Speed Reads

violence in Charlottesville

The man who created Godwin's Law against mentioning Nazis in online conversation just made an exception

In 1990, lawyer and author Mike Godwin created Godwin's Law, the half-serious "pseudo-mathematical probability statement" that any internet discussion, if it continues long enough, will include someone comparing another person in the discussion to a Nazi or Adolf Hitler, and through the years the convention became that whoever mentioned Hitler or the Nazis first lost the argument and brought the discussion to an end. The point, Godwin explained in The Washington Post in December 2015, was to expose "glib Nazi comparisons or Holocaust references to the harsh light of interrogation," raise the level of internet discourse, and not dilute the horrors of the Holocaust with "poorly reasoned, hyperbolic invocation."

After a phalanx of neo-Nazis and other white supremacists converged on Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, some carrying Nazi symbols, wearing Hitler clothes, and shouting Nazi slogans, and a reputed Nazi sympathizer allegedly ran his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters, killing one 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, and wounding 19 others, Godwin created a spur-of-the-moment, salty codicil Sunday night:

Godwin actually made a similar point in his December 2015 essay, about the future president of the United States: "First, let me get this Donald Trump issue out of the way: If you're thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler or Nazis when you talk about Trump. Or any other politician." In other words, study history and don't overuse the Nazi card — but sadly, don't retire it for good, either.