Tennessee Republican State Sen. Frank Niceley is a man of many talents. He’s a farmer, a hunter, and a dedicated student of history. Unfortunately, the history he’s such a fan of is — contra his folksy surname — not so nice; like the time he claimed that the Civil War was still happening and that the South was winning; or the time he said cockfighting was a proud Tennessee tradition (it was banned in 1881) that brought important tourist money into The Volunteer State; and most recently, when he stood up on the senate floor this week to tell a heartwarming story about a young man who overcame the challenges of homelessness, and went on to make something of his life.
That young man’s name? Adolf Hitler.
“I haven’t given you all a history lesson in awhile, and I wanted to give you a little history on homelessness,” Niceley said on Wednesday, during a floor debate over SB 1610/HB 978, a bill that would make sleeping on government or public property a fineable misdemeanor offense— essentially criminalizing homelessness.
“Nineteen-and-ten, Hitler decided to live on the streets for a while,” Niceley continued, congenially invoking the pernicious conservative sentiment that homelessness is a choice, while conveniently eliding the fact that the not-yet-Nazi leader had essentially gone broke after being rejected from art school. “So for two years, Hitler lived on the streets, and practiced his oratory, and his body language, and how to connect with citizens, and then went on to lead a life that got him in the history books.”
Wow, a heartwarming story about triumphing over adversity to achieve fame and recognition! This Hitler guy? What an inspiration! Why aren’t more people talking about this?
“So a lot of these people... it’s not a dead end,” Niceley went on, wrapping his Hitler-appreciation rant into something vaguely approximating a point. “They can come out of these homeless camps and have a productive life. Or in Hitler’s case, a very unproductive life. I support this bill, thank you.”
Niceley’s more-pro-than-not Hitler remarks were initially shared online by fellow Tennessee lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson, who said he’s “been this way for the 10 years I’ve known him.” In a subsequent interview with CBS affiliate WDEF, Johnson also excoriated state Republicans whose lack of response to the comments made them “complicit” in Niceley’s rhetoric.
“If you are not going to speak out when something is wrong, then you are complicit in allowing it to happen,” she explained.
Lost in the understandable führer over Niceley’s deeply uncritical appreciation of Hitler’s personal narrative is the more important fact that the bill he was speaking in support of — the one essentially criminalizing homelessness — ultimately passed both the Tennessee Senate and House, and is expected to be signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Lee.