August 15, 2011

Tactics: Chumping Nazis With Tee-Shirts

I'm a sucker for innovative tactics, always have been. It's worthwhile to go beyond "Hey now, that's cool...", though, and try and figure out what makes some tactics seem to deserve our appreciation.

I ran across one the other day. Seems that the lucky kids at a fascist skinhead music festival in Thuringia in what was East Germany got a free t-shirt, with a snazzy white on black skull and crossbones and, below it, the proud proclamation "Hardcore Rebels."

The only thing is, when they launder their new acquisition (or their mommies do), that stuff will all wash out, revealing a new message from the donors. This is an outfit called Exit Deutschland, whose aim is to help "young people transition out of militant right-wing lifestyles." The new message: "What happened to your shirt can happen to you. We can help you break with right-wing extremism."

Okay, let's contemplate this tactic--as a tactic. Me, I'm an ocean, a culture and two generations away from having much right to speak in the debate over whether trying to convert li'l Nazis-with-training-wheels into "normal" German kids is the best approach to fascist currents there.

The tactic, however, is elegant. Its strengths reveal themselves on minimal reflection. The kids take the tees because, duh, they're free.

Sooner or late, depending on individual hygiene standards, they learn that they have been chumped. That humiliation, and the larger-scale display of their movement's vulnerability, may be more even important than the penetration of the message that there is a specific alternative for those uncertain about their course, especially newbies.

Then there's the megaphone effect--the German media picked up the story, at least in passing, and spread the word that attendees at the show had been made fools of. This also raised the profile of Exit Deutschland and thus its potential reach and effectiveness.

As with any tactic, it's also important to look at the limitations. The scale of the tactic was necessarily limited. The concert, run by the ultra-right National Democratic Party, had only 600 of the fash in attendance. I have no idea what the group's finances are like, but for a real grassroots outfit, handing out 250 specially-printed shirts would be a significant expenditure.

Whoever did the actual infiltration and distribution may well have been captured on video and likely marked for retaliation by those who were played. And of course, it can't be expected to work twice in the same milieu.

No surprise. Tactics are by their very nature limited and can be countered by an enemy who understands them. But when a tactic is rolled out like this one was, it's a people's victory and worthy of contemplation as an aesthetic object in its own right.

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