A Nationalist Socialist Movement member gives a Nazi salute during a White Lives Matter protest in Shelbyville, Tenn. (Evelyn Hockstein/The Washington Post)
Columnist

Why should the New York Times have all the fun?

I spoke to the man who starts fires. He thinks everything ought to be on fire. He wants the whole world to burn. (I live in a fireproof house.) He wore a nice tie. He had a tattoo of a smiley face. He loves pop culture. As we spoke, he lit everyone around us on fire. He did not light me on fire, because I was interviewing him. (I could not believe this.) He was neat and polite. (He said that everything should be on fire.) I had no further questions for him.

Maybe, I thought, I have the wrong house. I went next door. There lived a Nazi.

The Nazi I met in Ohio was exactly as dapper and winsome as a young man shot by the police would not appear to be in an article of this kind. He was so normal I could not believe my eyes. It goes against everything I have ever seen in movies about Nazis, where the entrance of such a person is always accompanied by a disapproving oboe.

When he walked down the grocery aisle, he did not sigh wistfully at the mayonnaise and shake his finger at the spices. He had eyebrows. I think I had expected that one of his eyes might weep blood, or that he would very obviously sort all the beans out of his rice as we spoke, but he did neither of those things.

He was just a chill dude who had books and posts everywhere saying that groups who were not racially pure should be eliminated, but he didn’t make any personal threats to me. (I am of course not in danger from his ideology, but I was expecting him to maybe cackle a little bit.) He uses an iPhone, not a 1940s typewriter. He has eyebrows. Now that I type this, I don’t know why I expected he wouldn’t. He was not played by Christoph Waltz, even though I kept asking him, just to be sure.

He rattled off his ideas. They were bad. I wrote them down without comment. They were obviously beyond the pale. Anyone could see that, I hope.

In Ohio, where there is grass and corn, where you can find chain restaurants, it is nothing particularly remarkable to spot a young Nazi like Kenneth. He is the Nazi next door. When he comes to your door in the middle of the night, it’s probably for a normal reason, like he wants to tell you that your water heater is on, or share a fun fact with you about his idol, a fascinating man named Hitler.

I could not get over how, just, you know, normal he was. His hair was beautiful.

“What is your secret?” I asked him. He gazed out the window. You couldn’t see an Olive Garden from his window, but I knew that if you went far enough, eventually you would.

Oh, he said, just … Nazism.

He smelled good. He didn’t smell like race hatred at all, which baffled me. Unless race hatred can smell like a Yankee Candle. I am a reporter and I understand that people have depths, but you must remember that this is Ohio with Steak ‘n’ Shakes and Olive Gardens and consequently I thought it must be more like a bad Dickens novel.

The most important thing about this young Nazi is that he is just so normal. Can you believe you can be just a regular guy and also a Nazi? How does a thing become normal? Is it by reading about that thing in the newspaper, unremarked-upon?

(Were not the Nazis just regular guys? I do not have time to add historical context to this piece; I am too busy, but I bet someone knows. Do not tell me about the Ku Klux Klan and their pageants and social gatherings.)

He brushes his teeth with a normal toothbrush like a normal guy before he advocates race hatred. I don’t know how I expected Nazis to brush their teeth. He is a Nazi you could bring home to your mother, if your mother were also in favor of race-based genocide. But probably she isn’t. Unless she is, then please tell me! I’d like to profile her!

I can’t believe this normal guy is a Nazi. He said he was a normal guy who was a Nazi because “being a Nazi is normal now, tell your readers, please!” and that is the only idea I have room for, I guess. Hmm, maybe I’d better rethink this entire article. Then again, maybe not!

But I do wonder. How could he have come to be this way? If only a journalist would ask questions of those around him, supply some historical context and do research on how this came to pass! I’d sure like to read an article about him.

I guess it will be a mystery forever.