Germany’s defeat in World War I left it in a state of political and financial instability. Fringe political parties driven by individuals who were mesmerized by conspiracy theories arose to offer options to the democratic Weimar leadership which was blamed for Germany’s failed governance. Among those distressed by the current affairs was 30-year-old Adolf Hitler. Employed as a police spy to investigate the German Worker’s Party he instead became enthralled by the party’s’ nationalism and anti-Semitic philosophy which he believed would be the best way to revive Germany. Instead of reporting on the Workers’ Party he joined them and was exposed to several individuals who mentored him in their rabid racial philosophy as well as public speaking.
In the 1920s Beer Hall lectures were the Twitter feeds of the time and Hitler, who became an adept public speaker, made use of the opportunity to address large crowds in the halls. In 1921 the party changed its name to the Nazi Party and Hitler was elected its leader. Two years later the party hatched a plan to violently overthrow the government, kidnap the state commissioner of Bavaria and other politicians and launch a revolt against the Weimar Republic.
The Beer Hall Putsch took place in November 1923. Following his plan to march on Berlin Hitler and several hundred followers burst into the hall. Hitler fired a shot and declared a revolution. To appease Hitler, the Bavarian state commissioner and two associates were convinced to allow a march on the Bavarian Defense Ministry. More than 2500 followers were blocked by police officers. In the shooting that followed four police and 16 Nazis were killed. Hitler crawled away but suffered a dislocated shoulder when he fell. He hid in a friend’s attic until arrested two days later. He was tried and sentenced by a sympathetic court to five years in a minimum-security prison but was pardoned within nine months. While in prison he used his time to have visitors and write Mein Kampf. The additional exposure served to heighten his public stature.
Hitler and party leaders realized that a violent confrontation would not achieve their goals so instead, they plotted to overthrow the political system. The destruction of the Weimar democracy, an intense emphasis on alleged German purity, the elimination of Bolsheviks and radical anti-Semitism were at the center of the party’s goals. Within ten years the Nazi party achieved their goal of becoming the ruling party and Hitler a dictator.
On January 6, the United States experienced a putsch as Congress began certifying Joe Biden as president. While there are not many similarities between the two putsch’s there are lessons that can be learned from the Beer Hall event.
For most sociopath’s leadership is not an active game. Manipulating others to do the dirty work is a tool often used by those with antisocial tendencies. Passivity, slinking away from confrontation but encouraging followers to take the lead while calling the shots from a distance is a common approach. It allows sociopaths deniability.
Actions have consequences. If there are no consequences or the wrong consequences are applied the result is to reinforce a sociopath’s abusive behaviors. Stripping influence from a sociopath can be devastating for them. But hedging on the consequences only serves to reinforce a leaders’ drive for more power. It allows them to feel successful by rallying followers to believe that it is in their power to manipulate the system, if not violently then by political means. Hitler was imprisoned, released having served less than 20 percent of his term and allowed to continue to garner and expand political power. He was jailed but not prevented from seeking office again. Followers saw this as a success joining with him in ever-growing numbers.
Hitler was not the founder or the most influential member of the German Worker’s Party. He was groomed into that position by others who saw his aptitude. Importantly, some of those who trained him could not contain him.
As we await the Senate impeachment trial It is worth remembering the psychological principle that without logical consequences there is little hope for appropriate behavior. When consequences are overlooked the outcome can be devastating.
There were clear signs of revolutionary fervor and violence on January 6th. It was inspired by a leader, President Trump, who promised to join but who slunk away. Rioters, revolutionary conspiracy theorists and Nazi sympathizers had clear design on violence against our democracy. Political moves by these conspiracy theorists and hate mongers are increasing. As the impeachment trial begins it is important to know that if President Trump does not suffer the appropriate consequences and his political cronies, supporters and politicians aligned with his conspiratorial values are not given the appropriate consequences the result may in short order be devastating.