Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Tiny's tradition



Clashes between far right & anti-fascist protesters in the Oregon city of Portland have made global news. But few journalists have mentioned that one of the leaders of Portland's neo-fascists is a Samoan. His name is Tusitala 'Tiny' Toese.

Toese was born in American Samoa, & apparently returns there regularly. He's considered the right hand man of Joey Gibson, the leader of the neo-fascist outfit Patriot Prayer, & also associates with the more famous Proud Boys outfit.

Toese has 17 convictions in the US, many for assault. He attends demonstrations wearing body armour, as well as a T shirt emblazoned with the slogan 'Pinochet did nothing wrong' & the acronym 'RWDS', which perhaps stands for Right Wing Death Squad.

According to a journalist who investigated Portland's far right scene, Toese features in a number of photographs that show members of Patriot Prayer & Proud Boys giving white supremacist hand signs. Toese himself does not make the signs.

How can a man with brown skin help to lead a white racist group? When I read the story of Tiny Toese, my mind went back to some eerie images that journalist & historian Michael Field has acquired, & posted on the internet. The images show members of the Samoan Nazi Party, which thrived in the 1930s.

The Samoan Nazi Party was founded & led by Alfred Matthes, an expatriate German, but many of its members had Polynesian blood; others were Jewish. Matthes' wife was Tongan; two of his afakasi sons died fighting for Hitler on the Eastern Front during World War Two. The Samoan Nazis engaged in a bizarre correspondence with Hitler's regime, which was less than happy with the non-Aryan complexion of Matthes' party. The Germans even commissioned a report into the racial status of Polynesians.

In The Politics of Nostalgia, his 1987 book about NZ's far right, Paul Spoonley reported that some members of Christchurch's skinhead gangs were Samoan. They justified their membership by saying they had German ancestors; this lineage made them superior even to their Anglo-Saxon gangmates.

Like the Samoan Nazi Party, Tiny Toese makes us aware of the essential irrationality of racism, & the arbitrary nature of the boundaries drawn up between races. It is politics & prejudice, & not any sort of science, that separates the chosen from the untermensch.

In his superb book The Devil's Handwriting, George Steinmetz shows how many early German visitors to Samoa insisted locals were 'white'. These visitors were both impressed by Samoans & sure whiteness was a measure of value; hence their determination to make Polynesians white.

In 16th & 17th centuries, the people of Cornwall were regarded as dark-skinned barbarians by England's rulers & writers; their county was named West Barbary, after the region in North Africa. Irish & Highland Scots were also often considered 'black' by England's establishment.

Northumbrian historian Alastair Bonnett has tried to trace arbitrary & shifting understandings of race by reading old texts. He reports that in the 19th century the English working class was regarded by many of that country's elite as dark-skinned & barbarous.

Bonnett reports a visit that an aristocratic English general made to the trenches of the Western front during World War One. Soldiers were washing themselves during a lull in fighting. 'I did not think the working class was so white!' the general exclaimed.

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