Trump and GOP repeatedly echo Nazi and far-right ideology as they aim to retake White House

FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks during his Save America rally in Perry, Ga., Sept. 25, 2021. A resurgent GOP is poised to reclaim one, if not both, chambers of Congress and retain its lock on dozens of state legislatures and governor's offices. The turnaround — which is expected but far from assured — is fueled by an unpopular Joe Biden presidency, deep frustration with the lingering pandemic and fresh concerns about inflation, as well as the GOP having history on its side. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)
Former President Trump speaks during his Save America rally in Perry, Ga., in 2021. (Ben Gray / Associated Press)

He's dined with a white supremacist. He's invoked theories espoused by Nazis in their quest for racial purity.

His response to white supremacists marching in Charlottesville? There were "very fine people on both sides. "

So this week, when a video on former President Trump's Truth Social account made reference to a "unified Reich," his opponents were primed to pounce.

The message of Trump's post was muddled, according to historians, but it used language most often associated with Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.

Trump campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said the video had been posted online without the former president's approval by a junior staffer while Trump was in court. It went up while Trump was on his lunch break.

“This was not a campaign video, it was created by a random account online and reposted by a staffer who clearly did not see the word, while the President was in court,” Leavitt said in a statement to the Associated Press.

Still, Democrats and even some Republicans asserted that, whatever the intention or cause, the video showed that as Trump seeks to retake the White House, he often cites, invokes or is connected to far-right and Nazi language and imagery.

"If you understand fascism, you have a five-alarm bell going off in your head," former Trump communications director Anthony Scaramucci said on MSNBC this week.

Scaramucci added that the people raising money for Trump's campaign — mostly men, not women — "are doing it for superficial personal economic interest. They're not understanding the full balance of what's at stake here as it relates to the separation of power in the United States."

Biden used the "unified Reich" video to repeat a theme he invokes frequently — the dire implications of a second Trump term.

“It is not the first time Trump has gone down this road,” Biden said at a fundraiser in Boston on Tuesday. “Folks, it can’t be any clearer. The threat Trump poses is greater the second time around than it was the first.”

In a video posted on social media Tuesday, Biden is seen watching the Truth Social post video reacting: "That's Hitler's language. That's not America's. He cares about holding on to power. I care about you."

The video appeared on Trump's social media Monday. The clip was ripped from another account and showed fake newspaper headlines saying "Trump Wins! and "What's next for America?"

President Biden speaks into a microphone.
President Biden released his own video responding to the Trump "Reich" video. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

But looking closer, the video, which appears to have been made with an online template, includes headlines such as "INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASED... DRIVEN BY THE CREATION OF A UNIFIED REICH."

The text that appears in the video come from a Wikipedia entry on World War I. The unified Reich idea most likely references history that precedes the foundation of the Third Reich, when Hitler came to power in 1933. Still, the term "Reich," which in German means realm or empire, has become closely associated with Hitler and the massacring of Jews and other minorities.

Trump critics note the Reich reference joins a long string of comments and associations that echo Nazi ideology.

In December, Trump said in a speech that immigrants were “poisoning the blood of the country,” which echoed Hitler's repeated invocations that Jews were “poisoning” Aryan Germans. Trump, at the time, said he was unaware of the parallel and that he'd never read Hitler's seminal text "Mein Kampf."

During the 2020 campaign he seemed to endorse in speeches “racehorse theory” — the idea that selective breeding can improve a country’s performance. This idea was foundational to the Nazi notion of racial purity.

He also called his political opponents "vermin," a term frequently employed by the Nazis against their opponents. A recent tell-all from journalists Peter Baker and Susan Glasser describes how Trump complained that American military officials weren't "totally loyal" to him and how he reportedly asked his then-chief of staff, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly: "Why can't you be like the German generals?"

Kelly pointed out that Hitler's generals tried to assassinate him, according to Glasser and Baker.

"Nazism, imperialism, and dictatorship all fly in the face of democracy," said George Mason professor Tehama Lopez Bunyasi who has studied how race and identity intersect with politics.

"The American people should beware any candidate who does not rebuke these three outright."

Nick Fuentes wears a red hat.
White nationalist Nick Fuentes holds a rally in 2020. (Nicole Hester / Ann Arbor News)

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, president of the Center for Jewish History, said that Trump's repeated flirtations with this sort of rhetoric and meetings with people like white nationalist Nick Fuentes condition people to look for the subtlest signs of antisemitism and parallels to Hitler. In 2022, Fuentes had dinner with Trump and rapper Kanye West, who now goes by Ye and who has repeatedly made antisemitic remarks in recent years.

Rosenfeld theorized that the Reich video could be "Gen Z staffers on the Trump team that like smuggling in 'where’s Waldo'-style far-right icons into official Trump/GOP messaging" as hidden messages for their far-right peers.

It wouldn't be the first time that happened. Last year, the presidential campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis fired a staffer who made a video of the governor that invoked Nazi ideology.

Then there are social media posts that come from people not directly connected to campaigns. During the 2020 presidential race, Facebook removed a pro-Trump post that included an upside-down red triangle, which was a symbol Nazis used to tar opponents. The New York Times reported that the anonymous social media user who purportedly made the video had posted several times that its meaning was clear and there was “not a secret hidden message.”

To Rosenfeld, such messaging has become all too common. "We've just been conditioned to see signs of fascism everywhere now," Rosenfeld said, adding that there's plenty of evidence in his mind that a second Trump term would be the "most right-wing and fanatical and corrupt in our lifetime."

Thomas Weber, an expert on German history, pointed out that in modern Germany one far-right party has been cribbing wholesale from parts of the Nazi party manifesto.

"The whole bit about blood of the people: That is Nazi language pure and simple," said Weber, a professor of history and international affairs at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. The Reich video, however, is "more complicated," he said.

The video imagines that in a second Trump term, there would be low taxes, "no more wars" and the "economy booms." These themes, Weber said, "don't resonate with either the message of the Third Reich, nor of Imperial Germany."

The video says that in a second Trump term, the border would be closed. That's not a uniquely Nazi idea or Trump view, Weber said, and neither is pushing for the wholesale removal of people deemed not to belong in a country.

Ideas expressed in Hitler's Germany are appearing, one way or another, in many countries.

"It's not uniquely Trump who is inadvertently copying Nazi policy, but the same is true for the parties and political leaders across the Western world," Weber said. "They do not appear to be clear how much they're ultimately echoing the party platform of the Nazi party."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.