Why Did ‘Values Voters’ Attendees Laugh About Gays Being Killed by Nazis?

Click here for all our coverage of the 2013 Values Voter Summit.

In the midst of his speech at this weekend’s Values Voter Summit, Glenn Beck seemed momentarily taken aback by the depth of his audience’s contempt for gay people.

Beck was on stage, flanked by the insignia of the Family Research Council—the right-wing Christian group that sponsored the event—holding a folder of plastic sleeves in which he had inserted copies of some of the most notorious badges in history: yellow stars, red triangles, and other colorful symbols.

“The black [one] was an anarchist,” Beck told the crowd, as he flipped through the plastic sheets, holding each exhibit up for them to see. “This meant that you were a Jewish criminal. This meant a communist, here. This is just a Jewish person,” he said, pointing to each Nazi symbol.

As he held up the yellow star, Beck put on a whining, effeminate voice, and said: “I’m sure the mainstream media is going to say, ‘He’s a Nazi! He loves the Nazis.’ Yeah, why don’t you try to write this one in context.”

Here is that context: Beck had the mostly fundamentalist Christian crowd in—pardon the pun—raptures. He was towing the rhetorical line that dominated this year’s summit, namely that fundamentalist Christians are being victimized by every conceivable group in society. Over the course of the three-day conference, speakers led the attendees to identify with slaves prior to abolition, with African Americans today, with Native Americans, and, most especially, with victims of the Holocaust. The underlying ideological sleight of hand is to allow the overwhelmingly white and middle-class crowd to displace these historically persecuted groups, and see themselves, in 2013, as the true heirs and victims of tyrannical and murderous oppression.

By seeing themselves as victims and the targets of Nazis, many of the so-called Values Voters can justify their other political stances. This contorted logic allows them to frame their inability to impose their religious worldview on all Americans (and on other nations, for that matter), not as a sign of pluralism and democracy, but as religious oppression—oppression of their desire to impose their religion on everyone.

The persecution mythology also feeds into their narrative about guns. At a breakfast event titled “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” speakers said repeatedly that all repressive regimes seek to take away individuals’ guns. The implication is that Values Voters need their guns to fend off a tyrannical government; but also, that any government’s attempt to limit gun ownership is proof of that government’s tyrannical bent.

Beck touched on many of these themes. His speech, which was illustrated by his signature chalk board, on which he had scrawled a hodge-podge of names and ideas, skipped over a bewildering array of right-wing talking points. He talked about the difference, as he sees it, between American “exceptionalism,” which, in his view, is real, versus “manifest destiny,” which he sees as a form of arrogance. He talked about how the Nazis used the notion of “compassion” to justify certain murders, particularly of infants with disabilities. Then he joked about threatening to drown his son in the family swimming pool.

As his talk reached a crescendo, Beck continued to flip through the different Nazi symbols contained in his folder, searching for the symbol that would tie together the persecution theme of his speech, and give his audience the rhetorical pay-off they were awaiting.

But as he fumbled through the folder, it became apparent that Beck’s performance was fishtailing. He couldn’t find the symbol he was looking for, and his speech became a jumbled catalog of the other Nazi badges—which had meant death for millions—that he was casually holding up for the audience to see. (In light of Beck’s request that his remarks be reported in context, we have included a verbatim quote of this commentary.)

“This is a Jewish … blue … I’m trying to remember it … ah … I had it categorized, every one … ah … blue I believe was …. Ah shoot, I’ve lost it. Guys? I’ve left it behind, the other star. The other star that I have, I’ve left it back stage, is purple. Does anyone know what the purple star is?”

He went on to explain to the audience that the purple star was reserved for the group that the Nazis called “Bible scholars.”

The relevance to Beck’s crowd is obvious. By allowing U.S. fundamentalist Christians to believe that the Nazis exterminated “Bible scholars,” Beck played into the narrative of victimization and persecution, and allowed them to appropriate the Holocaust as their own tragedy. Many of the Values Voters, of course, study the Bible every day, and Beck intended them to believe that the Nazis would have killed them for doing so. (In the interest of full disclosure, I note that I am a third-generation Holocaust survivor; most of the maternal side of my family was murdered in Poland.)

Of course, the key problem with Beck’s story is that it is false. There was in fact a purple triangle in the concentration camps, and it was in fact forced upon a group known as “Bible scholars.” But that was a term used by the Nazis to refer to Jehovah’s Witnesses, thousands of whom perished in the concentration camps. It is false to say that Nazis targeted “Bible scholars” in the way that Beck’s audience was led to understand that term.

But before Beck could locate the purple star, one of his audience members responded to his question about the color of the star, by shouting, “Was it pink?”

Beck immediately replied, “No, that’s gay.”

The audience erupted in laughter.

It’s hard to know exactly what motivated each person in that room to laugh at that moment. Was it because it seems funny that gay people were also murdered in the Nazi concentration camps? Was it because of the apparent absurdity, in their point of view, of confusing “legitimate” victims of the Holocaust (Jews, Christians, people with disabilities) with those who they believe might really deserve to be killed? What part of the audience’s “values” made that reference to gay people seem so funny?

Whatever the reason for the laughter, it seemed to catch Beck off-guard, and added to the chaotic tone that had gripped his speech.

Though he quickly regained composure, and continued with his spaghetti-on-the-chalkboard speech, the disquieting ambiguity of that moment overwhelmed any other message Beck was trying to convey.

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  • Michelle Mesick

    They weren’t laughing at people being killed, they were laughing at a pun. Although I think most of your readers are trying to put an end to “that’s gay” as a colloquialism for “inappropriate/ unfashionable/ unworthy” it is still commonly used in right-wing circles. Most of the right-wingers in the room probably thought “even the Nazis wouldn’t stoop to using pink” and then they realized that he was actually trying to specify that pink was used to designate a different group than the one he was trying to lecture on. Then they all thought “literally!” and burst into giggles. It’s still inappropriate in a mundane, every-day evils sort of way, but certainly not amused-by-The-Holocaust level awful.

    • colleen2

      They were laughing at the fantasy of murdering those they disapprove of. This is the sort of trash the religious right presents as ‘values’. Go away and stop lying to decent people.

      • Michelle Mesick

        I’m not lying. I really don’t believe the entire audience was that level of evil. We have enough examples of homicidal “values” without calling out puns.

        • cj99.willingness99@gmail.com

          what this reminds me off oddly enough is the online gamers who occasionally make the news. You might know the group I mean, those who spend their nights playing military shooters while screaming profanity laced tirades at their opponents with every second word being “gay”

        • colleen2

          my apologies. I have seen similar American audiences call for the deaths of those who don’t have health insurance. I’ve watched video of 2 male Rand Paul supporters physically attack a woman for holding a sign they disagreed with. I have talked with these people about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman and syg laws. I would not characterize them as “evil” but they certainly are delusional and they most certainly treat others in a way that they would be horrified by if the roles were reversed.

          The undeniable thing about that audience isn’t it’s ‘evilness’ to me, it’s that it is a group of people who give each other permission to be what I would consider to be assholes.

      • L-dan

        Actually, I think she’s likely right. I hear “that’s gay” used in that context often enough out there that it hit me that way. Given that he was already flustered and not intending a pun, the reaction likely threw him off even worse.

        He’s an odious little creep, and his audience is equally hateful, but I don’t think that particular response was born of murderous glee so much as amusement at the unexpected pun.

        Being offended at the usual use of the phrase to mean something is ‘gay’ and therefore inferior, is rational. Being offended that it’s in such common usage that his literal, and correct, usage there was even able to be seen as an amusing pun makes sense. But it’s hyperbole to try mind-reading the incident as laughter over gay people being persecuted in that case. Frankly, I think that would require more of a logic leap than his audience is capable of.

        • CJ99

          the only other time I hear “gay” screamed out in public is during online gaming usually by odius 8 year old boys playing M rated games (which are 17/18+ ages under ESRB) so putting any kind of rational description on it is just silly.

  • HeilMary1

    You do realize that Prescott Bush and his father-in-law, George Walker, money laundered for the Nazis through their Union Bank, and also made $1.5 million off the slave labor of Jews at coal mines they owned in Poland?

  • Jennifer Starr

    I think that Glenn Beck has a screw loose and that his fans are probably pretty much the same way.

  • expect_resistance

    It’s “Code Pink” not “Operation Pink.” The founder is Media Benjamin. When did she call Bush a Nazi? I’ve protested with Code Pink and haven’t heard that. I’ve heard Media and others refer to Bush as a fascist which would be more correct. I would cheer if she called Bush a fascist. I would also say Bush, Cheney, and Rove are war criminals and should be tried in the Hague.

  • Stev84

    The Nazis never persecuted Christians as a group. They could never get away with that. Aside from the fact that most of them were Christians themselves, the churches were far too popular for that. And they needed the people’s support during the war (which is why they couldn’t simply dismantle the churches entirely. Instead they arranged themselves and tried to control them). Some popular bishops even got away with open defiance because Nazi leaders were too afraid to move against them. See their opposition to the T4 euthanasia program for example, which was officially stopped after public outcry instigated by the Catholic Church (though it went on on a smaller scale and especially in Eastern Europe when the war moved there).
    It’s true that some priests were sent to camps, but it was never because they were Christians. It happened because of their opposition to the state. The same thing would have happened to any non-Christian in the same situation.

    The JWs were targeted because they were pacifists. They refused to swear oaths to the state and/or to Hitler and they refused to serve in the military. The latter was a capital offense in any case.

    • Dave Dornbush

      I’ve studied the Holocaust quite a bit and you are absolutely correct. Most of the Nazi’s were Christian and they did not persecute Christians as a group. They did persecute certain groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims. (It should be noted that Muslims saved many Christians and Jews during the Holocaust however.). I have a fundamentalist cousin who got her degree at a ‘Christian University’ and when I had a conversation with her about the Holocaust she argued with me that LGBT people were not persecuted or killed by Nazis. She didn’t believe it. They did not teach that in any of her textbooks in her Christian university. It didn’t surprise me any, but what kind of degree is that when you only have a slanted view of the history and truth?

  • Stev84

    Btw, the Hitler gun control thing is a right-wing lie too.

    When Hitler came to power, guns were already restricted. As a result of law the Allies forced on Germany after WWI to prevent rearmament! In 1928 that was relaxed and it was necessary to get a permit first. Nothing unusual compared to other countries or even the US.

    In 1938, the Nazis relaxed the law even further. The restrictive parts now only applied to handguns. Rifles, shotguns and ammunition could be freely owned. The age limit was lowered and the number of groups exempt from the permit requirement was increased.

    So the opposite is true. The Nazis made it easier to own guns. The only group banned from owning guns were Jews. And it’s not like they could have defended themselves if they had guns. The SA and SS would have simply killed them on the spot.

  • http://www.maykool.com/ Lucy Smith


  • Michelle Mesick

    I just found Glen Beck’s speech on youtube and skipped ahead until I found the bit where he flips through the binder (about 26 minutes in). You’re right. They laughed at “No, that was pink.” My first thought is maybe they were laughing at someone guessing a wrong answer? Men wearing pink? Something off-camera? It was inappropriately timed laughter, but I can’t believe even they would actually laugh about or at the Holocaust victims.

    • HeilMary1

      I can believe they would laugh at Holocaust victims because those victims were being punished for the very same “sins” today’s liberal Democrats are being vilified for. I’ve seen too many conservaturds dismiss us “unworthy sinners” as subhuman and undeserving of our basic human rights. My abusive Catholic extremist family members would have collaborated with the Nazis and they would have had me arrested for the T4 program.

      • cj99.willingness99@gmail.com

        its been said many times & very true that many of the high level nazi’s were christians. but even they didn’t claim to be ‘persecuted” for their mass murders like the mondern day right wingers do.

        • HeilMary1

          Actually, I looked at Catholic Nazi death camp scientist Otto Ambros’s National Archives file and his translated note to his wife whined about his “undeserved” paltry 2-3 year prison stay for his sarin gassing of a mere 2 MILLION Jews at Auschwitz.

          Ambros invented liquid silicone for Nazi tires and was recruited by Dow Corning of ruptured silicone breast implant notoriety while he was still in the pokey for genocide. He made 3 State Dept.-approved “humanitarian” visits to US and Canadian Dow Corning sites. Ambros was also hired by GOP fascist Catholic Knight of Malta Peter Grace to provide his expertise on asbestos. The Pentagon also hired Ambros for poison gas research tested on American soldiers at US military proving grounds.

          Hollywood should make a movie about this Devil’s chemist. He managed to maim and murder millions more decades after WWII ended. Right wing self-pitying whining goes way, way back.

  • KoniginK

    Beck and his ‘brethren’ may study the bible but obviously they FAIL to understand a great deal of it. Perhaps if they led lives dedicated to loving and helping others and living by the golden rule (instead of ‘f’you jack, I got mine–obviously god loves me and not you’). Instead of being such hate-mongers, fearful that some heathen is out to make THEIR lord/god redundant, they should be more respectful of the beliefs of others and practice TOLERANCE in all aspects of their lives. Besides tolerance, it would be great if they’d stop trying to proselytize the world. Let people seek them out if they want to hear their message; quit ramming it down the throats of people who don’t want to hear their message. It would also help if the über-right wing conservatives would read and learn some lessons of history and quit dropping the Nazi bomb every time something happens that they don’t like. I can’t think of a single incident that warrants these people making a correlation between what is happening in their pathetic lives and the Nazi atrocities (or slavery for that matter).

  • Arachne646

    Many, many countries restrict gun ownership far beyond what is allowed in the United States, and even what I, in Canada, consider practical, and are more free for individuals than America is. Australia, Scandinavian and Western European countries come to mind, and I won’t name individual ones.

  • BJ Survivor

    Hate to break it to you Beck-bots, but hate is not an appropriate family value.

  • CJ99

    When I look at his face what I see staring back at me is copious amounts of hubris fuelled smugness.