howling? That's quite a characterization. Preferable to whining perhaps, but either way it's clear you're going to inject your political views into your blog topics regardless. That's fine by me of course, as you are the host and I am simply your guest... well, while the general conversation remains polite.
11/21/2016 12:27:52 pm
The issue I was commenting on here isn't a question of whether to have immigration or not (which is a political issue that can be argued on rational grounds--specific numbers, education level, etc.), but the specific argument Nativists tend to make, explicitly or by implication, that immigrants are bad because foreigners, non-whites, and non-Christians are somehow fundamentally bad people. It's why it becomes disturbing that "immigration" bleeds so easily into distrust and even hatred of the racial, ethnic, or religious groups from which immigrants come.
11/21/2016 02:04:23 pm
One day I would love to see political issues argued on rational grounds. Just the dreamer in me, I suppose. Till then, it's best realized that it often colors even our otherwise rational arguments, no matter the stated intent.
11/22/2016 06:50:34 am
Joe, rational debate is a lot more difficult when self-appointed internet-police feel the need to tell everyone how pointless all debate is.
11/22/2016 11:22:36 am
11/21/2016 04:51:09 pm
Personally, I DO believe that open immigration, or at least more-open immigration, is a human-rights issue. When thousands of people are attempting to flee their own imminent murders, they need SOMEWHERE to go. Given that my own ancestors came here at the expense of the people already living in this land, it's hypocritical to say that here shouldn't be it.
11/21/2016 10:26:24 pm
In summary then, it's a rational discussion if someone agrees with you. If not, it's because.... well... fill in the blank with some demeaning thing to say about them.
11/21/2016 01:02:39 pm
Here's an article about the use of the classics by the alt-right.
11/21/2016 01:38:29 pm
One of the saddest things to see is to turn on a tv and watch people with last names like Hannity and O' Reily ranting about too many Mexicans and Syrian being allowed when 200 years ago. They wouldnt been allowed in the country if the people in their postion had have their way
11/21/2016 02:18:27 pm
Well said, Jason!
11/21/2016 02:22:36 pm
Jason is a joke. As white as it gets. He went to exclusive white college and hides in white neighborhood. He's a closet racist.
11/21/2016 02:34:18 pm
Huh? I went to Ithaca College, which was neither "exclusive" nor "white." I live in Albany across the street from an immigrant Chinese family and two doors down from a Black family on one side and Southeast Asians on the other.
11/21/2016 03:18:11 pm
Your school currently has less than 3% African Americans. When you were there it was less than 1%. And ONE black neighbor. That's white privilege. You are a pretender. You do nothing about racism but make it worse.
11/21/2016 03:34:53 pm
#BlackLivesMatter, what are YOU doing about racism? All you've done thus far is accuse everyone on this blog of being a racist.
11/21/2016 03:53:45 pm
"And ONE black neighbor."
11/21/2016 04:47:00 pm
Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are plenty of people around me from all different ethnicities. I don't know them personally because like most Americans I don't make eye contact with most neighbors.
11/22/2016 12:23:18 pm
You're the pretender.
11/21/2016 03:00:45 pm
There is a superior White Race of which this Blog knows nothing.
11/21/2016 03:11:57 pm
Final score: 0/10
11/21/2016 03:19:04 pm
As an Italian myself, I'll never understand those countrymen of mine who spend their lifes ranting about immigrants in general, making exactly the same arguments that a century ago were made against their (our) ancestors and/or relatives who went to America (I have some cousins in the East Coast, not sure exactly where).
11/23/2016 03:57:38 pm
And before Italians it was the Germans (my grandmother's family) who were recent immigrants, characterized as ignorant, stupid, dirty, tasteless, disease-ridden, et cetera. At various times it's also been the Polish, the Yugoslavians, and the Chinese. Back in 16th-century England it was the Welsh who were regarded as universally stupid, dirty, and thieving.
11/24/2016 05:29:27 pm
Which is quite ironic if you think about it, since the english royal family in the 16th century, the Tudors, was of welsh origins.
11/21/2016 03:36:29 pm
The reason a pan-European ("white") identity formed in the US is because ethnic Italians, Germans, Poles, Irish, Scots, English, Swedes over time have mixed. Trump for example has German ancestry on his father's side and Scottish ancestry on his mother's side. It's hard to find an American who has ancestry from only one ethnic group. This is the same reason a "black" identity formed; African Americans also descend from many different ethnic groups.
11/21/2016 03:59:02 pm
The ethnic mixing is kind of a mixed thing in itself. It probably depends on the region. When my parents got married, my grandparents disapproved a bit because my mother wasn't Italian, and throughout my life my Italian family never really thought of me as being an Italian like them. Most of the kids I grew up with had parents from the same ethnic group. I imagine it depends on how strong ethnic community identity remained in any given locale.
11/21/2016 08:49:36 pm
The whole America-as-melting-pot thing is part of what has made and will continue to make this country successful. For immigrants there is something comforting about living with others who share your native language and historical customs. There is, however, the autonomous-enclave mentality of some groups (yes, I'm referring to the Muslims in Paris who want their neighborhood to be run by sharia law and off-limits to the French police) that should give us pause. Chinatown and Little Italy and other ethnic neighborhoods may have had their own internal civics but they recognized at some level that they were subject to the surrounding legal authority, and each successive generation became more diluted as the kids met and married those of different backgrounds (often against their parents wishes). When I was younger I knew a mixed-race couple who moved away because they felt intimidated by the people around here. "Back then" it was something that stood out like a sore thumb. Today very few people get really upset about it and there are two mixed-race marriages in my extended family. We should allow as many people to immigrate as we can accommodate but the first and foremost consideration should be that we are a nation of laws and those who want to come here should, first and foremost, have to follow the laws about coming and staying here.
11/21/2016 04:28:33 pm
White American mutt here. I'm a mix, nearly 1/2 generally mixed, but 1/4 Italian faux Catholic (north central, not south like Sicily), and 1/4 Irish Protestant, but most if it is mixed and there might even be some Canadian there. Born on the west coast but ancestry traces back to midwest, and far enough back, upstate NY too. What a coincidence, but several generations back, (great, great grandparent, father's side, from Fries land).
11/21/2016 04:45:55 pm
Oddly enough, my great-grandfather (who was an Austro-German married into a Polish family) was the bootlegger in my family. He ran rum from Canada to New York during Prohibition and stared down the IRS when they raided his home looking for the liquor. He put a sign on my grandmother's bedroom saying it was quarantined for scarlet fever and dared them to raid a sick girl's bedroom. They didn't, and he was never caught.
11/21/2016 06:51:27 pm
Is it fair to say that when someone introduces himself as a "white guy" you should simply stop listening to him?
11/21/2016 08:55:28 pm
If you have to define yourself by your race or whatnot and not your beliefs...I agree with you
11/21/2016 08:53:10 pm
Excellent post! And I'm a conservative libertarian grandson of Italian immigrants on both sides. The history of souther European people's coming to America is insightful to the immigration hardliners and the multiculturalists. The past is a sunk cost and you can't determine economic force by govt using moral judge,ents on what group deserves more. Govt should not discriminate or force others to but all Americans have the right to discriminate in their own lives to achieve their own pursuit of happiness. Groups don't have rights only individuals do and we all have the same natural rights. Original sin is bs regardless of race,
11/22/2016 06:20:30 am
Well said Jason.
11/22/2016 09:29:28 am
Jason, I'm glad you brought up this topic.
11/22/2016 12:19:12 pm
As an Irish, Scottish, English, Norwegian, Austrian, Russian white guy, I'm tired of all this hooey about how terrible Vikings were. Now I'm going to my safe space with my teddy bear and a six pack.
11/22/2016 02:36:56 pm
Most of what we know about Vikings is hearsay and from popular operas written centuries later. They did not have horned helmets, did bathe, were actually quite clean, and were actually quite advanced in terms of religion and social strata, but the later conquerors made them off as barbarians.
11/22/2016 03:22:13 pm
Another misconception: Vikings were not a people or a tribe. Viking was an occupation.
11/22/2016 02:48:40 pm
These early pro civilizations were before Egypt and much later Meso Americans, leading some credence to the ancient origins idea of there being something before what we consider civilization.
11/22/2016 05:34:23 pm
Jason, it's hard to catch you goofing up on something historically noteworthy, but you missed the mass hanging of 38 souls in 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota. This is more than three times the number of poor Italians hanged in 1891, and about 30 years earlier. (Native Americans still hold the record, as far as I know.)
11/22/2016 11:13:22 pm
Jason, in your photo you look part Filipino with Chinese ancestry, but don't seem to mention it. Am I close? Just curious, not looking for an excuse for a slur.
11/23/2016 04:50:10 pm
First time poster and I must say I love you site.
11/24/2016 05:19:59 pm
Top notch stuff, Jason. Really. I know some of the others complain about the political tone of your recent writings but I've quite enjoyed it. You cannot separate history from politics and given the historical epoch we are living in it would be foolish to do so. As I always used to tell my students: Context matters!
11/27/2016 12:30:17 pm
It's funny how these guys don't know their own history. Well not funny I guess so much as tragic. Because we have all sorts of white nationalists who wouldn't have been accepted by the person they seem to worship – Hitler. Poles, Russians, the list just goes on. They certainly wouldn't have been accepted as Aryan, I don't know so much about white :).
11/28/2016 04:01:55 pm
The term ' special snowflake 'has been said to refer to the burnt remains of Jews after they were put into ovens during WWII. I think it's an alt right(white supremacist/neo-nazi) term. If true, should it be used?
11/30/2016 08:31:45 pm
Do you have a source to back that claim, Seamus?
6/26/2018 07:34:02 pm
These days it's pretty much come to mean someone who believes that they're somehow "unique" or "one-of-a-kind" (as, supposedly, the real things are); but, like the real thing, they -- or at least their precious egos -- tend to be extremely delicate and melt when subjected to the heat of close scrutiny.
1/19/2017 05:15:46 pm
OMG, OMG, OMG.
6/26/2018 05:33:21 am
"I’m tired of hearing that I’m privileged or 'I didn’t make that' when all my life I’ve worked hard and no one gave me anything."
3/8/2020 03:23:36 pm
I just read your article on "Why L A Marzulli is Wrong..."...and I couldn't DISAGREE with you more! I'm an Italian white girl who agrees with Marzulli 100%!
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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