Trump’s Failed Reichstag Moment

Photo of the German Reichstag building with artificial orange-red flames drawn into the foreground.
Photo by author: Joyce O’Day.

Donald Trump wanted to use the riot at the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021, to declare a national emergency in order to stay in office.

One year later, most Americans are rooting for the January 6 Committee to determine who was responsible for the havoc and destruction that occurred at the home of American democracy. Following the riot, Republicans made an assortment of accusations, first blaming Antifa and other left-wing extremist groups for the attack, but later claiming it was mostly tourists and patriots who broke into the Capitol, along with a few bad apples.

Democrats are determined to know if members of Congress were responsible for planning what has been called a failed coup attempt. Did Lauren Boebert (R – Colorado) and other Republicans give rioters a tour of the Capitol Building in the days immediately before the attack to enlighten key individuals as to where key offices – Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence – were located? Most significantly, what role did President Trump play in the riot?

What do we know?

  • In the weeks following the election, President Donald Trump pushed his followers into a frenzied state with his false claim that Joe Biden and the Democrats stole the election. 
  • At the rally on January 6, the day the election results were to be certified, Trump urged his supporters to march to the Capitol and fight to save the election. 
  • He misled the crowd stating that he would be right there with them. 
  • For over three hours, Trump watched on TV the violence and destruction at the Capitol that he instigated and did nothing to stop the assault.
  • When Kevin McCarthy, one of his closest supporters, urged him to call off the rioters, Trump responded that the insurrectionists cared more about the election than McCarthy did. 

Trump was waiting for the situation at the Capitol to escalate beyond repair and for more people to die so he could declare a national emergency and stop the electoral count. 

Similarly, Hitler used the Reichstag Fire to assume total control over Germany. 

Hitler’s Rise to Power

Following the federal elections in 1932, when the National Socialist German Worker’s Party aka the NSDAP aka the Nazi Party received 37% of the vote in July and 33% in November, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor on January 30, 1933. General Hindenburg became a national hero due to his accomplishments on the Russian front during the Great War (WWI). However, at age 85, Hindenburg was not at the top of his game, and he foolishly believed he could control Hitler.

The Reichstag Fire 

On February 27, 1933, the German Reichstag building (their parliament and the equivalent to the U.S. Capitol building) burned down. The following day, President Hindenburg invoked Article 48, a Decree for the Protection of People and State, abolishing freedom of speech, assembly, privacy, and the press. Hitler blamed the fire on the communists after a Dutch communist confessed to setting the fire. However, it is widely believed that the fire was started on Hitler’s orders. 

The Reichstag Fire Creates a National Emergency 

Following the fire, Hitler replaced all 81 communist deputies with Nazis. The Enabling Act instituted on March 23 placed all legislative power in the hands of Hitler and his ministers. When Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934, Hitler combined both offices and took total dictatorial control over the nation of Germany. 

Donald Trump lost the 2020 election.

All of Trump’s false claims that the election had been stolen – the Big Lie – have been debunked by experts, and 61 of the 62 lawsuits filed to challenge the election results failed. Trump’s attempts to bully Georgia lawmakers into finding 11,000 votes also failed. His last chance at retaining office depended on Vice President Mike Pence declaring him the winner on January 6.

Devious plans were afoot. 

A 38-page PowerPoint entitled “Election Fraud, Foreign Influence & Options for 6 JAN” was sent to selected Republican House and Senate members and circulated among Trump’s allies by retired Army colonel Phil Waldron, a proponent of Trump’s “Big Lie.” Chief of Staff Mark Meadows recently turned over the PowerPoint to the January 6 Committee. It is strikingly similar to a 36-page PowerPoint attributed to Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, a Texas entrepreneur who has denied involvement. The idea was to declare a national emergency and impose martial law to delay certification of the election.

The PowerPoint was a how-to on staging a coup.

  • First: Declare all electronically-cast votes as invalid by claiming foreign interference in the election from the Chinese and Venezuelans who they claimed manipulated voting machines.
  • Second: Provide Pence with the following options:
    1. Seat Republican electors in states where there was alleged voter fraud.
    2. Eliminate electors from states with alleged voter fraud and decide the election from the remaining states.
    3. Delay the election decision until legal paper ballots could be vetted and counted.

Donald Trump failed in his attempt to steal the 2020 election. 

If there were more rioters on January 6 and if they had killed Senators, House Members, or Mike Pence, Trump would have had his Reichstag moment. It came frighteningly close.

A major fear remains that the next wannabe autocrat has learned from Trump’s mistakes and will use those lessons to destroy American democracy in a future election.

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