Fox News' sick grotesquerie: The insane right-wing Holocaust meme is so much worse than Ben Carson

Ben Carson's offensive comments about the Holocaust are part of the larger "just world" theory of conservatives.

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 12, 2015 3:23PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Chris Keane)
(Reuters/Chris Keane)

Apparently, Ben Carson didn't think blaming the victims of the Oregon shooting was going low enough, so he doubled down, reaching for what may be the most repulsive victim-blaming possible: Arguing that the Holocaust wouldn't have happened if Jewish victims had offered armed resistance. Carson had defended a lax approach to gun control in his book, A More Perfect Union, by arguing that Hitler had forcibly disarmed "German citizens," and Wolf Blitzer asked him about it on CNN on Thursday. "I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed," Carson happily replied. "There's a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first."

Over the weekend, Carson---who is clearly incapable of ever acknowledging, must less owning, that he can be wrong---doubled down. "It’s not hyperbole at all,” Carson said of his comments on Sunday's Face the Nation. “Whether it’s on our doorstep or whether it’s 50 years away, it’s still a concern and it’s something that we must guard against.”

While Carson is careful not to blame Jews directly for the Holocaust, these comments verge on being a form of Holocaust denialism, feeding, as they do, of anti-Semitic myths that Holocaust victims just passively allowed the Nazis to round them up and kill them. This myth is, unsurprisingly, false. As Jacob Bacharach of the New Republic and Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post explain, Jews did resist the Nazis, frequently and with vehemence. In reality, the Nazis loosened regulations on gun ownership, though maintaining a ban on gun ownership for Jewish Germans. But the actual armed uprisings that happened, such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, disprove the theory that armed citizen resistance can overcome the mighty power of the state. "In reality, only about 20 Germans were killed, while some 13,000 Jews were massacred," Alex Seitz-Wald wrote in Salon in 2013. "The remaining 50,000 who survived were promptly sent off to concentration camps."

But despite the ahistorical nature of these claims, Carson has his supporters on the right. Keith Ablow of Fox News has defended Carson's argument and David French of the National Review wrote off Carson's critics as deluded "outrage merchants." This is the state of the American right, circa 2015, treading very closely to blaming the victims of the Holocaust for not being Rambo, as every conservative apparently believes he'd be under the circumstances.

But should we really be all that surprised? Victim-blaming is standard operating procedure for the right, after all. For every social inequality there is, you can bet there's going to be a conservative argument for why the people holding the short end of the stick brought it on themselves. Persistent racial inequalities? Don't blame racism, blame black people themselves for their supposed cultural failings. Women continue to make less than men? It's not sexism, but women somehow choosing to make less money. Rape epidemic on campuses? Blame is put on victims themselves for drinking, having sex, or dressing immodestly, not on rapists for choosing to rape. People are living in poverty? It's not income inequality or unemployment, but the fault of poor people themselves for supposedly being lazy.

In light of this, it's not surprising to see the same logic being applied, by Carson and his supporters, first to victims of gun violence and now victims of the Holocaust for supposedly not fighting back. Even though, in reality, they do.  But the possibility that you can do everything "right" and still somehow fail to beat the odds is so unacceptable to conservatives that they simply dismiss it out of hand.

There's a common term for this kind of thinking, where you believe that people generally get what they deserve, whether good or bad: The "just world" hypothesis. In psychology, it's called "system justification theory", but it's the same idea. "According to the hypothesis, people have a strong desire or need to believe that the world is an orderly, predictable, and just place, where people get what they deserve," Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez, ethicists at Santa Clara University explain.

To a certain extent, most people buy, on some level, into the just world hypothesis. We need to believe that hard work will pay off and making good decisions leads generally to good outcomes, or we will have  no motivation to do the right thing. But problems arise when people stop thinking the world is mostly fair and start reclassifying obvious examples of injustice as somehow being fair.

Obviously, conservatism isn't just a result of people sticking too closely to the just world hypothesis. After all, your average right winger is perfectly happy to start squalling about injustice if people they perceive as social inferiors---such as women, people of color, or LGBT people---start gaining rights and moving closer to equality. The just world hypothesis is more of a weapon, a way for conservatives to justify the status quo.

But the just world hypothesis is such a standard part of right-wing thinking that we shouldn't be too surprised to see it being employed in more and more deeply offensive situations, as American conservatism continues to grow more radical. Writing off the Holocaust as something that could have been avoided if the victims had simply resisted more is grotesque, but for conservatives, it has a lot of political value. After all, if you can believe that about one of the worst human rights atrocities of all time, then it's easier to write off the injustices happening in your own backyard.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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