Let’s begin with a ‘Neo-Nazism’ definition, courtesy of the all-knowing Wikipedia:
“Neo-Nazism consists of post-World War II social or political movements seeking to revive the far-right-wing tenets of Nazism… Neo-Nazism borrows elements from Nazi doctrine, including ultranationalism, racism, ableism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and initiating the Fourth Reich. Holocaust denial is a common feature, as is incorporation of Nazi symbols and admiration of Adolf Hitler.”
A quick search of The Independent online shows all it takes to see how Neo-Nazism is seen and portrayed in the modern day:
Neo-Nazis are portrayed as dangerous delinquents, miscreants and a generally threatening force.
This view is not too far from that portrayed in modern cinema. In the 2006 film Smokin’ Aces, we see a trio of Neo-Nazis, led by the “speed freak neo-Nazi” Darwin Tremor (played by Chris Pine). Empire magazine called his character “a tattooed, straggly-haired, totally batshit neo-Nazi assassin”. The trio of brothers are portrayed as red-neck, psychopathic, think-headed killers, and very little else. A behind-the-scenes view of this interpretation can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nrv7A0adWuQ
Though Smokin’ Aces was critically disregarded as a “violent mess of a movie”, it shows the general threatening nature attributed to Neo-Nazism. In the same film, Ben Affleck’s character quotes:
“These are speed freak, neo nazi assholes who read and recite Mein Kampf like it was mother goose, they’re meaner than shit, they’re dumber than hell. And these motherfuckers will go megaton at the drop of a hat.”
In a more serious and intense look at Neo-Nazism, Romper Stomper starred a relatively unknown Russell Crowe as a leader of a skinhead gang. Empire magazine also commented on his character Hando, describing his violent exploits:
“Between planning revenge beatings on a group of Vietnamese men and trying to rob the rich to pay for it, Hando also finds time to reject his girlfriend for being epileptic (hardly master-race stuff, apparently)”
This is a stark indicator that it is not simply more tongue-in-cheek interpretations of Neo-Nazism in modern society that sees Neo-Nazism as a threat, as its supporters are abnormal, ruthless and unafraid to break the law.
Yet, we must look at the seminal work if we are to look at the cultural portrayals of Neo-Nazism in modern film.
American History X, released in 1998, established Edward Norton as one of the finest actors of the modern era. The film depicts two brothers who spiral after their father is killed, becoming involved in a Neo-Nazi movement. (Spoilers lie ahead.) Norton, as the older brother, changes his radical views in prison and upon release, tries to stop his brother following a similarly destructive path.
Early on in the picture, the skinhead Neo-Nazis are portrayed in the same manner as both the other films I have referred to. The skinhead group is a racist threat to society, fighting for specific, aggressive ideals. They target helpless individuals is a terrifying look at their threat to suburban life. Even the younger brother, who is on the outer circle of the Neo-Nazi crew, is described as harbouring “some sick ideas.”
Yet, the picture looks at the group through slightly more sympathetic eyes. One character describes the destruction they cause as an “expression of rage by people who feel neglected and turned away by the system.” The ideology of the group is also directly separated from the “low-rent rednecks like the KKK”. The group is still horrendously racist, but the film does not demonise the group to the absurd, comic levels of Smokin’ Aces, and tries to rationalise their aggression.
However, the film is generally unsympathetic. Norton’s redemption comes in the form of his retraction of his Neo-Nazi, white-power ideals and in trying to save his brother from the poisonous group he helped create. What it does profess is that we should not hold onto hate or prejudice or racial tension. The picture ends with a quote from Abraham Lincoln:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
I have found, from this partial research, that films represent Neo-Nazis in a similar way to the general media. Their ideals are dangerous, their look is intimidating and they are generally something to be threatened by.