The Thing That Used to be Catholic Apologetics

One of the many reasons I am grateful Crisis is not a blog and that, with the exception of a few months at First Things, I have never blogged, is that columnists have editors who have many functions, chief among them as a kind of safety valve of the id.

Editors catch mistakes certainly, but in the approval process act as a kind of brake on the impulses that bloggers simply do not have. Bloggers can be all id all the time and this is not good. Having a regularly scheduled column also helps. It means time passes, two weeks for me. Editors plus time equals clearer thinking.

I recently came under a blog-swarm (though not on blogs rather on Facebook), but the swarmers were mostly bloggers who I will not name except to say they fashion themselves as Über-Catholic Defenders of Francis-Destroyers of Nazis-Creators of the One True Church of Pro-Life-and-Wrath of the Old Guard.

I forget exactly how it began except with a Facebook post nitpicking something Donald Trump had done. Never Trumpers still sit in the caves of the Pacific with their field glasses trained on the enemy and whenever Trump does even the littlest thing they judge to be wrong they shout, “See, see, we told you” or “Isn’t it interesting that Trump would (fill in the blank).”

In this situation I usually prefer to ask a question and have the unhappy fellow defend the silly nitpicking. But, in this case, from out of nowhere, The Thing That Used to be Catholic Apologetics lumbered through the underbrush and grunted “So do you defend Trump meeting with Nazis?” or something to that effect.

So, here we have Trump meeting with actual goose-stepping Nazis? I had to admit I had missed that and had to inquire, “Huh? Wuh?”

“So you defend Trump meeting with Nazis?”

I have to admit I had a little fun with this great Defender of the Faith.

“Did he wear a uniform to the meeting?”

He did not appreciate my making light of such a serious situation as Nazis marching into Trump Tower on 5th Avenue at 59th Street in Manhattan during broad daylight under the watchful eye of the world’s media and NO ONE KNEW!

After some prodding, it turns out that Heinz-Christian Strache, a trained dental technician (don’t make fun, especially if you haven’t seen the Nazi dentist Laurence Olivier drilling the teeth of Ph.D. student Dustin Hoffman in the movie Marathon Man), says he met with National Security Advisor Mike Flynn in Trump Tower. Strache is the head of something called the Austrian Freedom Party that recently came very close to winning the Austrian national elections.

Right away, note that the Great Catholic Truth-Teller’s claim that Trump met with Nazis is false. It was Flynn who met with the Nazi. But is that even true? It is unclear that a meeting took place. Strache says it did; the Trump camp says no.

But the far more interesting question: Is Strache a Nazi and is his Freedom Party a Nazi Party? And this is the rat hole I let myself be taken down and it was in that rat hole I was swarmed by the Über-Catholic Defenders of Francis-Destroyers of Nazis-Creators of the One True Church of Pro-Life-and-Wrath of the Old Guard.

The Thing That Used to be Catholic Apologetics put the exchange up on his own Facebook page and though he did not use my name, my name was bandied about in the comment boxes and it would have been clear to anyone that he was talking about me and that I was defending Nazis.

He wrote,

Pro-life/Pro-family Catholic Leader Pro-tip … it is highly inadvisable to engage in protracted, screencappable discussion in which you passionately defend Austrian Nazis and the Trump Administration cozying up to them. People see you. And they have jpg images of your breathtaking defense of these racist clowns…

For a good long while I read the mocking attacks and utter misrepresentations about what I had done, which was only to ask him to make the case that the Austrian Freedom Party is a “Nazi Party.”

And then I joined the thread to defend myself from what I saw and see as scurrilous attacks on my reputation. This man and his followers, with potentially 5,000 Facebook “friends” watching, went on for more than a day to claim I was defending Nazis and was no better than a Nazi myself.

I asked over and over and over for them to make their case that the Freedom Party is a Nazi Party. I granted to them that it was founded by an ex-Nazi in the mid-50s. But I pointed out so was our own rocket program that became NASA. Ever heard of Werner von Braun? There were many ex-Nazis who founded our rocket program but this does not make NASA a Nazi program. The first Austrian government after the war had many ex-Nazis in it. The Socialists had more ex-Nazis than the tiny Freedom Party.

I asked them repeatedly for evidence that the party has Nazi proclivities now, not 60 years ago. Wikipedia mentions something about “Austrian identity” and this was offered as proof. But the article does not explain what that means. Little-traveled Americans tend to see the whole world through their own prism and the blog-swarm heard there is a “white identitarian” movement somewhere here in the states and therefore this must be the same thing. Bingo. Nazi. Nothing more to see here. I asked: could it be that as more and more EU countries get subsumed into the European Union, it could have something to do with the party’s Euro-skepticism? I asked whether it could have something to do with Austria’s historically uneasy relationship with Germany, and Austria’s wish to forge its own identity? Could it possibly have anything to do with the Anschluss, the 1938 annexation of Austrian by Nazi Germany? Haven’t any of you even seen The Sound of Music? Nope. It could only be “white supremacism.”

There were deep and interesting questions to explore that the swarm was utterly uninterested in considering; questions of Austrian nationalism, for instance. One person said the party was a Nazi party because they were nationalist. But Austrian nationalism is not so simple as that since it includes a reaction against the incursion of Germany and Protestantism. And Austrian nationalism goes back as far as Napoleon and certainly resonates today in the EU context. Nope. It can only mean the Austrian army, which numbers roughly 50,000, is about to take over the Sudetenland, wherever that is.

I asked actual Austrians about the Freedom Party; one a member of the regional parliament, a senior bureaucrat in the European Commission, and an American scholar who has lived in Vienna for many years. Each are faithful Catholics. None are members of the Freedom Party. Each said it is laughable that the Freedom Party is considered a Nazi Party. Far right, to be sure. Against immigration, yes, but certainly against building any kind of wall, like Trump. Liberal in delivery of social services, however, more like the US Democratic Party in that regard. They said it is a common tactic of the left to label their opponents as racists and Nazis. The blog swarm could not have been any less interested.

Please know that I am not defending the Freedom Party except against the charge of Nazism. I am not Austrian. I couldn’t possibly care less about the fortunes of the Austrian Freedom Party but I do care about me being labeled a “passionate defender of Nazis,” which is a lie and probably an actionable one at that.

The Thing That Used to be Catholic Apologetics mocked me that I had spent the day defending Trump and that this proved my priorities as a pro-lifer were no longer the unborn child but rather defending anything Trump would do, including meet with Nazis. I informed him I was merely there defending my own reputation which he had attacked out of the blue and besmirched.

One of the odd things that kept happening in what I had hoped could be a reasonable exchange was that The Thing That Used to be Catholic Apologetics kept shouting to one of his minions,

“Did you screencap that?!”

“Yes, I screencapped it.”

This means taking a picture of what’s on the computer screen. A more common term is “screen-shot.” The threat is that these screenshots will be saved and used against you at some future date. Perhaps at my show trial.

And his minion kept saying, “We see you. We see you. Especially people of color see you.”

I asked “Is not pink a color?” but that is an argument for another day.

The Thing That Used to be Catholic Apologetics has visions of grandeur. In the Facebook thread he says he thought his father had defeated the Nazis once and for all in World War II but now it appears he has to fight them, too, and he will his whole life and with his dying breath, or something to that Churchillian effect.

I have been to the fever swamp and it isn’t pretty. These folks really believe they are on a mission to Defend Francis from the Nazis and Create the One True Church of Pro-Life and if they have to destroy people and their reputations in the process, so be it. And it will all be screencapped.


Austin Ruse is a contributing editor to Crisis Magazine. His latest book, Under Siege: No Finer Time to be a Faithful Catholic, is now available from Crisis Publications.

Join the conversation in our Telegram Chat! You can also find us on Facebook, MeWe, Twitter, and Gab.