Analysis: Shaming Ted Cruz for his defense of a Nazi salute assumes he has any sense of decency left

click to enlarge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at a 2021 event in Phoenix, Arizona. - Wikipedia Commons / Gage Skidmore
Wikipedia Commons / Gage Skidmore
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at a 2021 event in Phoenix, Arizona.

The following is Current Events, a column of opinion and analysis.

Either oblivious or just unconcerned that his San Antonio and Austin constituents are dealing with anti-Semitic acts perpetrated by actual fascists, Sen. Ted Cruz unleashed a fiery defense Wednesday of someone who gave a Nazi salute at a school board meeting.

In case you missed the details, the Texas Republican directed that broadside at Attorney General Merrick Garland during a Senate Judiciary Committee. It came as GOP lawmakers took turns haranguing the nation's top law-enforcement official for ordering a probe into rising threats and harassment against educators.

Referring to a letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA), Cruz argued during the hearing that many of the threats cited by that group qualify as “non-violent” protest. Among the examples he gave: a man who raised his arm in a Nazi salute at a Michigan school board meeting to show his disapproval for coronavirus protocols.

“My God! A parent did a Nazi salute at a school board because they thought the policies were oppressive,” Cruz shouted, slamming his hands on the dais. “General Garland, is doing a Nazi salute at an elected official, is that protected by the First Amendment?”

When Garland responded that it was, Cruz fumed that the NSBA's memo demanded that the FBI investigate parents as "domestic terrorists." The attorney general disputed that claim, and the Cruz's histrionics continued — mostly, it seemed, for the camera's benefit.

Little surprise that video of Cruz's outburst made the rounds on Twitter. Or that it unleashed criticism that he'd defended Nazi salutes.

Little surprise, again, that Cruz tweeted a prickly defense of his statement, arguing that he was simply sticking up for parents as they stood up to an "authoritarian school board." Trotting out a familiar talking point, the senator blamed the furor on “lefty journos,” whom also called “dishonest” or “not very bright.”

Sure. Cruz probably didn't intend his statement as a broad defense of Nazi salutes.

Just the same, the lawmaker's choice to skewer the NSBA and Garland over the incident shows his insensitivity to legitimate concerns that anti-Semitism and white supremacy are increasingly visible in the United States. Last year, the Anti-Defamation League recorded 2,024 alleged anti-Semitic incidents across the country — the third-highest total since it began tracking those numbers in 1979.

Just this week, neo-Nazis staged anti-Semitic protests in the senator's home state, including in San Antonio, where they demonstrated across the street from the city's Jewish Community Center as it held a Holocaust remembrance event.

Beyond that, Jewish groups have repeatedly pointed out how offensive it is for people upset over mask or vaccine mandates to equate them with the atrocities perpetrated by Nazi Germany.

"These comparisons are odious and deeply offensive to Jews and those Americans who fought valiantly to defeat the Nazis in World War II," Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a statement to Axios. "They only serve to trivialize the true horrors of the Nazi regime."

Clearly, such concerns are lost on Cruz. To think that they resonate assumes he has a sense of decency left. He doesn't. And as he continues to sow division, there's reason to wonder if he ever did. His choice to hold up a Nazi salute as a form of free expression that's dangerously under attack is tone deaf, no matter how he attempts to justify it.

As his latest tantrum proves, Cruz's primary aim is generating Fox News-ready sound bytes and lib-owning Twitter fights as he vies to become the 2024 Republican presidential candidate with the best shot of winning over Trump's #MAGA crowd.

And if that offends your sensibilities, too bad. Clearly, you're not in the one constituency Cruz cares about.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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