Opinion: Nazis, Klansmen, and Insurrectionist Apologists Are All the Same to Me

Walter Rhein

Image by Walter Rhein

In the years leading up to the 2020 election, I’d reconnected with my conservative cousin. We’d had a falling out based on some family drama, and it was nice to put that behind us.

It was nice to have a beer with him and discuss fond memories from our childhood. Growing up, we always hung out together. I remember multiple sleepovers at his house and playing out in the woods.

He developed an appreciation for my family. My wife is an immigrant, so my children are what some Republicans might call “anchor babies.” In my case, the term is misapplied because my wife is here legally, but that doesn’t matter to people who want to be insulting.

For the most part, we followed the old maxim of not talking about politics. However, when somebody broke this rule it was my cousin. Now and then, he’d slip in a disparaging comment about liberals and then giggle about it as if he got away with something.

My children developed a fondness for him and asked when they were going to go and visit their “uncle.”

My cousin lived alone because he’d gotten divorced about ten years earlier. He drank too much, but he kept it under control when we were around. I think the friendship with our family was good for him.

There was a woman at his school that he was interested in dating. I gave him advice on how to approach her or how to interpret the things she said. My cousin simply couldn’t understand that this woman was sending him signals.

Everything began to change in the lead-up to the 2020 election. My cousin started to become more and more hostile. The first person he lashed out at was the woman from work.

“Did you ask her out yet?” I asked during one of our weekly meetings.

“No, and I’m not going to,” he said gruffly.

“Why not?”

“I get the sense that she’s one of those women who won’t let me be me,” he said spitefully.

I didn’t reply, but it occurred to me that, if that was the case, maybe he should consider being somebody different. I’ve been happily married for more than ten years. During that period, there have been many instances where I’ve given up behaviors that my wife found distressing.

It’s called compromise. It’s called having mutual respect.

If you want to end up alone and drunk on a couch, the best way to achieve that is to dig in your heels and refuse to improve yourself.

But my cousin wouldn’t listen.

As the election approached, I became more and more concerned with the hostility that was being directed at immigrants. Since 2015, my wife and children have been berated in public multiple times.

People who hold bigoted beliefs don’t put those beliefs on pause while they check to see if you’re here legally. I perceived the political rhetoric that incited people to hatred against immigrants as a direct threat to my wife and my children.

I brought this up to my cousin and even cited examples.

“That is horrible,” he admitted.

The election happened and we didn’t discuss who we voted for. To my cousin, the biggest issue is gun rights. I knew this, but I hoped his respect for my family would at least lead him to abstain from voting on the side that incites violence against immigrants.

I didn’t ask.

The moment of truth came in December when all the unsubstantiated talk about election fraud was going on. My cousin called me up. He was intoxicated. I think that sometimes he got lonely when he sat at home drinking alone.

He started to rant about how they gave him a pen rather than a felt marker when he went in to vote. He insisted that this was an indication of voter fraud. I calmly explained how it wasn’t.

“I had the same questions when I filled in my absentee form,” I said. “So I called up the elections commission and asked. They told me that I could use a pen or a marker.”

“Well, why was it different this time?” he said.

I started to find his attitude annoying. “What you’re doing is irresponsible,” I said. “If you think there is some sort of fraud, you should do the research. If you can prove fraud, then report it to the appropriate entities. However, if you discover that there is no fraud, then you can’t keep on saying that there is because you’re inciting violence.”

He became increasingly angry and finally admitted that even though Trump won his county, he was still uncertain whether or not his vote counted.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Did you just admit that you voted for Trump?”

He made a long pause as if he knew that he’d put his foot in his mouth. Then he went on a long, rambling justification. “Yeah, and when I was in the booth I thought about your family. I thought about the concerns you feel when people start bashing immigrants. Look, here’s what I’m going to do, if things get really bad, I’m going to take your family to the cabin, and we’ll protect you there.”

“With your guns?”


The proposal was so absurd that I couldn’t believe he’d even say it. How could I trust him to protect my family in the event of an emergency, when he wouldn’t even protect them with a favorable vote?

The kicker is that Biden and the republicans aren’t even coming after his guns. That’s a myth.

I politely found a way out of the conversation, then I hung up. I sent him an email explaining why I wouldn’t be seeing him anymore. I can’t have people in my life who don’t object to those who incite hostility against my wife and kids.

I haven’t talked to him since.

For me, family is important. I look out for the interests of my wife and children. That’s probably why I get to enjoy their company. That’s probably why I’m not sleeping drunk on a couch all alone.

People might read this story and think that I’m being cruel. However, I wasn’t the one who chose to remove my cousin from my life. He did that when he voted for a politician who incites hatred against immigrants. That was my cousin’s choice, not mine. I believe in accountability.

If my cousin recognized the error of his ways, renounced his actions, and begged for forgiveness, I would listen to him. But he probably considers that pressure to “not allow him to be himself."

These are his choices, not mine. He was already alone when I reconnected with him. I’m not the only one who he betrayed.

He’s made his choices. Now, he has to live with the consequences. Anyone who gets to enjoy the privilege of the company of my wife and children has to be willing to stand up and defend them. That includes defending them in the voting booth.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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