Posted on February 28, 2021
It’s called CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference and it’s currently underway in Orlando, Florida. There America’s political right have gathered including its Republican Party, in a celebration touted by the CPAC website as:
The largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world … hundreds of conservative organizations, thousands of activists, millions of viewers and the best and brightest leaders in the world.
It’s said that at CPAC those with political ambitions stake their claim. This year’s theme, “America Uncanceled” holds no irony. Donald Trump, the man America recently cancelled as its president, will speak tomorrow bringing the convention to a close.
Were it not that this celebration occurred barely seven weeks after a Trump-led conspiracy to overthrow the US Congress in a bid to stop Joe Biden becoming the current President of the United States, few outside the 24/7 media bubble would give it pause.
Were it not that sitting members of the Republican Congress attending CPAC are currently under FBI scrutiny for conspiracy to incite this sedition with Trump, this convention might have had meaning for the larger political world.
But this year, CPAC holds a strong local orientation purely because Trump did lose. It’s about the Republican Party deciding whether to stay hitched to the man who cost it not just the White House but both houses of Congress. And the Republican Party is in turmoil.
Traditionalists are miffed. None more so than the Fox News empire that in 2020 saw its viewership slashed to an extreme form of conservatism that dragged eyes to neo-Nazi websites, Patriot chat rooms, QAnon social media, Parler, MeWe, and Fox’s once fledgling streaming competitors Newsmax and One America News Network.
Mainstream Republicanism changed in 2008 challenged by the Birther and Tea Party movements. All gave way in 2016 to Trumpism. Republicans are now at war with themselves. It’s a fight between a moderate conservative base and those who see in the 75 million people who voted Trump in 2020, a powerful, extremist, evangelical, pro-Spirit of 1776, white, nationalist future.
Some are saying that this very struggle is evidenced in the design of this year’s CPAC stage. That’s right. It’s right there at the Hyatt Regency Orlando. Look closely and you’ll see an image of Third Reich infamy. The question is whether this was deliberate?
There is no doubt that in 2020 neo-Nazis voted for Donald Trump. As did folk from other anti-Semitic and anti-Black orientations: Patriots, Klan, Militias, Minutemen, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Three Percenters; the consumers of Breitbart, Daily Stormer, Stormfront, Vdare, and the conspiracy industry among them.
Now, Hitler’s Germany loved its runes—and Hitler, with his SS chief Heinrich Himmler knew their propaganda value well. Formed of stark lines, elegant symmetry and circles; steeped in the nationalism of the Fatherland’s Anglo-Saxon and Nordic roots, (even if the Swastika shared its culture with Buddhism and Hinduism), numerous runes adorned the Nazi world.
This year’s CPAC stage takes the inverted shape of what’s called an “Odalrune”: a diamond extending two lower legs. Versions of it give these legs arrowheads. Some give them feet as seen at CPAC.
While America’s far-right National Socialist Movement did purposefully adopt this rune as its political face in 2016, and while the NSM marched in Charlottesville earning Trump’s “very fine people” acknowledgment it would be hard to find a premeditated nexus between it and CPAC’s stage. Owing to infighting, the NSM is currently a shell of its former self.
So, why else choose the Odalrune? The better question would be, why didn’t CPAC’s stage designer know how bad a choice the Odalrune would be? For those studied in military history will tell you that had the Republican Party intended to deliver a nod to the far right with it, the Odalrune comes with some pretty nasty baggage too.
To understand why, we need to step back to mid 1942. The German Army in the East had been in retreat since 1941 having lost 600,000 troops dead to a Russian winter counter-offensive at the gates of Moscow. Himmler now reckoned to build up his elite volunteer Waffen SS or “Armed SS” in response, and he turned to the estimated million Volksdeutsche living in the occupied territories of Croatia and Serbia.
Up to that point, the Waffen SS had been a creature with a German backbone and a volunteer ethos. The Volksdeutsche, however, were foreigners living a Germanic culture in other lands. When Himmler then ordered the creation of a Yugoslav division he sacrificed the SS’s “racial purity”.
He named that division the Prinz Eugen (“Oy-gan”) or the 7th SS Mountain Division.
And for its emblem, Himmler gave it the Odalrune.
This is where the Republicans get into trouble at CPAC. First up, the Serbs and Croats weren’t eager fodder for the 7th SS. Gone forever then, went the myth of SS volunteerism too as conscription, under duress, helped fill the division’s ranks.
Then came notoriety. The 7th SS’s battlefield lay exclusively in the dirty Yugoslav Partisan war. The Nuremberg war crime trials held after World War 2 had little trouble tying the 7th SS to atrocity. As George Stein details in his seminal work The Waffen SS, the Prinz Eugen Division participated in the:
Burning of villages, the massacre of their inhabitants, and the torture and murder of captured partisans.
Welcome to the CPAC stage with its hidden SS messages of “my honour is loyalty” and “work makes you free”. Welcome to the Odalrune with its stories of cowardice, reluctance, anti-nationalism, criminality and terror.
Surely, this couldn’t have been the Republican Party’s intent? Surely its strategists Steve Bannon and Roger Stone would have known the Odalrune’s tale?
Nor would they use CPAC to alienate the Republican Party’s abundant non-extremist base—also populating those 75 million Trump voters nor its Jewish cohort along with Florida, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
I’m certain the Odalrune-shaped stage was just a pretty impressive coincidence.
In a few hours’ time, Donald Trump will take to that Odalrunic stage: the man who divided America like no other in modern times. The man who publicly acknowledged the Proud Boys and incited sedition against the US Capitol. The man who despite drawing the largest Republican vote in US history, still lost the 2020 Presidential Election. A man under investigation for tax fraud and inciting the January 6th insurrection.
And that the Republicans still wish to rally around him, to me, says that anything is possible—because it’s widely expected that when Trump mounts that Odalrune he’s also going to announce his run for a second presidential term in 2024.
The question then is not merely why, but what does the Republican Party really hope to achieve in this?
Trump cost them the House, the Senate, and the White House. He lost the post-election legal battle. He has congresspeople spouting conspiracy theories and continuing a narrative of electoral fraud. He has states threatening secession. He presided over 450,000 Covid-19 deaths with a mortality momentum that’s yet to cease. Surely the Republicans can’t believe that this chaotic mix is a recipe for electoral success.
Of course not.
The real question is, what else do those controlling the Republican Party truly hope to gain not in 2024, but next week?
© 2021 Adam Parker.
Picture Credit: Krawczyk, W. and Lukacs, P. (2002) Waffen SS Uniforms & Insignia. Wiltshire, The Crowood Press Ltd. (Author’s copy.)