This Wasn’t Trump’s Reichstag Fire. It Was His Beer Hall Putsch.
How the Biden administration handles the aftermath of the January 6 attempted coup will determine the future of fascism in America
A few days after an insurrectionist mob incited by Donald Trump stormed the Capitol, the picture of what truly happened is starting to take shape. Among the crowd of QAnon believers and Trump-cult followers were alt-right white supremacist groups like the Proud Boys and trained veterans. They brought zip ties, Molotov cocktails laced with styrofoam (homemade napalm), bombs, guns. The crowd erected a gallow, complete with its noose, in front of the building and stormed the halls chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”
The Vice-President wasn’t the only target. The equipment seen on video footage (the handcuffs/zip ties, most prominently) indicates that the terrorists were ready to take hostages and forcibly restrain them. It is frightening to imagine what these lunatics thought they would do to Pence, Pelosi, Schumer, AOC, Omar, and the rest of Congress had they been able to take hold of them.
The Capitol Police’s complicit behaviour towards the mob has raised questions about where their real loyalties lie. The absence of the National Guard and its deployment delays start to outline a plot that, far from a spontaneous spurt of anger and crowd frenzy, looks more and more like an incompetently organised coup involving the administration at the highest level. This brilliant Twitter thread by Seth Abramson analyses the propaganda rhetoric of the speech Trump gave earlier on Wednesday, and that started it all. In it, Abramson finds no doubt about Trump’s intentions; more importantly, Trump counted on the Army and LEO to join in the coup, inviting them to “come up with us” to the Capitol.
Let’s not beat around the bush and call it what it was: a coup. As Umair Haque points out in his essay, America is already trying to rationalise what has happened and minimise the importance that this event will have in the weeks, months, and years to come. Many in the media, trying to put words on the most shocking event to take place on American soil since 9/11, have compared the storming of the Capitol to the Reichstag Fire of 1933.
The Reichstag Fire was an arson attack against the German parliament that occurred four weeks after Hitler was appointed chancellor. A false flag operation orchestrated by the Nazis and pinned on the Communist, the fire allowed Hitler to convince President Hindenburg to enact the Reichstag Fire Decree on the following day. This law allowed the Nazis to imprison their opponents, curtail freedom of the press and association, and effectively establish a one-party rule over Germany.
Trump and his goons are already trying to blame “Antifa” for the attack, but their efforts appear doomed. No one will fall for that; the evidence is too damning. Arrests of far-right leaders and influencers who thought it would be fun to live stream and tweet their crimes are already starting to happen all over the country. Trump himself might evade impeachment and the justice system, after all, he is white and, from what he says at least, rich, but he can’t escape the court of public opinion and his name will live in infamy.
January 6 was not a Reichstag fire moment for Trump. The fire happened three months after the 1932 federal elections in which the Nazi party maintained their plurality in parliament despite having lost 34 seats. Hitler’s power was on the rise, but he faced strong opposition from the communist party. He manufactured a crisis to cement his position and get rid of his political and ideological adversaries.
Trump’s influence and authority, on the other hand, is waning. In four years, he has managed to lose the House, the presidency, and the Senate. American influence on world politics has all but disappeared. His one legacy, the Supreme Court he, unfortunately, got to shape, turned on him. His one piece of legislation, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a disgraceful gift to the wealthy. Trump is a loser, whatever way you look at it. January 6 was the inevitable climax of his movement, but it wasn’t its zenith; it was its nadir.
The dreadful thing with fascism, however, is that it is a phoenix. It always is reborn from the ashes of its previous incarnation. This is why, depending on what happens in the next weeks, the storming of the Capitol could become Trump’s Beer Hall Putsch.
Ten years before the Reichstag fire, in 1923, Hitler and his partisans attempted a coup d’état against the Bavarian authorities of Münich, the ultimate end goal of which was to topple the Weimar Republic and seize power. Due to its lack of a clear plan, the coup failed, but it brought Hitler to national attention. More importantly, the German authorities blundered their response to the coup and allowed Hitler to instrumentalise it to his benefit.
Two days after the attempted coup, Hitler was arrested and charged with high treason, a crime that should have gotten him executed. In court, he faced sympathetic judges that allowed him to state his case in long diatribes. Hitler wasn’t merely speaking to the judges or the jury, trying to convince them of his innocence; he was talking to Germany trying to sway them to his cause. In the end, Hitler was sentenced to five years in prison, an extremely light sentence for a clear case of treason that had cost the lives of four police officers.
Hitler was then released after service a little less than nine months, benefiting once again from the sympathy of the justice system towards him and his ideas. The world believed that he was defeated, that he had learnt his lesson, that he was tamed, as the New York Times wrote it in a short article that has aged like milk: “he is no longer to be feared.”
The events that transpired on January 6 are strikingly similar to the Beer Hall Putsch. A crowd of unorganised, violent men, fueled by a stabbed in the back narrative and inflamed by the public speeches of a deranged political leader whose rhetoric is founded on conspiracy theories stormed a government building, killing five people in the process.
As mentioned above, arrests are now being made, and we will soon know what the legal consequences will be for the on-the-ground leaders of the terrorist mob. However, what remains to be seen is what will happen with the known instigators of this coup; what will America do with its traitors at the highest level of government?
Several GOP lawmakers are already “begging for the world to forget and forgive” what happened, claiming this is what the country needs to “heal and move on.” I agree with the article linked above: “Respectfully, fuck that.”
Trump, his GOP enablers, the Congressmen who opposed certification of the vote, those who took the stand at the “Stop the steal” rally to call for “trial by combat” and inflame the mob, the DoD officials who delayed the deployment of the National Guard, the Capitol Police officers who aided and abetted the terrorists, all these people need to stand trial and face the harshest legal consequences.
But make no mistake. These trials and how they will be run will determine the fate of Trumpism in America and the country's future. They cannot be used by the defendants as a platform to broadcast their messages of hate, division, and conspiration. They cannot allow the defendants to argue they are victims, to claim they are unjustly prosecuted in a “political trial.” Any light sentence will do nothing more to them than it did to Hitler in 1923/1924.
I don’t even want to imagine what will happen if they are not prosecuted at all.