The Capitol riot: the Reichstag Fire of our time?

A shocking attack on a legislative building can be very useful.

On the 27th of February 1933, the Reichstag, the building where the legislature of the Weimar Republic met, caught fire. At no stage was the government of the Republic in danger. There was no loss of life.

Yet it was a shocking thing, especially as it was immediately presented as an act of arson (which it was; though by a lone arsonist, conveniently both foreign — Dutch — and communist). Such a shocking symbolic affront to the political order was too politically useful. So the new Chancellor of the Republic, who had taken office less than a month earlier, the leader of a coalition government and head of the largest political Party in the Reichstag, used the sense of shock and outrage to have President Hindenburg sign the Reichstag Fire decrees that enabled the new government to ram through a raft of repressive measures through the Reichstag, particularly the infamous Enabling Act. These were deployed to end Germany’s democratic experiment and turn it into a one-Party state.

The Reichkanzler in question was, of course, Adolf Hitler and his Party was the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (NSDAP). These actions did not take place in a political vacuum. Weimar politics had been wracked by intense political polarisation, street violence by paramilitary groups and much catastrophising rhetoric.

Germany’s economy had suffered greatly from the ravages of the Great Depression, with apparently entrenched mass unemployment. 10 years previously, the Great Inflation had wiped out the savings of the middle class.

As this thoughtful and disturbing essay points out, there are more than a few parallels with contemporary United States.

So, let us consider the Capitol riot. A shocking and disturbing attack on the building where Congress, the US legislature, meets that at no stage seriously threatened the government. One rioter was shot by police, a policeman was beaten to death with a fire hydrant, the other deaths seem to have been mostly misadventure. The deaths add to the sense of shock and outrage. Even though much of what happened seems to have been copied from the months of “black block” rioting that progressives have cheered, valorised or facilitated.

Just as some accused the Nazis of starting the fire themselves, so some have claimed Antifa activists were involved in the Capitol riot. The attitude to media rather contradicts that. While “black bloc” rioters tend to be fine with corporate media, as they tend to amenable to the narrative the “black bloc” wishes to present, but hostile to independents recording their activities, the Capitol rioters were precisely the opposite, attacking corporate media’s equipment but being much friendlier to individuals recording what was going on.

I refuse to call what happened at the Capitol an ‘insurrection’. Insurrections are not usually unarmed and they attempt to set up enduring control of territory. This was a riot happening in a place of great symbolic significance.

But, like the Reichstag Fire, the Capitol riot is being used to justify a raft of repressive measures. Shocking action from one side of politics being used to justify repressive action by the other side of politics.

If one wants to understand how Hitler was able to use a building being set alight to justify and mobilise support for his repressive measures, then the progressive cheering of the post-riot waves of censorship gives us excellent illustrative insight.

Of course, as we live in a time when Big Tech has attempted to swallow the public square, it is tech billionaires who are using the Capitol riot as their very own Reichstag Fire. To much “progressive” cheering. That the tech billionaires are clearly attempting to complete their swallowing of the public square for their own profit is apparently immaterial as long as they pander to progressive desires to control and censor.

(The natural endpoint of progressive worship of the splendour of what’s in their heads being the notion that everything will great if power is entirely in the hands of folk of such cognitive splendour. The more that is so, the more illegitimate disagreement will be held to be.)

History does not repeat. But we can watch it rhyme very, very strongly.



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Lorenzo M Warby

An accidental small businessman who reads a lot and thinks about what he reads, sometimes productively. Currently writing a book on marriage.