Men Are Created Equal, Opinions Aren’t

by Greyson Van Arsdale, ’17

On Dec. 2, CNN’s website published a piece entitled “Hipster or hatemonger? The trendy young face of Austria’s far-right”, written by Atika Shubert.

I have never felt more incensed in my entire 18 years of existence than I did while reading that article. My classmates and teachers can all corroborate this, as I think I expressed my fury that day to each and every one of them.

The piece was about the leader of the Austrian Identity Movement, Martin Sellner, calling him “a clean-cut 27-year-old graphic designer, wearing black-framed glasses and brightly-colored shirts,” and fondly noting that he’s been called the “hipster” of the far-right as he was interviewed over “several cups of Viennese coffee.”

Sellner is careful in his interview to emphasize his belief that his movement is made up of “patriots” who only want to cultivate their own culture in their country. However, dig just a little deeper and everything becomes clear. Sellner told CNN that he wants his movement to express their opinions without “the racism of the old right.” However, Sellner later said he’s fine with European immigrants living in Austria – it’s just other groups that he has problems with, particularly Muslims. Somehow CNN, despite being one of America’s most prominent and acclaimed news sources, failed to point out this logical error.

Sounds a lot like racism to me.

There is someone in the United States whom Sellner is reminiscent of – the one and only Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right.” Spencer has in recent times brought out Nazi-era terms such as “Lügenpresse” (“lying press” in German) and openly called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” There’s no doubt; Spencer and Sellner are birds of a feather, though Sellner is definitely better at PR.

Here’s the thing. There is no such thing as “peaceful” ethnic cleansing. There is nothing peaceful about uprooting people from their homes for the color of their skin or the god they worship. There is no excuse for suggesting it, and it is undoubtedly racist.

There is no singular European identity, as Sellner likely knows. The life and culture of a born-and-raised Italian is fundamentally different from a born-and-raised Ukrainian. The life of someone living in Spain is different from someone living in Germany. The life of someone in the United Kingdom is different from someone in Greece. The “European experience” is nothing but a racist lie, meant to tether white people with little in common together against people of color.

There is severe danger in treating people like Sellner like a person with a regular old political opinion, normalizing him by calling him a “hipster” and commenting on how clean-cut and “good looking” he is. The fact that he’s a Neo-Nazi sort of takes precedence over his clothing choices, doesn’t it?

And CNN is by no means the first news agency to fall for this. A historical note – the original SS uniforms of the Nazi military were in fact designed by Hugo Boss, a famous fashion designer and now a profitable clothing brand. The only way that fascism can worm its way into the mainstream is by presenting a clean-cut image, dressing like it could be your next-door neighbor, offering a warm smile and a firm handshake. Treating these contemporary white supremacist movements like they are normal political opinions is not only inaccurate, it’s downright dangerous.

News flash, CNN: I don’t care what Sellner was wearing the day you interviewed him, and it’s frankly irrelevant. It might be more popular, or maybe just easier, to talk about his hipster glasses, or his love of coffee, or whatever else, but it also demonstrates flagrant disregard for journalistic responsibility.

I am a person who wholeheartedly believes in the work that journalists do. I wouldn’t write for Arlingtonian if I didn’t. (It’s hard work, and looking for stray commas in everyone’s articles is by no means a quick process.) I believe that journalism is essential to a free society.

But journalism can make mistakes. One of the more common ones is to mistake a commitment to objectivity for an obligation to be uncritical. We must be critical. We cannot blindly advertise the views of white supremacist groups.

To settle the burning question CNN has asked us, “hipster or hatemonger” – I’m afraid I must disappoint you. Being hipster and being a hatemonger are essentially like being a vegetarian and owning a sled, by which I mean they are not at all mutually exclusive. It’s entirely possible to dress well and be a vile white supremacist. The point is that one of those things is supremely more relevant than the other. We must learn to know the difference, and report the truth rather than what is easy.