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Donald Trump and the Replay of the Reichstag Fire

The Reichstag Fire of February 1933

SNA (Tokyo) — US President Donald Trump has just tipped his hand in regard to his intentions toward American democracy. In a February 6 tweet, he wrote: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” Combined with the Trump administration’s other actions in its first two weeks in office, the grim political trajectory of the United States is becoming much clearer.

President Trump was reacting to a series of court judgments suspending his heavyhanded executive orders related to immigration policy, which themselves appeared to be a partial fulfilment of his repeated campaign promise to institute a “Muslim ban” once in office. In particular, Trump was incensed at the ruling of Judge James Robart, a Republican appointee to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, who granted a temporary restraining order against the president’s new policy.

While it is unclear whether or not Donald Trump himself has the capacity for long-term strategizing, his authoritarian bent and his inability to accept contradiction is well documented. Combined with the far more formidable intelligence of his influential advisor Steve Bannon, a likely future scenario has appeared.

Trump’s tweet directly encourages his followers to “blame” Judge Robart and the “court system” if “something happens.” That “something” is obviously a reference to a future terrorist incident committed by a Muslim group or individual, preferably an immigrant from one of the countries cited in President Trump’s executive order.

Whether such a “something” would be an attack by actual Islamist radicals or a false flag operation is a variable yet to be seen, but either could serve its intended political objectives. At any rate, there is indeed a very high probability that “something” will happen within the climate of international fear and outrage that the Trump administration is establishing.

While President Trump does not spell out exactly what blaming the court system would entail, the suggestion appears to be that a terrorist attack inside the United States would delegitimize the judiciary and require a vast expansion of executive power in order to protect Americans from further harm. In other words, he is telegraphing his intention to use any such event to carry out a power grab that would severely undermine US democracy in the name of national security.

If this scenario sounds oddly familiar, it is essentially a replay of the February 1933 Reichstag fire, in which the German Nazi Party used the alleged arson attack by a Communist Party member as an excuse to suspend civil liberties, eliminate many of their political rivals, and entrench a new authoritarian system of government.

It’s unlikely that Donald Trump knows any of this history or understands the possible historical similarities, but one can safely bet that Steve Bannon has studied the Reichstag fire very carefully.

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