Anti-Semites, Nazis finding inspiration in Baraboo prom photo

Peter Gust

Today on 1A (10 a.m. on MPR News), the guests will tackle the infamous prom photo from Baraboo, Wis., which has been roundly criticized, motivating the community to respond in the belief that the lack of education and understanding is involved in Baraboo’s hatred of Jews.

Recent events, however, indicate that the photo has also been a rallying cry, encouraging the anti-Semites and young Nazis to come out from their hiding places.

The Baraboo News Republic, for example, reports that anti-Semitic posters have gone up in the town’s elementary school. It, and a video that’s been posted online, make some threat and mention Dec. 18, the day the schools are to host a community forum encouraging the residents of Baraboo not to be anti-Semitic.

Too late.

Heavily edited, the video uses images of both local residents and celebrities, their mouths manipulated like ventriloquist dummies when made to speak. It weaves a narrative starting with Peter Gust, the Baraboo photographer who took the May photo of local high school students with hands raised in an apparent salute, and expanding to the high school principal as well as local students.

The photo, it suggests, was just the start of a Nazi plot to take over North America and Europe.

However, that narrative is depicted as the “prophetic dream” of a Jewish caricature, who fears “prank Nazi salutes” will lead to a “homogenous nation free from drugs, predatory banking practices (and) corporate nepotism.”

The video features the Baraboo school song, as well as music with anti-Semitic and racist lyrics, and local landmarks, such as the Sauk County Courthouse and businesses around the square.

While the video was posted with a message calling it a “satirical short about current events” in Baraboo, it closes with an ominous warning, “Stay at Home December 18th, 2018.”

The video claims to be “A Pete Gust Production” and is “Brought to you by Proud, White, BHS Students.”

“I can’t really speak to anything in — in an effort to make sure that I’m not compromising that investigation,” school administrator Lori Mueller said. “I’m relying on the law enforcement to take the lead on this and let us know as a school system how we should best proceed.”

Some educators want nothing to do with the young Nazis in the school nor the school that protects them.

Baraboo High School varsity softball coach Bonnie Brandreth resigned last week.

“I was shocked by the infamous junior prom photo,” she said in a her statement. “The gestures captured in that photo were stomach-turning. It was a hostile, intimidating act. With the power of social media, individuals can make a single, snap decision that can have a profoundly negative effect on their family, their school, employer, classmates and co-workers, communities, even the entire nation. That prom photo had a profound, negative effect on me. I resigned the day after I saw it.

“As a business leader, I owe it to my co-workers and clients to avoid employment or outside interests that may create, or give the appearance of creating, a conflict with my responsibilities for maintaining an inclusive and safe work environment. Personal ethics are different for each person, but it was clear to me that I could not maintain my position at Baraboo High School without damaging my own reputation or inadvertently signaling indifference towards an act I found repulsive.”

Both the video and flyers also mentioned — targeted? — Neat-O’s Bake Shoppe. Its crime? It condemned the photo on its Facebook page.

Related: How to Handle the Rising Tide of Hate in Schools (Slate)

The rise of right-wing extremism and how we missed it (NY Times The Daily)