Hot! Reenactors in the Media: Rich Iott, SS Soldier and Politician

[dcs_p]When the media gets ahold of my weird little hobby, it rarely goes well.  At best, we’re condescendingly depicted as “misguided history fans”, and at worst, we’re slammed as Nazi sympathizers or viewed as borderline insane and well on our way to the nuthouse.[/dcs_p]
[dcs_img_right desc=”Marc, dressed as a VC, is stopped by a GI patrol.”
h=”333″ w=”500″]

I’ve seen crime dramas where the murderer is a reenactor who has gone over the edge and is loading live rounds instead of blanks into his rifle, and I’ve seen a medical drama (an episode of ER, to be precise) where a civil war reenactor refuses to be treated for an accidental wound he received at an event.  Depictions such as these really irk the reenacting community, because it marginalizes reenactors and makes the public think that we’re all weirdos living in the woods, rather than their own relatively normal neighbors.  However, depicting us as affable buffoons who take our love of history a bit far isn’t nearly as damaging as what’s going on now, which is poised to make even more people think that all reenactors are nutjobs hell-bent on glorifying war.

[dcs_p]Let me explain:[/dcs_p]

[dcs_p]Recently, the news has been having a field day with Richard Iott, a political candidate in Ohio who, it has been discovered, used to be a reenactor. He got into the hobby because his son was interested, and like most reenactors, he has multiple impressions, ranging from a Civil War Union soldier to WWII US GI.  However, the one that’s getting him in hot water right now is the fact that he also has a WWII German impression.  More specifically, an SS impression.[/dcs_p]

[dcs_img_left desc=”The Communist hammer and sickle on my Soviet helmet.”
h=”350″ w=”350″]

Simply googling “Richard Iott Reenactor” and clicking on the “news” tab will yield tons of articles posted over the last few days, lambasting both Iott and the reenacting hobby as a whole as “Nazi sympathizers” and “history lunatics”.  Even Steven Colbert has gotten in on the action. While I’d love to see reenactors get some recognition in the media, this is most definitely not the type of publicity we need.

[dcs_p]Many reenactors and reenacting organizations have gotten wind of this and are attempting to do damage control, sending out their members to correct the misconceptions about reenacting by responding to comments on blog posts and news articles.  We’ve been trying to correct the incorrect assumption that we must all be closet Nazis or even, more offensively, perverts with SS fetishes.[/dcs_p]

[dcs_p]Now, don’t get me wrong – Rich Iotts is a teabagger, with political views I don’t agree with.  I also think he’s an idiot for not realizing that dressing up as an SS soldier might bite him in the butt when he got into politics.  However, journalists seem to be having a field day with his reenacting hobby, and are doing poor research, to boot.  I’d like to correct some of the misconceptions.[/dcs_p]
[dcs_heading size=”3″ align=”left”]If you want to learn more about reenacting as a hobby than I mention here, take a look at my Reenacting FAQ.[/dcs_heading]

[dcs_ul_arrow var=”3″]

  • 1.  Reenactors don’t necessarily sympathize with the roles they are playing. Many reenactors don’t even have much of an interest in some of their impressions (see terminology glossary here) but instead enjoy the social company of people in a given unit.  I had little to no interest in the French Foreign Legion/Algerian War, but I joined the 1er REP (which does a FFL/Algerian War impression) because the folks were great and I enjoyed hanging out with them.  While reenactors who portray German units do tend to be slightly more conservative than the rest of the hobby, they are by no means “Nazi sympathizers” any more than Soviet reenactors are “Communist sympathizers”, nor do Americans who don the uniform of a British redcoat wish that we were still part of Britain.  I know many WWII German reenactors who are practicing Jews, for instance.  If my impressions were reflections of my actual sentiments, I’d have to be an anarchist-communist-fascist-democrat-republican, while also simultaneously wanting to be German, Russian, British, French, American, Yugoslav, and Spanish. I’m of Russian Jewish heritage, but I have no qualms about donning the uniform of WWII Cossack troops, and despite having Algerians in his family, Marc has no qualms about portraying the French Foreign Legion.  What uniform a reenactor chooses to wear generally has little to no bearing on what his or her actual views are.
  • 2.  There are some reenactors who are nutjobs, but they are a small minority. Yes, I have seen some German reenactors with questionably neo-nazi tattoos, and I’ve met Confederate reenactors who still call the Civil War the “War of Northern Aggression”, but by and large, they are extremely rare and you really have to go looking to find them.  Most units will expel any member that seems to take things a little too seriously.  More often than not, the reenactors who give us a bad name are actually the ones who simply do stupid things like, say, trying to run for office after having worn an SS uniform on weekends or who get drunk and decide to shoot their blank-firing machine gun in the backyard.
  • 3.  Somebody has to play the bad guys. The purpose of public living history events is to educate the public about history.  How good of a picture of WWII would you have without the Germans?  What about the revolutionary war without the British?  It can’t be done – someone has to play the baddies.  As for private, tactical events, you can’t exactly have a fight if you only have one team!
  • 4.  Reenactors tend to forget that most folks don’t know about their hobby. If you’re in a subculture long enough, you tend to forget that not everyone is like you, and that some of the stuff you do can be completely misconstrued.  The difference between “recreating the life of the WWII German SS soldier” and “glorifying the 3rd Reich” is often lost on the public, and most reenactors tend to forget that.
  • 5.  Far from being disgusted by us, many veterans are very thankful for reenactors. Many, many veterans attend public reenactments where their own former armies are represented, and I’ve never heard a negative sentiment from any of them – most, in fact, tend to thank us for helping to keep their own memory alive.  Veterans recognize that reenactors help to remind the public of the more unpleasant parts of history, parts that they themselves lived through.

[dcs_img_right desc=”My WWII Cossack unit – Russians who fought for the Germans during WWII.”
w=”333″ h=”500″]
[dcs_heading size=”3″ align=”left”]What reenactors can do to help their public image:[/dcs_heading]
[dcs_p]I do, however, also think that there’s a lot that the reenacting community can do to help keep this from being so damaging in the future. Part of the trouble with this “exposé” is that it has been the first exposure to reenactors that many Americans have ever had. Their first knowledge that the hobby even exists is now coming from a negative viewpoint. It’s my feeling that reenactors need to make more of an effort to have a “public face” for the hobby, and for that public face to be a positive one.[/dcs_p]

[dcs_p]Many reenactors hide their hobby from anybody who isn’t already in the hobby, but I think that we shouldn’t: by showing the world that we’re (mostly) normal people, it can help with the “weirdo” image of this hobby. One of the best ways to put a positive face on the hobby is for reenactors to make contacts with locals schools to find out about the possibility of coming into history classrooms to help give students a more “real” feel for what they’re studying (I have yet to hear of a teacher who turned this down). Reenactors can also volunteer to march in parades, participate in local festivals, and other publicly visible events outside the usual living history range.[/dcs_p]

I wrote this in the hopes that it will clarify some of the misconceptions about a hobby that I’ve been involved in for 15 years, that I hold very dear.  Yes, we’re a little weird, we’re a little nutty, but as a whole, we’re generally harmless history buffs with far too much military gear in our overflowing closets.

[dcs_small][Photos by me, specifically chosen from some of Marc and I’s more “controversial” impressions, to prove a point.][/dcs_small]

1 Comment

Comments are closed.

  1. Hi there,

    Admittedly this is a rather late comment, but I just stumbled upon your blog today and this post really intrigues me, considering my own experiences in reenacting (WWII Soviet). I find that many reenactors who portray WWII German, especially the SS, tend to make excuses or deflect discussion about the Thired Reich and its crimes. Just this weekend while everyone was sitting around BSing at an event, the discussion got onto the Great Patriotic War and the rather brutal aspect it took on. Of course, the first thing out of quite a few SS fellow’s mouths was ‘Stalin was worse,’ or to note the downright horrifying and brutal way the Soviet soldiers acted when they smashed into Germany in ’45. For me, it’s a little disturbing, since it seems like the SS reenactors buy into their role as ‘elite SS panzer-truppen’ very heavily. Alternatively, they seem to want all of the SS reputation for being elite hard-charging soldiers without acknowledging the atrocities committed by the SS and the rest of the Wehrmacht, particularly on the Eastern Front.

    As I’ve said, I’m a Soviet reenactor, primarily, and I’ll be the first one to tell you that Stalinist regime was brutal, despotic, and hardly any better than Hitler and the Nazi party. There’s no point in denying what happened or trying to brush past it by pointing out the bad stuff the other guys did. This behavior seems pretty endemic amongst the SS community, though. At least in my neck of the woods.

    I guess my point is that I find German, and specifically SS reenactors, a bit more off-putting than you note in your post here. Perhaps it’s simply different experiences. In any case, you’ve a wonderful blog and gorgeous photographs.

    Emilio V.