In Which I Bring Down the Wrath of Godwin on Myself: Teabagger Breach of the Peace/Last Days of Weimar edition

Just to be clear.  I do not think that the month of August, 2009 in the United States bears any deep resemblance to Berlin in September of 1930, just after Hitler’s National Socialists achieved their first real election breakthrough.

But there is no doubt in my mind that the teabaggers — and even more, their pay-and-puppet masters, are using tactics that the worst of Berlin’s political actors that month would have understood and applauded. The sustained, organized disruption of ordinary political discourse is a time-honored tool of the authoritarian insurgent.

To those engaged in these attempts to disrupt the ordinary conversation between representatives and those whom they represent, the notion that there could be argument and dissent — an exchange, however heated — is for the weak, for fools (and for those foolish enablers of the bully-boys who wallow in false equivalencies).

Their purpose — stated bluntly in this strategy memo is not to engage, but to delegitimize, to render not just individual small (d) democracy voiceless, but to derange the whole notion of democratic process.  The goal is to seize power, not to win it.

The worst of those on the right are quite open about it, and that includes House Republican leader John Boehner,  gleefully endorsing the planned campaign of disruption of Democratic Representatives’ attempts to engage their constituents.

So far all this is simply my gloss on a story already reported all over the political blogosphere.  All I have to add to the conversation is the explicit reminder that none of this is new.  It is straight out of the playbook of the Berlin Gauleiter, Joseph Göbbels, masterfully amplified by his boss, Adolf Hitler.

Some years ago, I spent a lot of time wallowing in this particular historical cesspool as part of my research for Einstein in Berlin — the book I wrote using Einstein’s 18 years in that city to provide a novel vantage point on what actually happened to transform an ambitious Imperial capital into the heart of darkness that Einstein had to flee.  Here’s a taste of what I found in the immediate aftermath of the 1930 Reichstag elections:

Shortly after the September elections Thomas Mann gave a lecture that took the threat of his rise to power very seriously, yet, repeatedly interrupted by Nazi heckling, he could not resist expressing a kind of bemused contempt, dismissing  Hitler as a figure of “politics in the grotesque style, with Salvation Army attractions, mass fits … and dervish-like repetition of monotonous slogans until everyone is foaming at the mouth.”

Perhaps so, as Count Kessler had acknowledged in his very depressed diary entry on election day.  National Socialism, he wrote, was “a delirium of the German lower middle class.”  But madness or not, he added,  “the poison of its disease may, however, bring down ruin on Germany and Europe for decades ahead.”

Between the campaign of 1930 and the climactic struggles of 1932 and January 1933, the Berlin and the national Nazi parties mastered the art of disrupting the basic idea of democratic politics.  They set out to produce not just disorder, but the impression that no order — no basic safety and security in the ordinary business of every day life — was possible in so bathetically weak a society as that subject to mere democracy.  Here’s an account of an episode in 1932, and Hitler’s own inversion on the question of the real victims of Nazi fanaticism:

Hitler continued to remain largely above the fray, while his aides stage-managed the steady campaign of street fighting, periodic brawls and rehearsed outrages.  By the 1930s, Hitler had refined his image.  In public he was the visionary, the mesmerizing leader, a conjurer of visions of a greater Germany, above the fray. He could use the riots and murders his followers provided him with to drive home his Führerprinzep, his claim that Germany could only be saved by his own, unquestioned, transcendent genius for leadership.  Absolute loyalty to the absolute authority of the Führer was all it would take to save the nation – and he, uniquely among the rabble of Germany’s failed democratic leaders, was prepared for the role.

To ready the ground for the Nazi rise to ultimate power, the party raised level of violence witnessed by ordinary Germans with each passing month.  An incident on June 10, 1932 was typical of the strategy.  That afternoon, several hundred members of the Nazi SA and SS private armies invaded the working class district of Berlin-Wedding.  The detachment split up:  two platoons blocked the ends of a stretch of road, while the main body marched along it, chanting anti-Semitic slogans and in a more or less random display of thuggery attacking anyone luckless enough to be out and about.  The Nazis beat up some thirty locals, including several old people and one pregnant woman, who was hospitalized in dire condition.  When the police arrived, the Nazis barricaded themselves in several buildings and opened fire; it took six hours to clear the entire street.

It was a meticulously calibrated provocation, not quite an outright revolt, for the SA did not target the government directly, or neighborhoods of people rich or powerful enough to make their complaints stick in official quarters.  But it lent credence to the perception that life for ordinary Germans was getting more chaotic, more dangerous, ever more out of control.  Malevolently and masterfully, Hitler was able to portray the Nazi creators of the violence as both admirable and the source of the ultimate solution to the chaos.  In January, 1932, he had told an audience of wealthy industrialists that “I know perfectly well, gentlemen, that when the National Socialists march through the streets and there is a sudden tumult and uproar, the Bürger …looks out and says ‘they’re disturbing my rest again.’”  But, Hitler pleaded, “don’t forget that it is also a sacrifice when hundreds of thousands of men of the SA and SS have to get into trucks every day to protect meetings and make marches.”

One of the persistent tropes of the crazy right in this country at this time is precisely this claim of the victim’s mantle.  When leading voices call Sonia Sotomayor a racist; when one of the most popular radio and television hosts in the country tells his audience, in all seriousness, that President Obama “hates white people;” when senior members of the disloyal opposition dally with wild conspiracy theories about Barack Obama’s birthplace to prove the illegitimacy of the twin horrors — contained in one skinny frame! — of an African American and a Democrat in the White House — when all this is pouring out into the public square — then you have an assault on Obama, those who voted for him and on the whole idea of a democracy in which elections mean something.

It’s a grand old tactic; it’s one that worked in Germany in the early thirties.  The consolation is that it did not in more robust democracies.

Image:  William Hogarth, The Humours of an Election series, “The Chairing of the Member,” 1755.

Explore posts in the same categories: Obama, political follies, Republican follies, Republican knavery

16 Comments on “In Which I Bring Down the Wrath of Godwin on Myself: Teabagger Breach of the Peace/Last Days of Weimar edition”

  1. Samuel Says:

    Interesting post.

    Too bad those of you on the left are slowly, but surely, losing your minds. It is every citizens right to protest whether it’s at a rally, whether it’s face to face with a congressman, provided they do it legally and cause nobody any harm.

    That liberals suddenly have a problem with citizens protesting the actions of the federal government, after witnessing the pathetic and antagonizing protests against George Bush over the past 10 years. Not to mention the portrayals of him holding a gun to his head, as Hitler, hanging from a noose. Did we hear any condemnations of these from Moveon.org? From Democrats in congress? The answer, of course, is no. The extent of the attacks against a sitting president was a national disgrace, not to mention cruel and slanderaous.

    You write:

    “…these attempts to disrupt the ordinary conversation between representatives and those whom they represent, the notion that there could be argument and dissent — an exchange, however heated…”

    The current occupant of the White House, has less than 10 years of legislative experience, and before that, spent most of his time as a “community organizer”. His primary association with ACORN was the fruit of his labor. It was with the help of ACORN that President Obama is where he is today. Why do I bring up ACORN? Because ACORN and other community organizing groups like it, have as their primary means of agitation, the very tactics that you vilify from those protesting healthcare reform.

    Their goal is not for debate, not for discourse, but for antagonizing their opponent, to disrupt debate, etc. Whether those are legitimate or useful methods is another discussion. But the history of organized protests show and agitation is a thorough one. Are you lamenting the fact that these protests are organized? That they distribute locations of townhalls, questions to be asked, etc? Those are some of the foundations of organizing and if you dispute that, call the president himself. And if they weren’t so organized, I’m sure you and others would be deriding how DIS-organized they were and not to be taken seriously.

    You also write:
    “The goal is to seize power, not to win it.”
    Do you honestly think that there will be some sort of rebellion here? A coup? As futile as their attempts are at protesting, maybe they believe that some agitation IS indeed necessary, to make a statement and, eventually, somewhere down the road, electoral victory will be won by their side? Their goal, as it were, appears to “win it” as well.

    This notion that because Democrats won the election, means that the 48% of the electorate and some in the 52% who are now experiencing some buyer’s remorse (as there always is), must STFU and accept the debacle that is healthcare “reform” when just as many, if not more, Democrats in congress are bought and paid for by the health insurance industry, is rotten to the core.
    And comparisons to these protesters to Nazi brownshirts is wrong—albeit halfway. You cited:
    “They set out to produce not just disorder, but the impression that no order — no basic safety and security in the ordinary business of every day life — was possible in so bathetically weak a society as that subject to mere democracy…
    Hitler continued to remain largely above the fray, while his aides stage-managed the steady campaign of street fighting, periodic brawls and rehearsed outrages. By the 1930s, Hitler had refined his image.
    In public he was the visionary, the mesmerizing leader, a conjurer of visions of a greater Germany, above the fray. He could use the riots and murders his followers provided him with to drive home his Führerprinzep, his claim that Germany could only be saved by his own, unquestioned, transcendent genius for leadership.
    Absolute loyalty to the absolute authority of the Führer was all it would take to save the nation – and he, uniquely among the rabble of Germany’s failed democratic leaders, was prepared for the role.”

    If anything, this more closely resembles Barack Obama and his union-financed community organizing thugs than anything the right wing is putting out there.

    • Tom Says:

      Glad to see I caught your attn.😉

      Projection is an interesting phenomenon.

      For the record: the complaint is not that those opposing health care reform oppose it and express their views. It is that they attempt to prevent anyone else from expressing their views at meetings convened for that specific purpose.

      Their goal, as laid out clearly in the memos sent out to and acknowledged by the monied and powerful organizing bodies, is to create the impression of disorder, of passions so strongly stirred against this policy as to kill it.

      If that’s your view of the democratic process then, respectfully, I say you would have been right at home in the mobs of thugs of Berlin in 1932.

      I’m the author of this blog, and that’s the way it is…at least right here.

      • Samuel Says:

        Nothing like comparisons to Hitler and Nazis in an attempt to stoke some anger, eh?

        Again, people have every right to protest however they want. No laws were broken. Nobody was harmed. There is more democracy in shouting down a tone-deaf congressman than having said congressman vote on a watered-down “reform” bill to appease his corporate donors.

        I guess the next step in your Nazi comparison is to “expect violence”. Such is the mind of partisans on both sides of the political aisle.

        You were right, projection is an amazing thing.

  2. SteveN Says:

    I like this comparison, but I think there’s an even more relevant one: Italy in the 1920’s. In the leadup to the Fascisti takeover, Mussolini’s thugs/members of Parliament systematically disrupted the government by heckling and even firing guns inside Parliament, as well as physically attacking non-cooperative Parliament members on the steps of the capitol. Looking at the videos yesterday, it seems we’re not too far off from mobs being provoked by Republicans into attacking congressmen.😦

  3. Samuel Says:

    I guess SteveN just proved my point…(sigh)

    • Tom Says:

      Err no…

      People do not have the right to protest however they want. Protesters are bound by the same laws as everyone else…and shouting down those whom you would not hear is both a breach of the peace and, frankly, bad manners.

      • Tom Says:

        Not to mention that when they are organized and to some extent funded by a central committee (as the GOPthugs are now) they are, in fact, thugs

  4. Samuel Says:

    Breach of the peace? Perhaps.

    But like I said, so it is for any group of community organization, the likes of which our President thrived off of and politically gained from, in his years as an organizer, by his own admission. That is their bread and butter.

    Especially, as you say, that they are funded by those with political agendas and the cash to make it happen.

    Its reprhensible…no matter which party ideology you ascribe to.

    And again, that the political left is so appalled by these actions, when they have been using these tactics for decades, is hypocritical, to say the least.

    • Tom Says:

      Reminder to self. Do not feed trolls.

      Yo: Samuel — the “you guys did it first” is an old canard, and the last resort of scoundrels, right after wrapping yourself in the flag.

      There is no argument that a rational person can offer that the health care system we have now works.

      There are lots of arguments to be had about how to improve it. The thugs being dispatched by the monied and the powerful who fear democracy do not want to have that argument. You don’t. You’d rather not know what it is inconvenient to know, and in order to preserve that bubble of ignorance you are willing to shout down, rather than engage those living in reality.

      In order to feel good about that bad act, you say it’s o.k. because someone else, somewhere else (oh yeah, that mythical monster Acorn) hurt your feelings in the past. Name me one time when the leaders of the Democratic party and a bunch of Democratic Party-aligned rich people paid to goad a bunch of folks to break up GOP representative constituent meetings. You can’t. Hasn’t happened. But the lie is easier to deal with, I guess, than confronting the multiple layers of deception and self-deception in which you engage.

      And with this — I’m done. Enjoy your fantasies. All I ask is you do so in the privacy of your own home.

      • Samuel Says:

        “The thugs being dispatched by the monied and the powerful who fear democracy do not want to have that argument.”

        Ah yes. That’s right. Only Republicans are cronies dispatched by well-funded power-brokers.

        Meanwhile, the Democrats have majorities in both chambers of congress, plus the White House, and still it’s the fault of those corrupt Republicans! Putting your faith in a politician, whether Republican or Democrat, is a trait of the weak-minded in itself.

        “..the “you guys did it first” is an old canard..”

        I agree. Unfortunately, it is the crutch for this administration’s follies. Creating a new health care entitlement? “Well, Bush spent money on the war…”

        Doubling the deficit since January? “Well, the previous administration left us a deficit too…”

        The sooner you realize that this administration is inherently no different than the last, the better off you will be.

  5. dianeb Says:

    One thought I have is that Germany at that time had no tradition of democratic rule, so Weimar was an anomaly that was viewed with some distrust as a reminder of their defeat in 1918. Which brings me to this question–what’s America’s excuse? 200+ years as a democratic republic and the Freikorps and its ilk still have a foothold? Our democratic tradition seem to be as fragile as Weimar Germany’s.

  6. Samuel Says:

    I need you to go out and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors. I want you to talk to them whether they are independent or whether they are Republican. I want you to argue with them and get in their face,”

    Barack Obama—September 2008


  7. The wingnut lexicon has a new entry: ‘argue’ = ‘shout down’.


  8. I wonder what Samuel thinks of Glenn Beck’s plea not to take the homicidal Timothy McVeigh route, as in extreme forms of protest against The Matrix would make Fox News advertisers edgy. Of course, the mobs unleashed to shout down public forums could care less about engaging elected representatives in serious discussion. I had no laugh when I read one tea bagger was pissed about the government meddling in Medicare. Perhaps concern trolling comes natural to those who believe a failed disc jockey and former mid-level PR guy for the KC Royals morphed into a political genius by moving to California.

  9. Keifus Says:

    I suppose organization in the American left wing organization has had its share of incivility. Sometimes I have found myself sympathetic, other times less so. Certainly the left doesn’t use it like it did, say, a hundred years ago.

    The general distinction here is the power relationship, who can normally get their voices heard, and who usually stops them. I’m not too fearful of tyranny by poor and underrepresented communities of ACORN. And it sure isn’t like the case against health care has been cut out of the debate.

  10. DemandSide Says:

    Samuel:

    Because of tactics like this from the mainstream Republicans during the Bush term and continuing today, I realized that there is substantial amount of people how don’t buy this idea of democracy. I believe that they have existed since 1776. The Bush era reminded me how important the 2nd amendment is. I therefore changed my position on arms and protecting our fragile democracy from those who don’t believe in it. (e.g. VP Chenney). I am now a Democrat who fully supports the right to bear Arms.


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