From the SA to the Proud Boys – A Common Tradition of Far-Right Violence

By: Willem Nesbitt

On January 6th, Donald Trump and the Republican Party had their very own Beer Hall Putsch moment, the circumstances that led up to the storming of the Capitol drawing parallels to the tactics employed by a rising NSDAP over eighty years ago, specifically with the actions of the Proud Boys and other white nationalist groups drawing parallels from the Nazi Party’s Sturmabteilung (SA).

            “Stand back and stand by” were the words of former President Donald J. Trump during a presidential debate when asked about denouncing white supremacist and militia groups, words which demonstrate the Republican courting of these very groups. This question was asked following a summer in which America was witness to the largest protests the nation has seen since the anti-Vietnam demonstrations and Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and in these modern protests, opposing sides of the American political spectrum clashed. Self-proclaimed “anti-fascists” made appearances in small groups, meeting stiff opposition from the likes of the Proud Boys and state militia groups.

            When these groups clashed in the cities of Portland, Washington, and Kenosha, an interesting parallel of this important moment in American history emerged with the history of Germany from events in the 1920s and 30s. The rise of the NSDAP during this time saw the employment of similar tactics and actions, ranging from violent clashes between political street gangs, to the storming of an important political building.

            Infiltrating a gathering of the Proud Boys in Portland, Oregon, independent reporter Andrew Callaghan (better known as “All Gas No Brakes”) engaged with the members of this gathering, creating an uncensored, rather humorous glimpse into the workings of this white nationalist group. Breaking out into chants of “F*ck Antifa!” following a prayer, the interviewees of this video made claims of how Antifa are a communist/Marxist group, and, most puzzlingly, “Antifa is the real fascists.”

            Over the course of the summer of 2020, groups of these very Proud Boys and militia groups clashed with Black Lives Matter protestors and pockets of Antifa, some of these protests and counter-protests turning violent. This type of clash between left and right groups is nothing new. In the wake for the First World War, Germany was left in a state of political and economic turmoil, with political groups and parties, ranging from monarchists to communists, taking to the streets to spread their message and build their support.

            With these range of parties all taking to the streets to hold demonstrations and political rallies, it is no surprise that these opposing groups violently clashed. The NSDAPs primary street gang, the “Sturmabteilung” or “SA”, was the party’s paramilitary wing during their initial rise to power and came into form following the events of November 4th, 1921. At the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl beerhall in Munich, NSDAP leader Adolf Hitler gave a lengthy speech that was interrupted by a brawl between the Nazi’s “protection detachment” and socialist and communist individuals who had infiltrated the meeting.

            From here, the SA would go on to act as the NSDAPs muscle into the 1930s, engaging in street fights against the NSDAPs left-wing opponents, and eventually being the ones behind the infamous Kristallnacht.

            While the Proud Boys are most certainly not an official detachment of the American right-wing in the same way the SA was for the NSDAP, former President Trump’s comments in the presidential debate are certainly damming, even more so in the wake of their participation in the events of January 6th. The actions of the Proud Boys and militia groups in cities across America can be seen as a continuation of a tradition from the early days of fascism in Europe. Intimidation, the use of violence against opponents, and eventual attempted insurrection are tactics common to both the Proud Boys and the SA.

            With the recent designation of the Proud Boys and other white nationalist groups as terrorist organizations in Canada, along with the inauguration of President Joe Biden, one may think that these events and issues are behind us. That is not so. As with the floundering of the NSDAP following the arrest of its leaders after the failed Beer Hall Putsch, the Republican party, too, seems to be staggered following the loss of the White House and Senate and the threatening of the founding of a splinter Patriot’s Party. But as history shows, even following its failures, the NSDAP resurged and eventually democratically took hold of power in Germany. American Democrats and leftists may be content with the results of the last few months, but a failure to further pursue actions against white nationalist and extremist right-wing groups may result in a further mirroring of Germany’s past.

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