On Aug. 16, 2017, author and activist Cleve Jones tweeted about a small community that figured out exactly how to handle its neo-Nazi problem.
“In a small town in Germany where the Nazi leader Rudolf Hess was born, every year right wing [activists] have been showing up to commemorate his birthday,” the complementing copy to his viral tweet began.
(Clarification 8/21/2017: Hess wasn’t born in the town — he was buried there.)
Local counter-protesters, the tweet goes on to explain, failed to do much in stopping the bigotry that gathered in Wunsiedel every November. But back in 2014, the town came up with an interesting strategy to deal with the marchers: Instead of trying to stop neo-Nazis from coming to town, why not use their presence for good?
So Wunsiedel decided to turn its unwelcome neo-Nazi event into a walkathon, of sorts.
Except they didn’t actually tell the neo-Nazis about their plan.
For every meter the neo-Nazis walked in their annual march, 10 Euros went to Exit Deutschland — a European organization that fights extremism. So, in essence, neo-Nazis showed up to march against their own cause.
That wasn’t the end of it, though. Walkathon organizations epically trolled the neo-Nazis while they marched, too.
Wunsiedel locals placed encouraging signs along the march route — like this one, which reads, “If only the führer knew!”
They marked the pavement with reminders of how much money the neo-Nazis were raising against their own cause.
They even provided food to the marchers for all their hard work walking for a good cause.
Of course, when all was said and done, they made sure to inform the neo-Nazis of all money raised to fight back against Nazism: 10,000 Euros ($12,000).
“10,000 Euros for the neo-Nazi opt-out initiative Exit Deutschland,” a narrator explains in a video by Rechts gegen Rechts from 2014. “10,000 Euros to help right-wing extremists safely defect from the right-wing extremist scene — personally collected by right-wing extremists.”
Wunsiedel’s walkathon was so successful, The Huffington Post noted, other German towns with neo-Nazi problems planned similar events.
The story of Wunsiedel’s epic walkathon isn’t new. But it’s telling that Jones’ tweet recapping the march just went viral three years after.
On Aug. 12, 2017, an alleged white supremacist plowed through a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. He was one of many who descended upon Charlottesville to rally in support of a soon-to-be removed Confederate monument.
In the aftermath, President Trump defended the white supremacists and seemingly placed equal blame on “alt-left” protesters. Even more troubling: Neo-Nazi groups are raising more money and planning more rallies across the U.S., McClatchy reported.
But as the story of Wunsiedel illustrates, modern-day bigotry is nothing new. A mass gathering of white supremacists chanting racist slurs, lit torches in hand, may be a haunting scene to see in America today, but it’s worth remembering that far more of us are standing on the side of love than on the side of ignorance and hate. And if we defeated the Nazis in 1945, we can do it again today.
Watch footage from the 2014 walkathon in Wunsiedel below: