Kristallnacht and current extremist violence – opinion

To the layman, and even to some of his victims, the wave of arson, assault, arrest and murder unleashed on November 9, 1938 in the so-called Kristallnacht, may have seemed like a spontaneous and unplanned eruption of outrage over the murder of a Nazi official in Paris.

Synagogues, shops, houses were destroyed and burned by the thousands. More than ninety Jews were killed, many others were beaten. Some 20,000 Jews were captured and sent to the Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. Several hundred were killed by the guards.

It may have seemed like a spontaneous, chaotic, and unplanned revolt. In the smokescreen of chaos and violence, the careful planning behind it was easy to overlook.

That same day, Reinhard Heidrich issued orders to the German police and fire brigades detailing the rules of engagement. Violent acts that threaten the life or property of Germans cannot be carried out; Jewish stores and residences could be “destroyed but not looted”; non-Jewish businesses had to be “fully insured against damage”; the demonstrations “that are in progress should not be prevented by the police, they should only be supervised.” In Frankfurt, the commander of the 50th brigade approved the order, noting that “all Jewish synagogues within the 50th brigade must be blown up or burned immediately. Neighboring houses occupied by Aryans must not be damaged. The action is to be taken away. out in civilian clothes. “

The importance of Kristallnacht as a turning point in the campaign to destroy the Jewish population is undeniable. As David Frum has said, “Until the end of 1937, it was possible to expect that the Nazi persecution would still respect some of the last limits of humanity. … ”At Kristallnacht,“ the last of those illusions shattered like broken glass ”.

But Kristallnacht is also significant for the model she established for organizing seemingly spontaneous extremist violence. First, subjecting a population to tireless single-source propaganda over a period of time to lay the foundation for popular belief. Second, summon that population to demonstrate their grievances. Third, recruit relatively few trained participants to mix with protesters and incite specific acts of violence. Fourth, assert after the fact that it was all an expression of spontaneous outrage.

For the past eighteen months, the Miller Center at Rutgers University, in collaboration with the Network Contagion Research Institute, has published a series of articles highlighting the use of social media platforms by extremist organizations to spread distorted beliefs, recruit new members, and plan and execute seemingly spontaneous acts of violence.

Taken together, these reports demonstrate how social media algorithms, originally designed to reinforce commercial predilections, have operated in the realm of political discourse to amplify extremist messages and enable the spread of single-source propaganda, with threatening effects. foundations of the republican government. .

A June 2020 report titled “COVID-19, Conspiracy and Contagious Sedition: A Case Study on the Militia Sphere,” noted that “[t]he Militia-sphere messages it has become increasingly extreme as pandemic closures continue, promoting theories that the pandemic is being exaggerated to justify a police state; exploiting recent protests over the George Floyd incident and transforming peaceful protests into violent chaos ”. The report also noted “how the largest online conspiracy group in the US, QAnon, seizes the opportunity presented by these events to attract populist support for increasingly violent and apocalyptic clashes against lockdown, enforcement of the law and an ill-defined ‘elite’. ”
These trends culminated in the events of January 6, 2021 at the nation’s Capitol. Having laid the groundwork for propaganda for months, both before the election and after, and having summoned the masses to Washington to protest the election of President Biden, the appearance of a wave of spontaneous outrage was well established. But as the Miller Center / NCRI’s “Assessment of the Capitol Riots” made clear, the violence associated with the protest was anything but spontaneous: “Explicit plans to ‘Occupy the Capitol’ were circulating on social media suggesting that the The Capitol building was an explicit target of the violent avant-garde from the beginning ”.

Messages instructing militia members to “bring handcuffs and bridles,” and that “breaking into the Capitol from multiple entrances is the surest way to … apprehend these traitors [i.e., members of Congress]”It preceded the event, as did the Proud Boys’ instruction to” go undercover and … spread out across downtown DC into smaller teams. ”

By mingling with the crowd, a few determined extremists were able to direct the protests toward the violence they planned to perpetrate. A similar dynamic also affected some of the social justice protests in 2020. The violence associated with some of those protests, covered in real time by cable news networks as spontaneous outbursts of outrage, was shown to be carefully coordinated by agitators. far left. : “Crowds at the scene explicitly organize into regiments attacking police with projectiles (ranged soldiers), setting fires and throwing fire (fire mages), as well as blind policemen with high-powered lasers (light mages). Online, memes and graphics must be developed and disseminated in real time, while group members on online forums recruit reinforcements and act as sentinels guarding the real-world “battlefield”, using online communication to report real-time strategic updates on police posts. “
It’s no wonder, then, that at the height of the social justice protests, many leaders despaired that the legitimate, peaceful protests had been hijacked by external agitators.

The obvious difference between Kristallnacht and contemporary extremist violence – that Kristallnacht was orchestrated by an extremist German government, not right-wing or extremist left-wing militias – underscores the danger it poses to democracy when the center is not held and the contest by power it is left to extremes.

Indeed, one of those extremes could prevail, allowing the latent anti-Semitism endemic to extremist movements, already spreading through social networks, blooming.

Meanwhile, from the streets of our cities to the halls of Congress, broken glass will be everywhere.

John Farmer is the former attorney general of New Jersey and director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, where he also directs the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers University.

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