“Every revolution devours its own children.”
Once upon a time—a day in 1999, to be exact—a young gay American and young gay Canadian shared a dream of founding an organization which united gay and straight skinheads, creating a new era in tolerance and compassion between racist heterosexuals and homosexuals in their war against non-whites. From this dream emerged the American Resistance Corps (ARC), an organization with two purposes: to inform “straight skinheads that there were decent gay skinheads already among them in the movement who didn’t want validation but simply wanted acceptance for their common goals”, and to build “the framework for cultural recovery and a brighter future for the white race where all white people can live and work in harmony together without the interference and hinderance (sic) of the selfish interests of other races.”
For most, the existence of a group such as ARC is puzzling. Gay Nazi, Gay Aryan, Gay Supremacist … the terms seem like oxymorons. How can people join an organization that has sought to suppress or eradicate them? It’s illogical. Nonetheless, across the world, groups of gay and lesbian individuals embrace ideologies that are bigoted and seek to oppress others in much the same way that LGBT persons have traditionally been oppressed: exclusion, vilification, even murder.
In all fairness many skinheads, gay and straight, do not subscribe to the racist views with which this movement is frequently associated, but a significant portion do. Political scientists and psychologists have studied this phenomenon, with various theories proposed. Some argue that participation in a group that fails to have one’s own interest in mind is a form of self-loathing and punishment, while others maintain it stems from a desire to transfer their pain onto others. (Wyatt Powers, Executive Director of ARC, argues on the ARC website that gay membership in anti-Semitic and racist groups is a natural response to the Jewish and black communities’ efforts to subjugate gays.)
Understandably, the extremism of the views supported plays a role in motivation. Members of the Log Cabin Republicans, LGBT persons who support the Republican Party, are often criticized for supporting a party that opposes equal right protections for the community. Still, the views they support are largely mainstream and hardly militant, as is the case with Gay Nazis.
According to Rosa von Praunheim’s documentary Men, Heroes, and Gay Nazis (see excerpt on page 2 of this essay), 10 to 15 percent of Germany’s Nazi extremists are gay. The documentary, in part, chronicles the rise and fall of Michael Kuhnen, a neo-Nazi leader for much of the ‘80s. At the time, Paragraph 175, the German law criminalizing homosexuality, was still in effect—it wouldn’t be repealed until 1994.
Kuhnen’s announcement that he was gay, along with his publication of a pamphlet advocating for the inclusion of gays in the neo-Nazi movement, sparked a division in the ranks of the various Nazi groups gaining strength at the time. Associating with known homosexuals was just another reason for police interference. The schism remains today, as some Nazi groups openly embrace gay members while others repudiate them. History, however, reveals that homosexuals have long been a part of the Nazi party and were major players in its formation.
Typically though, when one hears the words ‘Nazi’ and ‘homosexual’ in conjunction, one thinks of the atrocities gays were forced to endure under Hitler’s regime. Even today, there is no clear number of how many gay people were killed; no count was taken, so historians can only estimate based on arrest numbers and concentration camp occupations. That historians and researchers ignored for decades the plight of homosexuals during the Nazi reign allowed important records to be lost and recollections to become cloudy.
Further, homosexuality was illegal in Germany before Hitler rose to power, so many who died in the camps could have long been in the closet, even to their death. What is clear is that Hitler and the SS launched a serious offensive in the mid-‘30s to eradicate “degeneracy”, and gays were considered degenerates. Arrests for homosexuality rose from around 2,000 between 1931 and 1933 to over 24,000 between 1937 and 1939, according to David Fernbach’s introduction to The Men with the Pink Triangle.
The book is the story of Heinz Heger, a gay man who survived internment. His story makes clear the vile treatment to which homosexuals were subjected, often worse than the treatment of other prisoners. Fernbach’s research shows that SS leader Heinrich Himmler issued orders that homosexuals were not to be killed outright, but worked to death. As such, they were not shipped to concentration camps, but sent to “death pits” with other undesirables. These camps were classified as Level 3 camps that operated under the rule that prisoners must be dead from overwork within a few months of arrival.
While still alive, the men had to live under rigid conditions. They were allowed no human contact, and rules governed how close they could get to other prisoners, guards, and fences between camps. Heger describes how the men were not allowed to put their hands or arms under their blankets at night, so there was no chance of masturbation, even when winter temperatures in the bunkhouse were below freezing. Those who failed to comply in winter were taken outside, doused with cold water, and made to stand in the freezing weather for an hour. Most, already weakened, died quickly.
Each moment of every day was governed by rigid rules with sadistic consequences for noncompliance. In summer, workdays started at 7AM and lasted until 8PM; winter hours were 8 to 5. Rules in the bunkhouse were enforced by “greens”, criminals who were also prisoners. In 1941, Heger’s camp got a new commander, nicknamed “Dustbag” by the prisoners, who broke up the “gay” bunkhouse and dispersed gay prisoners into the rest of the population, but his persecution of gay prisoners was worse than his predecessor’s. Even after the war ended and the camps were liberated, many gay men remained imprisoned under the old German law outlawing homosexuality.
Heger’s tale is horrifying, and shows the deep hatred that the Nazis had for gays. (Lesbians were similarly persecuted, but seldom arrested for lesbianism; instead, they were charged with prostitution or similar crimes.) The atrocities endured were brought to life again in Martin Sherman’s 1979 play Bent, made into a film by Sean Mathias in 1997. In the most memorable scene, Max and Horst, two gays imprisoned in Dachau, must stand in the sun side by side without touching or looking at one another. Still, they manage to bring one another to climax through the power of their words. Bent is not a romance, though—true to the Nazi reign, there are no happy endings.
It would be absurd, then, to suggest that the same Nazi party that tortured and killed so many gays could have been founded with the help of an army run by gay men or that Hitler himself was gay.
A Mutual Comfort Level
Ernst Röhm’s homosexuality was no secret to Hitler or anyone else. Still, the two became friends in the early ‘20s, and Hitler placed Röhm in charge of his Sturm Abteilung (SA), the private army Hitler used to defeat his political enemies and gain popular support. Within three years of assuming leadership of the SA, Röhm had grown the army from 70,000 to 4.5 million.
Not only was Röhm gay, many of his fellow leaders of the SA were gay, as well. Röhm recruited his friends, even appointing one of his lovers, Edmund Heines, to be his deputy. Art historian Christian Isermayer described an early meeting of the SA as “quite well behaved but thoroughly gay”. Many of these early meetings took place in gay bars and “pick-up joints”, including Berlin’s Eldorado, where bisexual Karl Ernst and gay Paul Rohrbein, SA leaders, made many of the plans for the New Order. (Stewart, Graham. “Brownshirts Met in Gay Pick-up Joints”, The Times, 25 October 2008)
Hitler was apparently accepting of Röhm’s sexuality, even coming to his defense when Röhm’s intimate letters were published. Lothan Machtan’s controversial book The Hidden Hitler argues that Hitler didn’t worry about Röhm’s sexuality because Hitler himself was gay. Machtan’s book is thoroughly researched, but he fails to unearth any conclusive evidence that proves Hitler’s sexual proclivity for other men.
Machtan presents several series of historical facts, anecdotes, and quotes, and draws the conclusion from each that Hitler had engaged in homosexual conduct. For instance, as a young man, Hitler lived in a hostel known as the home to numerous male prostitutes. At the time, he earned his living as an artist, making between 20 and 40 crowns a month, hardly enough to live on. Yet Hitler showed no signs of being indigent, so he must have had another source of income. Could Hitler have earned a little extra cash as a trick for wealthy aristocrats?
More convincing is Machtan’s telling of the relationship between Hitler and August Kubizek when Hitler was in his late teens and early 20s. The two men attended the theater together, took long walks and hikes, went on overnight camping trips, vacationed in known gay getaways, and even bought matching clothes. In his letters to Kubizek, Hitler shows great jealousy and asks for “exclusivity” in their relationship. The letters also show a longing for Kubizek when he is away, pleading with him to hurry home. In discussing Hitler, Kubizek noted that no one could “express my secret desires as unexpectedly as my friend.”
As for Hitler’s lengthy relationship with Eva Braun, Machtan maintains that she knew her role as Hitler’s “beard” and their last minute marriage before death was her reward for faithful servitude. No evidence suggests the relationship was ever consummated, and Hitler’s aides swear that it wasn’t. Braun is quoted as saying that the advantage of dating Hitler was that she never had to be jealous of other women.
Machtan presents enough anecdotes and circumstantial evidence to allow for the possibility that his conclusion is correct. Although Machtan fails to establish conclusively that Hitler was gay, he does make one important fact evident: Hitler was comfortable around gays, being in gay establishments, and counting gay men as his friends. Thus, his eventual assertion that Röehm and the other gay leaders of the SA were a threat due to their sexuality rings false.
The truth is that Hitler feared that Röhm and the SA were planning a revolt, a suspicion encouraged by Röhm’s enemy, Heinrich Himmler. This led to the infamous Night of Long Knives, during which close to a hundred SA leaders and supporters were executed, and Röhm and hundreds of fellow SA officers were taken into custody. Given the opportunity to commit suicide, Röhm refused and was shot.
Once Röhm and his supporters had been eliminated, Himmler was free to include homosexuals among those being rounded up for the camps. While there is no evidence that Röhm in any way protected the homosexual population, aside from his friends and lovers, it is a fact that arrests for homosexuality didn’t rise until after Röhm’s execution in 1934. The war against gays began with the press release stating that Röhm and others were killed due to their degenerate homosexuality.
Within a year of Röhm’s death, Paragraph 175, which had banned anal intercourse between men, was expanded to include any lewd or suspicious behavior between men. This is not to imply that gay men had free reign before Röhm’s death; social mores and government literature condemned homosexuality, but little action was taken against gays. Still, the elimination of Röhm unleashed a wave of hostility against gays.
Having established a plan for the perfect Aryan race with Himmler, Hitler had no more use for the gay community, even those who had helped him in his rise to power. Gays and lesbians were useless in the genetic manipulation needed to create the master race, so they, like Jews, gypsies, Poles, the disabled, and so many others, were expendable.
What the Nazis did to the homosexuals of Europe pails in number compared to other groups, and all those who were victims of the Nazi regime suffered unimaginably. Still, Hitler’s association with the gay community is noteworthy in that, among those persecuted under his rule, it is only with the gay community and the Catholic Church that he had extended exposure. It is easy to imagine him becoming disillusioned with the church, given his views, and having resentment towards it and its members. But the gay community had done nothing to cross him, and had been frighteningly accommodating in the early days of his campaign.
It is easy to speculate about Hitler’s sexuality, the number of gays in Hitler’s service, and the extent to which Hitler used his gay associates before casting them aside, but we will never truly know what was in the mind of the madman. Nonetheless, it is important to analyze his pathology in order to understand the actions of contemporary gay racists.
To understand why gay and lesbian individuals would join groups that appear to violate their self-interest, one must understand why anyone would join so-called “hate groups”. Carolyn Turpin-Petrosino studied this question, examining a variety of factors and their influence on the inclination to join. She found that, surprisingly, few members had experienced physical abuse, dispelling the myth of the injured and angry young man reacting to his own mistreatment.
Far more likely to influence the decision to join was exposure to the group, with word-of-mouth exposure more significant than internet or other media exposure. (“Hateful Sirens…Who Hears their Songs? An Examination of Student Attitudes toward Hate Groups and Affiliation Potential”, Journal of Social Issues, Summer 2002)
However, the internet plays a more important role for gay racists, according to Waldner, Martin, and Capeder in the Journal of Political and Military Sociology. Because many racists resent the inclusion of gay members, gay racists must rely on the internet instead of general meetings of racists to communicate.
From studying internet bulletin boards, the researchers concluded that gay racists have seven methods of addressing the apparent stigma associated with being gay and bigoted: minimizing the stigma, appealing to master status, appealing to higher loyalties, attacking the stigmatizers, blaming the victimizers, denying the oppressor, and rejecting the stigmatizer. (“Idealogy of Gay Racialist Skinheads and Stigma Management Techniques”, Summer 2006)
While scant research has been done on what propels persons to join groups that seemingly fail to welcome them, the reason that appears to be dominant is “appeal to higher loyalties”. On their website, Log Cabin Republicans offer this reason for their existence, declaring allegiance to the Republican ideals of “limited government, strong national defense, free markets, low taxes, personal responsibility, and individual liberty”, ideals that supersede the Republican stance on LGBT equality.
The ARC offers similar logic: the need to oppress and vilify non-whites and non-Christians is more important than the goal of achieving acceptance for gay racists. Members of both groups argue that they can change the perceptions of the respective organizations regarding gays and lesbians by “working from the inside”.
Gay individuals who supported Hitler’s rise to power had similar motivations, seeing Hitler’s economic proposals and plans for eliminating the Jewish threat as more important than any wrath directed their way.
A gay rights movement had begun in Germany in the 1890s, and the nation had gay-themed magazines. Mainstream periodicals and newspapers debated gay-rights issues. Reportedly, Berlin in the ‘20s had more gay bars than New York City had in the ‘80s. The flourishing gay and lesbian community felt comfortable with the new regime; homosexuality had been illegal for decades, but the laws were ignored and few anticipated the Nazi’s persecution of gays. LGBT persons had little reason to belief that their support of the Nazi agenda would be their own undoing.
It is doubtful that the founders of the American Resistance Corps knew the convoluted history between the Nazi party and the gay community, but is also doubtful that it would have mattered much if they had. Hatred is a powerful emotion, one that overrides logic and clarity of thought. It is an emotion that allows individuals to betray their self-interests, to support causes that society at large finds abhorrent.
History clearly teaches us that complacency allows that hate to grow, and the consequences of this hatred for the LGBT community are not only costly, they’re deadly.
Men, Heroes, and Gay Nazis - excerpt