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OPINION | PHILIP MARTIN: The fire next time

by Philip Martin | June 6, 2023 at 3:29 a.m.

"If you fail to do your duty, you will leave We the People no choice but to walk in the founders [sic] footsteps by declaring the regime illegitimate, incapable of representing us, destructive of the just ends of government -- to secure our liberty. And, like the founding generation, we will take to arms in defense of our God-given liberty."

-- Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes in a December 2020 open letter to President Donald Trump posted online.

"The Reich and the nation are in grave danger. With terrible speed we are approaching the complete collapse of the state and of law and order. The people are only dimly aware of the approaching disaster. Prices are rising unchecked. Hardship is growing. Starvation threatens. Corruption, usury, nepotism and crime are cheekily raising their heads. The present government, lacking in authority, impotent and in league with corruption is incapable is incapable of overcoming the danger ... The hour of the salvation of Germany is at hand and the opportunity must be grasped. There is no other way but a government of action."

-- proclamation by Wolfgang Kapp, one of the leaders of the Kapp Putsch of March 1920

I look at the Jan. 6 defendants the same way Logan Roy viewed his progeny: These are not serious people.

Just look at them. Gravy seals and horned shamans. Crybaby operatives. Livestreaming would-be OAN co-hosts. Cosplayers and Texas real estate agents and a smattering of psychically broken cops and wannabe warriors.

But clowns can be dangerous. People were hurt, lives were shattered on Jan. 6. Even if it all feels like a bad dream now, the country was shaken. "Bigo" Barnett may be a self-regarding fool, but fools can do damage.

Wolfgang Kapp was such a fool.

As the head of the Fatherland Party, he was the nominal leader of the Kapp Putsch of 1920 that caused the leaders of the Weimar Republic to scramble off to Dresden. On March 13, Kapp and other right-wing nationalists backed by about 5,000 troops from the Ehrhardt Brigade--a paramilitary "Freikorps" unit that had been scheduled for demobilization--marched into Berlin and declared themselves in power.

The insurgents were dissatisfied with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the perceived weakness of the government. They subscribed to the myth that the German Army hadn't lost the Great War on the battlefield but had been "stabbed in the back" by certain individuals on the home front--especially Jews, Marxists, labor unions and those who had overthrown the House of Hohenzollern to establish the Republic.

They seriously misjudged their support among the German people. Kapp declared it illegal to strike, so naturally the trade unions organized a general work stoppage involving 12 million Germans. And few of the bureaucrats in the German government thought Kapp and his buddies could hold onto power; they ignored instructions and waited for their Weimar bosses to return. When it became clear that the majority of the military was not going to accept Kapp as "Imperial Chancellor and Premier of Prussia," Kapp called a taxi and fled to Sweden.

Looking back more than a century, it's easy to see the Kapp Putsch as comedy. In the few photographs one finds of him, he looks like the supercilious, pince-nezzed bureaucrat he was for most of his life. While, as far as I can tell, there's never been a full-length biography of him published in English (because he is a very minor figure who deserves no more than a footnote), we do know some interesting facts about him.

He was born in New York City. He probably had some serious daddy issues.

We can surmise this because his father was Friedrich Kapp, a gadfly lawyer turned journalist who came to the U.S. after the failed Springtime of Nations, an 1848 wave of mostly failed democratic revolutions that affected more than 50 European countries.

Friedrich was a liberal and a leading critic of German imperialism; he advanced economic arguments against German colonialism. He was also something of a socialist utopian whose ideas were formed by a close association with philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, author of "The Essence of Christianity."

It was one of the most influential books of the 19th century, a critique of Christianity that made a deep impression on the likes of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Sigmund Freud, Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Friedrich was an abolitionist who campaigned for Abraham Lincoln. He called on German Americans to support the Union during the Civil War. Though he was essentially an exile, he maintained ties in Germany, and a lot of his newspaper work involved explaining Germans to Americans (and vice versa). After a general amnesty was declared in April 1870, he returned to Germany and eventually served in the Reichstag's, as a member of the National Liberal Party.

Friedrich died in 1884, two years before his son graduated with a law degree from the University of Tübingen. By then Wolfgang had acquired a wife and reactionary tendencies. He was an anti-democratic monarchist who was essentially a flack for the agrarian aristocracy in Prussia.

There is some question as to whether Kapp and other leaders of the putsch actually believed the German military had been "stabbed in the back" by politicians and civilians on the home front or whether they cynically promulgated the lie to achieve their personal goals. The theory was useful in that it provided a narrative to shift blame for defeat away from Germany's military leadership and onto perceived enemies within the country. It served as a way to undermine the legitimacy of the Weimar Republic and to rally support for more authoritarian and nationalist alternatives.

It was exactly what a lot of Germans wanted to believe.

I don't want to belabor the parallels between the failed coups of March 13, 1920, and Jan. 6, 2021; they ought to be obvious. In each case, nationalist extremists inflamed by a Big Lie attempted to overthrow a democratically elected government and failed. The Kapp Putsch was marginally more successful.

Kapp died of cancer in 1922 while awaiting trial for treason. Stewart Rhodes has been sentenced to 18 years in prison; a lot of the other Capitol stormers are looking at hard time.

There's a discussion about whether the government is being heavy-handed with some of them. Some of those idiots were taken in by a con man, and maybe that's worth the slightest bit of mercy.

On the other hand, Hitler was still in the German army on March 13, 1920; he wouldn't get out until the end of the month. He probably thought that Kapp guy was a clown too, a real amateur. Now, if he was to try it ....

Hey Rudy Hess, hold my stein.

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