Framing Political Violence as Patriotism is Even More Dangerous Than it SoundsRoundup
tags: Nazism, political violence, Weimar Republic, German history, January 6 Commission, January 6
Jeremy Best is assistant professor of history at Iowa State University.
A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 66 percent of Republicans do not consider the Jan. 6 insurrection to be an attack on the government. While widely condemned by Republicans at the time, over the past nine months, Donald Trump and his allies have doubled down on false claims that the 2020 election was illegitimate, asserting that whatever happened on Jan. 6 was, at minimum, an overenthusiastic outburst of loyalty to America and, at maximum, a patriotic attempt to protect the nation against its enemies.
The facts show a different story. The ongoing investigation by the Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to uncover evidence regarding the links among Republican politicians and the people who breached the Capitol to threaten the lives of Capitol police, members of Congress, congressional staff and employees, journalists, the vice president and others in the building that day.
Nevertheless, a narrative has taken hold in mainstream GOP politics rewriting political insurrection as patriotic resistance. We have seen this before. History shows us that the result can be an escalation of political violence, the undermining of democratic institutions and the eventual collapse of republican government.
Defeated in World War I and collapsing in the face of popular rebellion, the German Empire lost its emperor Wilhelm II on Nov. 9, 1918, two days before the Armistice. A coalition of liberal and centrist parties, including the moderate Catholic Center Party, liberal parties of the middle class and the Social Democrats formed a provisional government, wrote a new democratic constitution, and, after winning a strong majority in parliamentary elections in January 1919 and again in June 1920, took charge of the new republic.
From its start, the Weimar Republic faced opposition that frequently resulted in political violence. The right made attempts to overthrow the Weimar Coalition and the republic it led to establish a dictatorship. On the other side, the left sought a Bolshevik-inspired workers’ republic. Assassinations and street clashes remained endemic to the country through the late 1920s.
For the right, political violence built on rhetorical violence. To them the republic was a “traitors’ republic,” an unlawful usurper. As one anti-Weimar judge argued, the new republic was illegitimate because it had been born of an unlawful revolution and the “Stab-in-the-Back” legend, which vilified the republic as a deal made by liberals, Catholics, Socialists and Jews to destroy the German people. The legend built on existing prejudices among conservatives and arch-nationalists in Germany and was a core element in the Nazis’ “Big Lie” — that Jews and their allies were to blame for all German woes and a threat to the nation’s future.
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