In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol by a fervent mob hoping to overturn Trump’s electoral defeat, a litany of commentators invoked one notorious incident surrounding the rise of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as a cautionary tale for Washington in 2021.
In November 1923, Hitler, peddled conspiracy theories and lies about the treachery of Jews and schemes of socialists that galvanized an aggrieved minority. Hitler and his associates interrupted a political rally in one of the largest beer halls in Munich, took a leading regional politician hostage and announced their intention of seizing power in Bavaria and provoking a “national revolution.”
The Beer Hall Putsch, as the episode would be remembered, was a failure. Hitler did not receive the local backing from politicians and security forces he expected. Sixteen Nazis were gunned down in the streets in clashes with police officers, four of whom were killed. Hitler slunk out of town and was later arrested and tried for treason. But his punishment ended up being lenient — he spent a few months in prison before being released with a pardon — and he emerged from the botched putsch as a more popular national figure. Within a decade, he would install the Third Reich.
Some observers of what happened this past week in Washington note potential echoes of the Beer Hall Putsch — not in the risk that Trump is about to turn into a genocidal monster, but in that there may not be meaningful consequences for the lies and subversion of democratic order that Trump appears to have encouraged.
Yes, the House this week impeached Trump for a second time. But a large body of Republicans, per current polling, as well as the majority of Republican lawmakers in Congress, still seem to support the president’s baseless claims. And rather than reckoning with what happened, they are mobilizing a new cycle of grievance against the forces they see arrayed against Trumpism. Down the road, they may well be able to engineer the sort of electoral coup that Trump could not in 2020.
“Republicans have pursued a project of minority rule for decades, exploiting structural features of American politics and opportunistically shaping rules in their own favor,” wrote Zeynep Tufekci in the Atlantic. “Already, there are signs that many in the GOP intend to respond to their loss in the Senate by doubling down on disenfranchising voters in the name of fighting the ‘election fraud’ they falsely convinced millions is widespread.”
The lesson of 1923 now, some argue, is that there cannot be complacency about the scale of the threat.