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Bernie Sanders proudly declares himself a democratic socialist. A Texas state representative suggested that Sanders must somehow then be aligned with the Nazis of Adolf Hitler.
State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, posted a tweet during the CNN-hosted Democratic presidential debate Oct. 13, 2015, that opened: "The modern Democrat Party is filled with Democratic Socialists and soft socialists. Is this where we are in America?"
To that tweet, Villalba attached an image of what looked like an old document stating: "That awkward moment when … 1) Bernie Sanders admits he is a Democratic Socialist. 2) Nazis were Democratic Socialists 3) America fought an entire World War to stop the advance of Democratic Socialists." The image closed: "Sincerely, Sane Americans."
A Democratic activist, Ed Espinoza of Progress Texas, brought it to our attention for a fact check.
We didn’t hear back from Villalba about the presented "Democratic Socialist" conclusions. But he told the Dallas Morning News and Jonathan Tilove, chief political writer for the Austin American-Statesman, that the image with its mentions of Sanders and the Nazis was a meme he found online.
He also insisted his tweet wasn’t likening Democrats to Nazis. "So is the history accurate in this?" Villalba told Tilove by phone. "Of course not. Look, was I trying to make a connection between Sanders and the Nazi party? Absolutely not. I categorically reject any suggestion that that is what I was intending to do."
By the next day, Villalba's tweet was no longer posted by him. Regardless, we checked its accuracy.
Sanders a democratic socialist
Sanders, the independent Vermont senator running for the Democratic presidential nomination, considers himself a democratic socialist. He’s also Jewish.
In the debate, moderator Anderson Cooper delved in:
COOPER: "You call yourself a democratic socialist. How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?"
SANDERS: "Well, we're going to win because first, we're going to explain what democratic socialism is. And what democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent - almost - own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. That it is wrong, today, in a rigged economy, that 57 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent.
"That when you look around the world, you see every other major country providing healthcare to all people as a right, except the United States. You see every other major country saying to moms that, when you have a baby, we're not going to separate you from your newborn baby, because we are going to have - we are going to have medical and family paid leave, like every other country on Earth.
"Those are some of the principles that I believe in and I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people…"
COOPER: …"You don't consider yourself a capitalist, though?"
SANDERS: "Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little by which Wall Street's greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don't. I believe in a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires."
And were the Nazis also Democratic Socialists?
We consulted historians and books, finding the Nazi party’s full name was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. That name was adopted in 1920; before that, the party had been the German Workers’ Party.
But there was little socialist about the party’s platform or Hitler’s actions once he acceded to leading Germany in the early 1930s.
By phone and email, Rice University historian Peter Caldwell told us the key word in the party’s name was "national" and the party’s focus was on building nationalism — a focus ultimately reflected in Hitler’s twisted vision of cleansing the country of residents, especially Jews, not considered of pure German blood. While socialists on the left celebrate democracy, Caldwell said, the word has a different meaning on the right — in this instance, he said, excluding people who are not part of the nation, hence rejecting Jews and communists and, in pre-World War II Germany, democracy itself.
Caldwell said the "misleading" tweet suggesting an alignment between Sanders’ professed democratic socialism and Hitler’s party would "have Hitler turning in his grave, wherever the grave is. The Nazis loudly opposed democracy, the first and foremost thing." Also, he said, "they were opposed to emancipating the workers, giving them the rights to vote and to organize" in unions.
Similarly, Barbara Miller Lane, a Bryn Mawr College professor and co-editor of a compilation of Nazi ideology before 1933, said by email: "The Nazis were NOT ‘democratic socialists,’ whatever that means. The Nazis were never democrats and never real socialists either." While there was a longstanding and distinguished Social Democratic Party in Germany from the 1870 to the 1920s, Lane wrote, the Nazis fought against it, and after 1933 imprisoned its leaders.
Lane added: "The Nazis opposed all traditional socialism, wanting to substitute something they called ‘German socialism’ or ‘Aryan socialism.’ This meant citizenship and privileges only for ‘Aryans’ (meaning non-Jews), concentration camps for others."
According to the "The Cambridge Illustrated History of Germany," Hitler joined the German Workers’ Party in 1919, the year before the party’s decision to add National and Socialist to its name.
At the time, according to the book, supporters included "well-placed anti-Semites and extreme nationalists" who hoped to gain influence over members of the working class; Hitler, a spellbinding orator, became the party’s chairman in 1921. Another book, "A Brief History of Germany," says the Nazi’s "appealed to a broad swath of the German population, attracting fervent nationalists and radical conservatives, as well as those who hated the Versailles settlement, feared the communists, or despised the Jews."
Villalba said Sanders "admits he is a democratic socialist… Nazis were Democratic Socialists."
Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist. The Nazis were not democratic socialists. Whether or not Villalba intended to link Sanders to the Nazis, his tweet neatly did the job.
We find this claim historically inaccurate and ridiculous. Pants on Fire!
PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
News blog post, "Under fire from Democrats, Dallas lawmaker stands by Tweet with Nazi meme," Trailblazers blog, Dallas Morning News, Oct. 14, 2015
Blog post, "What’s in a meme? On Jason Villalba likening democratic socialist Bernie Sanders to a Nazi," First Reading blog, Austin American-Statesman, Oct. 15, 2016
Transcript, CNN Democratic Debate, CNN, Oct. 13, 2015
Book, "The Cambridge Illustrated History of Germany," Martin Kitchen, Press Syndicate, University of Cambridge, 1996 (Austin Public Library)
Book, "A Brief History of Germany," Jason P. Coy, Infobase Publishing, Facts on File, 2011
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