Wisconsin School Refuses Punishment for Nazi Salute

Evan Farley, ‘20

November 2018

The photo depicts a couple dozen boys in suits and ties laughing and seemingly having the time of their lives. It is the evening of prom and there is nothing they cannot do. On the steps of the county court, they are organized in neat rows, playing with each other. Someone has an idea for a great photo, something that will remind them of their high school days for years to come: let’s extend our right arms and give a Nazi salute. Make no mistake this is a full-on Seig Heil salute that would not be out of place in a WW2 documentary.

Credit: Peter Gust

Credit: Peter Gust

Surely the school must have done something? Suspended the group of white boys who thought it funny to pay tribute to Adolf Hitler. At the very least ban them from prom. Nothing. Nothing happened since the May evening when the boys took it upon themselves to give the notorious salute. Earlier this month the photo went viral on Twitter. Thousands of people expressed their outrage over the brazen actions of the students of Baraboo High School in Wisconsin. The Auschwitz Memorial tweeted out “It is so hard to find words... This is why every single day we work hard to educate. We need to explain what is the danger of hateful ideology rising. Auschwitz with its gas chambers was at the very end of the long process of normalizing and accommodating hatred.”

Following the sudden publicity, Dr. Lori Mueller, the superintendent of the Baraboo School District, announced an investigation would look into the photo. Ten days of scrutiny turned up nothing that wasn’t already reported by various publications, as well as an announcement that the school would do nothing to discipline the students, some of whom are seniors at the Baraboo. “As previously stated, we cannot know the intentions in the hearts of those who were involved,” Mueller wrote. “Moreover, because of students’ First Amendment rights, the district is not in a position to punish the students for their actions” (Baraboo News Republic).

This is quite the bold statement to make, considering that the Wisconsin legislature pushed a bill last year that prohibited protesting hate speech on campuses. The Campus Free Speech Act would have allowed schools to suspend, or even expel students for voicing opposition to hateful language. While it did not pass in the Wisconsin State Senate, it acts as a measure of the political climate of the area. All around the country, there have been instances of school newspapers being censored by administrations who do not like the content. Students are regularly given detention for cursing and students of color are sent home for simply wearing braids. Mueller claims there is ambiguity in the photo and there is no way to find out the students’ intentions, but this is blatantly false: The students are quite obviously executing a Nazi salute, and one of the boys in the front row even flashes a white power sign. There is nothing unclear about the photo or the school district’s response. The students find it funny to flaunt the fascist symbol of hate. The students know they have the privilege that no repercussions will follow. And the school is not concerned enough to do anything. If the students were latinos flashing a gang sign there would be endless coverage on Fox News calling for the expulsion and deportation of everyone involved. Instead, the only takeaway is that boys will be boys, which is a horrible narrative that perpetuates the white supremacist patriarchy of this country. These boys need to be held accountable for their actions. If the school will not take action, others must. Learn about the Holocaust and share your knowledge with those who perpetuate the ignorance and feed the hate that fosters displays of bigotry like this one. Take the words of the Auschwitz memorial to heart and move forward to create a world where hatred does not dominate. It may seem easier to simply look down upon what is happening, but unless you act, these despicable acts will become more prevalent until they are no longer shocking. We must not let this happen.