Brownshirts in our streetsOscar H. Blayton / August 6, 2020
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The unidentified goon squads snatching people off the streets of Portland, Ore., have a chilling resemblance to a similar fascist tool of oppression that arose in Germany in the early decades of the 20th century.
The paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party, dubbed “Brownshirts” because of the color of their uniforms, first appeared within Adolph Hitler’s political party in 1920 and facilitated his rise to power.
The turbulence that unsettled post-World War I Germany was used as a pretext for the appropriateness of, and necessity for, the Brownshirts. Their public posture was that they were needed to maintain order and to protect Nazi rallies and gatherings. But the Brownshirts were no more than thugs who often engaged in street fights. It soon became clear that their mission focused more on disrupting the work of opposing political parties. Their violent tactics also targeted Romani (Gypsies) organized labor and Jews.
These lawless thugs boosted Hitler to the heights of political power in Germany. But once he reached the pinnacle of power, Hitler distanced himself from the Brownshirts and had as many as 200 of their leaders killed in what became known as the “Night of the Long Knives” in 1934. Once the Brownshirts were out of the way, Hitler used the SS, a vicious military unit comprised of committed Nazis, to carry out his most inhumane orders.
As we watch the violence taking place in the streets of Portland, we must keep in mind what began to unfold in Germany a century ago when a twisted, mentally and morally crippled man seized power by feeding fear and hate to a confused populace.
Donald Trump, the would-be dictator, has unleashed upon the American public some of the worst people invested with police power to do his unlawful bidding. Ostensibly, Trump claims that the presence of these jackbooted thugs is appropriate and necessary to enforce the law and maintain order. But it is crystal clear that he is setting the stage for a paramilitary trashing of America’s democratic safeguards. He believes that he can “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war,” and his political base will be gullible enough to support his trampling of Americans’ rights as he takes our country down a path of mischief, delusion and folly to ultimate ruin.
There are those who counsel caution and advise against alarmist accusations, believing that our democratic safeguards are too strong to suffer overthrow by a thug in the White House. But Trump has been allowed to trample democratic norms right before our eyes for almost four years. He has banned entry to this country based upon religion. He has weaponized family separation and locked children in cages as a means of terrorizing asylum seekers. He has looted the public treasury by causing the government to pay his hotels and resorts for his golfing and social outings. The list of grievances against Trump grows longer each day, and still many people back away from calling him to account.
We do not have a crystal ball to predict the future with absolute certainty, but we have reasonable knowledge, granted from experience, that allows us to see what happens when vile, twisted men get their hands on great power.
In 1939, with fascism on the rise and men like Hitler seeking to subjugate the entire world, George Orwell, who later wrote the award-winning novel “1984,” said it best in a book review: “[W]e have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. It is not merely that at present the rule of naked force obtains almost everywhere. Probably that has always been the case. Where this age differs from those immediately preceding it is that a liberal intelligentsia is lacking. Bully-worship, under various disguises, has become a universal religion.”
Donald Trump is at war with America. He wishes to make our country into something as twisted and hateful as he is. His promise of “America First” is not meant to improve our country, but rather to disrespect all others.
There are those among us who have accepted the religion of bully-worship with its liturgical chants of hate and fear. But if we are to have hope that America has a brighter future, those of us who believe that the lives of all human beings are worthwhile must accept the duty of acting intelligently and use all of our resources to push hard towards creating a better world.
Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.