Skip To Content
Fast Forward

Tennessee Republican: Let the homeless be inspired by Hitler, whose life ‘got him in the history books’

A Republican state senator in Tennessee cited Adolf Hitler in a legislative session Wednesday as an example of somebody who overcame poverty and achieved fame.

Arguing in favor of a bill that targets unhoused people camping on public property, State Sen. Frank Niceley glossed over the Nazi leader’s genocidal legacy.

While an ABC News affiliate in Chattanooga reports that Senate Bill 1610 would allow law enforcement to penalize offenders at their discretion, with a fine not being mandatory, critics — including Democratic state lawmakers — say it would essentially criminalize homelessness.

Niceley argued that unhoused people can escape the cycle of poverty, going so far as to invoke Hitler — who, before seizing power in the 1930s and carrying out the Holocaust, lived in a hostel for the homeless in Vienna from 1910 to 1913 while struggling as an artist.

“I want to give you a little history of homelessness,” Niceley said.“1910, Hitler decided to live on the streets for a while. So for two years, Hitler lived on the streets and practiced his oratory, and his body language, and how to connect with citizens and then went on to lead a life that got him in the history books.”

Niceley went on to suggest that because the German leader was able to rise to prominence after failing as an artist, “all these people — it’s not a dead end, they can come out of this, these homeless camps, and have a productive life or, in Hitler’s case, a very unproductive life.”

And so, Niceley concluded — ignoring Hitler’s historical contribution to the systematic killing of millions of people, including 6 million Jews — he supports the bill, which the Senate later approved on a 22-10 vote. If signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Lee, it would expand punishments for camping on state property, which became a felony offense in 2020, to all public property.

Footage of Niceley’s comments was posted online by Tennessee State Rep. Gloria Johnson. “TN Senator says Hitler made something of himself after being homeless & you can too,” tweeted Johnson, a Democrat. “I’m going to have to apologize to the universe for this guy.”

Niceley previously attracted controversy in 2009, when he joined other Tennessee Republican lawmakers in a failed legal effort to force President Barack Obama to turn over his birth certificate.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.