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What this “Nazi salute” prom photo says about the adults in the room

What this “Nazi salute” prom photo says about the adults in the room
[Photo: via Twitter]

It was junior prom at Baraboo High School in Wisconsin in the spring. The photographer hired for the event asked the boys to throw up a Nazi salute for some of the shots. Most of them did, enthusiastically. The resulting pictures are now making their way around Twitter today, with a considerable amount of shock value.

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The original tweet, from Vice journalist Jules Suzdaltsev, appeared yesterday, asking for more information about the photo from students of Baraboo High School. And so began a thread that reveals a lot about the prevalence of racism, and the rise of white-nationalist thinking, in some areas of the country in the age of Trump.

This tweet is from one of the few kids in the photo who has spoken publicly about it.

Baraboo High School students tell of a school where racist hazing is common in the hallways, and about a school administration that hasn’t done much to stop it. Several students added to the thread with stories like this:

The high school’s superintendent, Lori Mueller, told CBS News that she saw the Sieg Heil photo on Monday when it was posted on social media. In a statement, after the standard boilerplate about how the photo “doesn’t reflect the school’s values,” Mueller added: “The District will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address.”

To make the story even stranger, the photographer, Peter Gust—who asked the boys to make the Nazi salute—is easily findable via his website and on his LinkedIn page. Gust removed the prom photo from the site, and added the following odd message:

It is too bad that there are those in society who can and do take the time to be jerks; knowingly and willingly to be jerks! The internet can be a wonderful tool but for some there is an overwhelming urge to destroy. The destruction may not be physical but instead it can be bullying that is intellectual or emotional. To anyone that was hurt I sincerely apologize. To those who have harmed them, we as society often ignore them I have chosen not to do that. YOU ARE JERKS! Grow up! Be kind, Be gentle, Be civil!

I reached out to Gust to get a clearer understanding of his version of events, but he didn’t respond.

Some of the bigotry demonstrated in the photo can be chalked up to normal teenage angst and poor judgment. But that’s not the whole explanation. The tweets from other Baraboo students reveal a pattern of behavior, and a permissive attitude from the adults in the room. As someone who grew up in the Midwest, and who still visits often, I’ve seen that the bigotry and racism that’s always been there is now closer to the surface than any time in my memory. The boys of Baraboo may be growing up in a culture where the normal system of sanctions against bigoted behavior have softened—or vanished completely.

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