How Nazis Use Fat to Excuse Violence
Dispatches from the front lines of the war on my body.
Content Note: Nazis, fat hate, murder
Your body belongs to the nation!
Your body belongs to the Führer!
You have the duty to be healthy!
Food is not a private matter!
-Nazi slogans (referenced in The Nazi War on Cancer, Robert N. Proctor, p 120)
On August 12, 2017, Heather Heyer was murdered by a white nationalist terrorist who hit her with a Dodge Challenger while she marched against the rise of hate in the United States. Her cause of death seems fairly straight-forward, and was witnessed by multiple people. But Nazis couldn’t let it go. In the dark reaches of the internet, they clutched at two points about Heather. The first is that she has no children. The second is that she was fat.
The Daily Stormer in particular wrote a disgusting piece that basically boiled down to Heyer deserving to die because she was fat. It was so awful that GoDaddy, their hosting site, decided enough was finally enough and booted them. But the Daily Stormer didn’t stay gone for long.
In September of 2017, this article was posted.
“Heather Heyer’s Parents are Very Fat People,” the title announces, and then Lee Rogers, beneath a photo of Heyer’s mother, writes that she is very fat, and adds that he is proud to be associated with the Daily Stormer “which believes in raising awareness about obesity. There are far too many fat people wandering around in our societies. It has become a major health crisis that needs to be corrected.”
“Far too many fat people wandering around” they say. “Needs to be corrected,” they say. I didn’t even have to mull over those words. You see, I’ve been reading.
A few weeks ago, I was struck with a question: What did Nazis think of fat? The neo-nazis of today I already knew hated fatness. But I was left with a curiosity as to what Nazis in the 30s and 40s thought of the subject.
Google was not entirely fruitful. It returned a forum thread from a few years ago where Nazi “fans” were discussing the same topic and could not come to a consensus. One of them, however, recommended a book.
I was filled with trepidation. A book recommended by a Nazi? But I wanted to know, and so I read.
There are, of course, a few major differences between American neo-nazis and the nazis of Germany’s past, but one of the major differences is individualism versus collectivism. Much of Germany’s autocratic fascism grew from a collectivist philosophy. Thus, those who were not fulfilling their duty to labor, military, and fertility rates were not fulfilling their duty to the Führer and, by extension, the nation.
Proctor writes about this in The Nazi War on Cancer at length. “Nazi leaders wanted tough, lean, high-performing man-machines; a proper diet would reduce the incidence of ailments such as cancer and heart disease but would also increase labor productivity, maternal performance, and military masculinity.” (120) While these same anxieties exist in the United States, their framing is more individualist, based around the failure or success of the consumer-citizen. Citizenship in America is mythologized as a kind of self-making, a self-actualization. The American Dream is little more than a mythology about a citizen engaging with capitalism to negotiate their self and individualize their self-actualization. But American anxieties and Nazi German anxieties about fatness align in many ways as well, such as the entitlement to the national body, and parallel body anxieties that manifest as a result of it.
Helene Shugart in her book Heavy discusses the exigent anxieties informing current panic surrounding fatness. “One factor contributing to contemporary concerns about obesity is assuredly fears around national security: specifically, fears of attack or infiltration as well as of vulnerability to those things.” (7) She goes on to explain how a case can be made that “obesity gained purchase and visibility as a critical issue in the mainstream at least in part because of the affective symmetry of concerns regarding control, discipline, monitoring, and strength relevant to both actual bodies and the national body. And this may likewise explain why widely acknowledged and similar officially designated epidemic levels of heart disease, cancer, or diabetes have not generated the same degree of concern and efforts of redress: none of these are characterized by qualities congruent to the same extent with a national climate of fear.” (7)
The thing about the national body is that it is a myth. It is a constructed fiction that reflects bigoted ideas about the makeup of the nation rather than any kind of statistical reality. The national body, in reality, is not abled, is not cis, is not straight, is not white, is not Christian, is not masculine. Not entirely; not by a long shot. But nationalist entitlement to the concept of this national body creates a canvas for white supremacists to project their body anxieties onto. One of those anxieties is fatness.
This should come as unsurprising, of course. Farrell lays out a case in Fat Shame for how fatness and race and gender became inextricably entwined culturally, and describes actions like Cesar Lombroso performing forced examinations on women to prove criminality and fatness (a sign of “atavism” in the parlance) were related. I’ve gone into the subject at length in the past. To quote:
“One of the key bodily signs of inferiority for scientists and thinkers of the 19th and early 20th centuries was fatness. Interestingly, this has gone relatively unremarked in the literature on 19th- and early 20th-century thinking on evolution and civilization. Yet much of the writing in this time period described in detail the fatness of “primitive” people and of all women, using that trait as evidence of inferior status.” (Farrell, Fat Shame, p. 64)
Farrell also describes how this anti-fat bias was leveraged against the immigrant body, explaining that significant attention was paid to supposed signs that could identify the “superior” from the “inferior” and the “civilized” from the “primitive.” (Farrell notes Lombroso would have used the terms “normal” and “atavistic” as well.) (76)
“Cartoonists who published their work in periodicals like Harper’s Weekly and Life frequently drew immigrants as fat, as a quick way to signify to readers their inferior status.” (Farrell, Fat Shame, 76)
Indeed, we see this same behavior in Nazi Germany, with one account of a Nazi woman questioned by Allies laying it out:
As one young woman told US interrogators after World War II, she had long thought, even prior to her school classes in race theory, that Jews were simply disgusting. ‘They are so fat, they all have flat feet and they can never look you straight in the eye. I could not explain my dislike for them.’
When the neo-nazis of today at the Daily Stormer focus on Heyer’s body, her fatness, they are casting her as deserving of her death because to them, she did deserve to die for being fat. But many people wonder: There are fat nazis, right? Let’s get into that next.
On August 9th, 2017, Allie Conti wrote a piece for Vice titled “Neo-Nazi to Troll Army: ‘We Have to Be Sexy’ at the Big Alt-Right Rally” just days before the Charlottesville protest and the act of terrorism that would claim Heyer’s life. In it, she notes how Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stormer urges those joining the “Unite the Right” demonstration to look “sexy” and “appealing”. “The means you have to go to the gym,” Anglin wrote. This rhetoric echoes sentiments from Hitler himself instructing the Hitler Youth that the new German must be “swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp’s steel” and that they must be “more disciplined, fit and trim.”
Further, Anglin exhorted his fellow nazis: “Fat people should be allowed to join groups and be involved in rallies, but we need to create a culture where we don’t necessarily shame people, but do look at them and expect them to get it together. We should help people get it together. I’m working on my biggest diet guide ever, which I think will help the overweight and skinny alike, even if they’ve minimal time for exercise.” He added, “Continued obesity should not be tolerated.”
In their disgusting piece attacking Heyer’s parents, the Daily Stormer uses practically tongue-in-cheek language about “obesity awareness campaigns” when discussing their continued harassment of the family of the victim of white nationalist violence, but maybe it’s not so tongue-in-cheek. Perhaps by studying the history of Nazi propaganda, we can see how Nazis have used fatness to degrade and dehumanize their victims and create a system of self-monitoring among their citizens. Perhaps we can see how neo-nazis are using fatness as a way to degrade and dehumanize their victims, and finally take this tool of destruction away from them by standing up to fat hate as a community.
Nazis don’t care if you call them fat because they believe one day they will be skinny, and we will be dead. Further, they believe we deserve to be dead. We deserve to lose our children if we are fat, Nazis believe. According to Rogers’ smear piece on Heyer’s parents:
They obviously set a very bad example for their daughter. By them not maintaining a normal body weight, Heather assumed that it was perfectly normal to be fat. This assumption led her to becoming fat like her parents which ultimately resulted in her death
But we know who killed Heather. A white nationalist named James Alex Fields Jr. hit her with a Dodge Challenger and murdered her. It was an act of terrorism meant to kill as many protesters as possible. He injured 35 other people, and he did it because he’s a white nationalist. The Daily Stormer can try to blame her death on fatness, but we know.
Kiva Bay is a writer and activist in Oregon.