(Image via The Ring of Fire YouTube channel)

A Reichstag type event, given the usual Trump hype, could ultimately lead to major law and order crackdowns in the United States, writes Dr Norm Sanders.

On February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building which housed the German Parliament in Berlin was attacked by an arsonist. The Nazis blamed a Dutch immigrant — a Communist named Marinus van der Lubbe.  He was quickly tried and sentenced to death in spite of his protestations of innocence.

The Nazi Party used the fire as concrete evidence the Communists were plotting to take over the country and accelerated their campaign to establish a Nazi Germany

Adolf Hitler had just been sworn in as “Chancellor of Germany” on January 30, 1933, five weeks before. Immediately after the fire, Hitler persuaded President Paul von Hindenburg and his Weimar Government to pass the draconian Reichstag Fire Decree.

This sweeping decree suspended most of the German civil liberties including freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of free association and public assembly, the secrecy of the post and telephone, and the writ of habeas corpus. The decree was also used by the Nazis to ban publications they didn't think were friendly to their cause.

The astute reader by now should be seeing some parallels with events taking place in the United States. Sounds like Steve Bannon must have been doing some research. For Communists, substitute Muslims and Mexicans as vehicles for a fear campaign. (A Mexican Muslim would be a perfect choice for perpetrator.) 

Any sort of major terror attack in the US would have the same effect now as it did in 1933 Germany. After 9/11, Americans happily put up with major restrictions of freedoms in order to feel “safe”. The rapid passage of the Patriot Act is one obvious example.

Who would carry it out? The CIA and the FBI are considered by conspiracy theorists as the usual suspects for "False Flag" events, but Trump has already alienated them. Private enterprise, however, is well capable of doing the job.

Of course, Trump might just sit back and wait for a city to erupt in this coming summer. The scenario could be a repeat of the events of August, 1965 in Watts California, South Central Los Angeles. The police arrested a black motorist for drunk driving. A roadside argument escalated into a six day riot, which was finally quelled by hundreds of police and nearly 4,000 National Guards. By the time it was over, 34 people had died, and 10,000 homes and businesses were partially or completely destroyed.  The bill came to over $40,000,000.

An urban riot or a Reichstag type event, given the usual Trump hype, could ultimately lead to major law and order crackdowns.  The U.S. is generally considered to be fairly free of “police state” accusations, but this doesn't stand up to closer scrutiny.

I have witnessed a police riot myself in the idyllic setting of Santa Barbara, California. In 1969 and 1970, university campuses were in uproar over the Vietnam War. The University of California at Santa Barbara, where I was then an assistant professor of geography was no exception. Students were boycotting classes and holding regular anti-war demonstrations, both on campus and in the nearby student community of Isla Vista.  

The police presence had been very visible on campus for weeks. On 24 February 1970, William Kunstler, a Chicago Seven defense lawyer and anti-war activist, addressed a large rally in Harder Stadium. He drew connections between the national protest situation and what was happening on the UCSB Campus.   

The police were out in force to face the agitated students as they walked back to Isla Vista. A 22-year-old student, Rich Underwood, was beaten unconscious and arrested for carrying a bottle of wine, which police thought was a Molotov cocktail.

The crowd became increasingly incensed and converged on the Bank of America building. (At that time I.V. residents called it the “Bank of Amerika.”) Somebody lit a dumpster on fire and pushed it through the doors. The bank was looted and later set on fire with gasoline. Stories circulated at the time that not all the arsonists were students. A former FBI agent named Cril Payne later wrote a book called Deep Cover, in which he claimed that the FBI was very active in Isla Vista and that the bank burning was an FBI operation. A mini Reichstag! Maybe the conspiracy theorists have something after all?

The next day, Governor Reagan declared a State of Emergency. The Army National Guard and Los Angeles County SWAT teams were called in to help maintain order, along with highway patrolmen, sheriffs and police from nearby towns. Some arrived in armored trucks, with full riot gear and tear gas. All the police personnel had hidden their badge numbers with masking tape so they couldn't be identified. Amid the confusion, 22-year-old UCSB student Kevin Moran was shot and killed. The already tense situation got worse and the police imposed a 7pm curfew on the 10,000 residents who were locked down every night for weeks.

I was trying to keep my classes going during all this. I told my students to contact me if they needed any help after being arrested. Many did. The police were entering apartments and searching for drugs. If they didn't find any, they planted some and made an arrest. I got a lawyer for one student who was arrested while sitting on the toilet. The police dragged him down the stairs with his pants around his ankles. 

The saddest case involved two students who were playing with a frisbee in front of their apartment. It was a few minutes before 7pm. A police car stopped. The kids asked if it was okay to be outside. The cops said it was, until curfew. Soon afterwards, another police car stopped and arrested both of them. I contacted one of the many lawyers volunteering their services.

One of the students, a second generation Japanese American, later told me about how his father had been shattered by the arrest. During WWII, the father and his family had been interned along with 120,000 others of Japanese origins (note: 62% of the internees were US citizens). 

He said:

“I never thought it would happen again in America!”

For the previous several years, I had been teaching environmental studies courses. Class projects involved having the students identify and solve local environmental problems. One of these was a planned freeway across the Goleta Slough, a tidal estuary and wildlife habitat on the university boundary. UCSB Chancellor Vernon Cheadle and some local businessmen owned a parcel of land which they wanted to sell to K-Mart.

Trouble was, there was no access. UCSB already had a freeway to the door and it was obvious that the new road was mainly to enhance the sale. My students got involved in the battle and eventually found a way to stop the State-funded freeway using Federal environmental statutes. Chancellor Cheadle was not pleased and some thought the loss of his freeway was responsible for his hard line on student demonstrations.

One day, a large group of students gathered in front of the Administration Building to protest the Isla Vista lockdown. We took videos from the adjacent Geography Department. It was clear that the police were massing to trap the students in a pincers movement. 

Chris Hall, one of the mainstays of the fight to Save the Slough, was trying to warn the protesters with a bullhorn. The police charged, knocked him to the ground, beat him and left him lying there. He subsequently filed police brutality charges based on our videos. The police responded with a resisting arrest charge. Chris was afraid of another arrest. He stopped driving his car and wouldn't even check his mailbox in case of planted drugs.

A rally was planned one night to protest the lockdown. Chris took a chance and joined it. The police attacked and the crowd scattered. Chris escaped down to the beach, followed by several cops.  He outran them but was soon being tracked by a helicopter with a huge searchlight and a loud speaker, “Stop or you will be shot.” Chris kept running in his totalitarian nightmare, tiring in the soft sand. He darted under some trees which momentarily lost the chopper. Then he slipped into a nearby apartment where he was hidden in a closet by the sympathetic students. The police finally gave up and the chase and arrested two hippies sleeping in a VW van parked outside the apartment instead. Chris waited until morning to leave. Civil Liberties can disappear very quickly in America.

Some of my students were allegedly involved in the bank burning and the Chancellor was still fuming over his lost property deal.  I got fired and sailed away on a 10 meter yacht to the lure of Whitlam's Australia.

I am very grateful now to be living in Australia (even Turnbull's Australia!) rather than Trump's America. 

Isla Vista and Watts were foretastes of what Trump's post-Reichstag Amerika could look like. When Trump and his mentor Steve Bannon start to worry that their “Reichstag Fire Decree” agenda is too slow in coming, watch out for the smoke!

Dr Norm Sanders is a former Tasmanian MP and Australian Federal senator.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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