Leadership

How a German town tricked neo-Nazis into raising money for an organization devoted to their downfall

Anti Nazi demonstrators protest against a rally to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Rudolf Hess on August 18, 2007
Anti Nazi demonstrators protest against a rally to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Rudolf Hess on August 18, 2007

In 2014, residents of Wunsiedel — a small German town that was once the burial site of Adolf Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess — had a clever response to the annual neo-Nazi march that has been taking place for decades.

The townsfolk, who had previously observed the march from a distance, not only showed up on Nov. 15, 2014 — they welcomed and cheered on the neo-Nazis. That's because for every step the right-wing extremists took, local businesses and residents donated 10 euros to a nongovernmental organization that fights extremism, in effect turning the march into an involuntary walkathon.

"The 200 neo-Nazis had only two choices when they got to know about the plan: Either they proceeded, indirectly donating money to the EXIT Germany initiative, or they acknowledged their defeat and suspended the march," according to The Washington Post. "The neo-Nazis decided to pursue their plans — and participated in raising funds for an organization committed to their downfall."

Author and activist Cleve Jones resurfaced the 2014 Wunsiedel response, which raised nearly $12,000 for the anti-Nazi cause, in the wake of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia:

Comedian Tina Fey, a University of Virginia alum, had a unique and equally nonviolent response to the Charlottesville rally: eating sheet cake.

"I know a lot of us are feeling anxious and we're asking ourselves, 'What can I do?'" Fey said, returning for the "Saturday Night Live Weekend Update: Summer Edition" on Thursday. "I would urge people this Saturday — instead of participating in screaming matches and potential violence — find a local business you support, maybe a Jewish-run bakery or an African-American-run bakery. Order a cake with the American flag on it, and just eat it."

"I really want to say," said Fey, "to encourage all good, sane Americans to treat these rallies this weekend like the opening of a thoughtful movie with two female leads: Don't show up. Let these morons scream into the empty air."

Fey's sheet cake counterprotest strategy gained traction across social media, prompting hashtags like "sheetcaking" and "sheetcakemovement."

Some praised the comedian's response, including author J.K. Rowling:

Others were unimpressed:

Regardless, as the townsfolk of Wunsiedel and Fey have demonstrated, there are other, creative coping strategies to turn to besides violence.

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