Week Five: When is Trump’s Night of Long Knives?

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I’ve been wondering when Trump’s Night of Long Knives will take place. Who will he target to further consolidate power, tighten his inner kleptocratic circle, and what mythical message will it feed to his gullible followers, those aficionados of fake news?

I think it will quickly follow his inauguration on January 20. There are hints already. This week, The New York Times reported that Department of Energy employees were issued a 74-point questionnaire asking for the names of all employees and contractors who had attended conferences about climate change. The Times report suggests that Trump is sniffing out civil servants who do not publicly swallow his anti-climate change magic pill. In another report released this week, the damage Trump so cavalierly tweeted upon a young woman who mildly criticized him in public on the campaign trail in 2015 is a small indication of the devastation he can wage once he is in power. With Trump’s inauguration just weeks away, now seems like a good time to revisit the night Hitler cleaned house.

Hitler was paranoid and easily led. Sound familiar?

Ernst Röhm had been with Hitler since the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. He went on to form the SA—the thugs of the National Socialist Party. He had a brief falling out with Hitler, but by 1931, Röhm was back in the saddle as his chief of staff and once again in charge of the SA. By 1933, there were three million SA, and Röhm wanted to further swell its ranks by incorporating the German army under its brownshirted banner. This power-play alarmed Hitler’s main henchmen: Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and Gestapo and mastermind behind the Holocaust; Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s chosen successor; Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propagandist; and Reinhard Heydrich—let’s just call him a mass-murderer. No friend to the ambitious Röhm, this quartet of evil convinced Hitler that Röhm was planning a coup.

One year and five months after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, he embarked on a purge of his own party. On the night of June 29 and into the dawn of June 30, 1934, Hitler’s SS began rounding up perceived enemies in the SA. In total, at least 77 were killed, executed on trumped up charges of treason. Röhm was shot. Others weren’t so lucky. Many were bludgeoned to death. The SA was put under direct control of the army, all of whom had to make an oath of allegiance to the Führer. This marked the ascendancy of Himmler and his SS as the most feared and powerful group in Nazi Germany.

Publicly, the purge heightened Hitler’s popularity. Much was made of Röhm’s homosexuality, and he was reviled for it. It was also perceived as a strong-man move against the excesses of unsavoury elements of the party. Some historians (Eleanor-hancock) have argued that this helped cement Hitler’s image as being above the party—Hitler as saviour/celebrity.

Sound familiar?

(The cartoon, by David Low, was published in the July 3, 1934  issue of The Evening Standard.)

© 2016, Kate Barker. All rights reserved.