There is no way a now infamous group photo of Wisconsin teenagers simply shows the boys waving.
Yet that’s been one of the defenses for a picture many across the U.S. have perceived to be of the group conducting the Nazi salute. Out of more than 60 teens in the shot, around one-third are clearly demonstrating the straight-armed gesture.
“The country is dead wrong,” said photographer Peter Gust, who once taught and coached at Regis High School, in an Associated Press interview. “For society to now turn it around and blame these kids is absolutely wrong.”
No, it isn’t.
According to the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum, the salute became a common greeting for Germans during the Nazi rise to power in the 1930s. It often was paired with the phrase, “Heil Hitler.”
“Under the Nazi regime, Germans were expected to pay public allegiance to the ‘Führer’ (leader) in quasi-religious forms,” reads the museum’s website. “For example, they even saluted statues of Hitler.”
The Baraboo photo was taken in May on the steps outside the Sauk County Courthouse. Joe Luginbill, Eau Claire school board president, warned that the controversial photograph “is not an isolated incident.”
“No community is immune from these kinds of behaviors that perpetrate hate and violence,” he told Leader-Telegram reporter Julian Emerson.
The picture comes on the heels of an annual FBI report released this week that found a 17 percent rise in hate crimes in 2017 compared with the previous year. Out of 1,679 religious bias crimes reported last year, CNN reported, the FBI study found that 58.1 percent were anti-Jewish and 18.6 percent were anti-Muslim.
In a statement, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said the report “is a call to action — and we will heed that call.”
Hopefully, local leaders will as well.
“This is an opportunity to step up as a community and really examine how we treat one another,” Luginbill said.
Added Heidi Taylor-Eliopoulos, Chippewa Falls superintendent, in Emerson’s story: “Hate, sadly, still exists in today’s society.”
At best, the boys in Baraboo made a highly regrettable joke that made light of a horrific period in world history.
At worst, those in the photo who saluted actually believe in the hate that gesture represents.
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor