The “Reichstag Fire” Redux

In late February, 1933, the German parliament building was struck by an arson attack that caused serious damage to the chamber, and a young unemployed immigrant (and a communist) from the Netherlands, was arrested, and eventually tried and executed.

Adolf Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany a month earlier, his minority party having won a plurality in national elections. The “Reichstag Fire” was the rationale for President von Hindenburg, at the Chancellor’s urging, to issue an emergency decree suspending civil liberties in order to counter the rising threat of communism, and the young Dutch worker had conveniently filled the role of terrifying danger in a narrative already well-rehearsed and widely repeated. Communists were rounded up, arrested, and attacked, including every Communist Party delegate sitting in the parliament, and with the Communist seats vacated, the Nazi Party transformed from a plurality party to the majority party—in the blink of an eye.

Hitler consolidated Nazi power, and you know the rest.

There are a thousand differences, of course, and yet history is being made right here and right now.

Donald Trump called the federal judge who put a stay on his ill-conceived and illegal “Muslim Ban” a “so-called judge” (this from the “so-called president”) and much more ominously tweeted, “If something happens blame him and the court system.”

The fear is being amped up from the heights of power; the sense of an embattled nation on the precipice of destruction is peddled in a steady stream; the scapegoats are lined up; and the torches and pitchforks are being distributed.

Any precipitating event (manufactured or coincidental, deliberate or random) could be single spark that sets the house on fire. Unless we are aware, mobilized, and ready.

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