Shortly before the deadly attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen Mark Milley, told aides the US was facing a “Reichstag moment” because Donald Trump was preaching “the gospel of the Führer”, according to an eagerly awaited book about Trump’s last year in office.
Milley’s invocation of Germany under the Third Reich follows a report in another book, Frankly, We Did Win This Election, by Michael C Bender, that Trump told his chief of staff, John Kelly, “Hitler did a lot of good things”.
Trump denies having made the remark.
Leonnig and Rucker report that Milley spoke to an “old friend”, who warned the general that Trump and his allies were trying to “overturn the government” in response to Joe Biden’s election victory, which Trump falsely maintains was the result of electoral fraud.
Milley is reported to have said: “They may try, but they’re not going to fucking succeed. You can’t do this without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with guns.”
Reportedly calling Trump supporters “Brownshirts”, a reference to paramilitaries who served Hitler in Germany in the 1930s, Milley is reported to have believed long before the Capitol attack that “Trump was stoking unrest, possibly in hopes of an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and call out the military”.
Milley notoriously appeared with Trump in Lafayette Square in Washington in June 2020, after anti-racism protesters had been aggressively cleared and as Trump walked to a church to stage a photo op with a Bible.
The general apologised for that incident. It has been widely reported that he resisted Trump’s efforts then to invoke the Insurrection Act and crack down on the protests.
Milley’s “Reichstag moment” remark refers to a fire at the German parliament which the Nazis used to consolidate their authoritarian rule in 1933.
Trump’s supporters attacked Congress on 6 January, the day the electoral college results were certified . Five people died.
Leonnig and Rucker report that Milley called the attackers “Nazis” and, in reference to two far-right groups, said “they’re boogaloo boys, they’re Proud Boys”.
“These are the same people we fought in [the second world war],” he reportedly said.
According to New York magazine, the authors also report that Milley, who made headlines and stoked rightwing ire last month by defending teaching about historic racism in army educational establishments, met former first lady Michelle Obama at the Capitol on 20 January, the day Biden was inaugurated.
“No one has a bigger smile today than I do,” Milley reportedly said. “You can’t see it under my mask but I do.”