One major unsettling similarity between the Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler and the Republican Party of Donald Trump is that both would resist an independent investigation of the attacks on the respective legislatures of the two nations: the February 27, 1933, Reichstag Fire in Berlin and the January 6, 2021, storming by Trump loyalists of the U.S. Capitol complex. Hitler and his Nazis falsely claimed the Reichstag arson was carried out by a mentally deranged Dutch Communist named Marinus van der Lubbe, who was allegedly aided by German Communists. In the case of the U.S. Capitol attack, several far-right Republicans have claimed the attack was actually carried out by members of "antifa" (an acronym for "anti-fascist") and Black Lives Matter (BLM). Using Nazi propaganda from 1933, some Republicans also falsely claim that BLM is a "communist" organization.
At the post-war Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals, German Army General Franz Halder testified that he heard Hermann Göring boast about setting the fire at the Reichstag himself. Halder stated: "On the occasion of a lunch on the Fuhrer's birthday in 1943, the people around the Fuhrer turned the conversation to the Reichstag building and its artistic value. I heard with my own ears how Göring broke into the conversation and shouted: 'The only one who really knows about the Reichstag building is I, for I set fire to it.' And saying this he slapped his thigh." Hitler claimed that the then-chairman of the German Communist Party, Ernst Torgler, was responsible for the fire. Göring issued a warrant for Torgler's arrest but at his trial, Torgler was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
Also charged in the arson attack was Bulgarian Communist leader Georgi Dimitrov. The Bulgarian Communist waived a Nazi-appointed counsel to defend him and he argued his own case and cross-examined witness Göring. Dimitrov asked Göring how he knew that van der Lubbe had a German Communist Party membership card in his pocket. Göring replied: "I do not run about or search the pockets of people. If this should still be unknown to you, let me tell you: the police examines all great criminals and informs me of its findings." Dimitrov responded: "The three officials of the criminal police who arrested and first interrogated van der Lubbe unanimously declared that no membership card was found on Lubbe. From where has the information about the card come then, I should like to know?"
Dimitrov's round of questioning of Göring was so successful, the Bulgarian Communist was expelled from the Supreme Court for three days. When Dimitrov was allowed to return, he aggressively cross-examined Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. Dimitrov asked Goebbels why those Nazis who carried out violent attacks against leftists received pardons, focusing on the deaths of Communists Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht: "Is it true that the National Socialist Government has granted a pardon to all terrorist acts carried out to further the aims of the National Socialist movement?" Goebbels replied, "The National Socialist Government could not leave in prisons people who, risking their lives and health, had fought against the Communist peril."
Dimitrov, who became the first Communist leader of post-war Bulgaria, also questioned the Nazis' use of forged documents as part of their prosecution tactics: "I should like also for a moment to refer to the question of forged documents. Numbers of such forgeries have been made use of against the working class. Their name is legion. There was, for example, the notorious Zinoviev letter, a letter which never emanated from Zinoviev [Grigory Zinoviev, the chairman of the Communist International in Moscow], and which was a deliberate forgery. The British Conservative Party made effective use of the forgery against the working class."
As for van der Lubbe, Dimitrov castigated the Nazis for blaming such a pathetic and deranged individual for the arson: "What is van der Lubbe? A Communist? Inconceivable. An Anarchist? No. He is a declassed worker, a rebellious member of the scum of society. He is a misused creature who has been played off against the working class. No, he is neither a Communist nor an Anarchist. No Communist, no Anarchist anywhere in the world would conduct himself in court as van der Lubbe has done. Genuine Anarchists often do senseless things, but invariably when they are hauled into court they stand up like men and explain their aims. If a Communist had done anything of this sort, he would not remain silent knowing that four innocent men stood in the dock alongside him. No, van der Lubbe is no Communist. He is no Anarchist; he is the misused tool of fascism."
William L. Shirer, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and who was present at the Reichstag arson scene, believed that SA leader Karl Ernst and fellow Brown Shirts were responsible for setting the parliament building ablaze. Nazi government documents obtained from East German and Soviet archives later revealed that Ernst ordered a Brown Shirt named Adolf Rall and his SA comrades to "enter the Reichstag through a tunnel and sprinkle flammable liquid inside," adding that "an excuse was needed to begin attacking Communists."
Only van der Lubbe was found guilty of the arson attack. In addition to Torgler, Dimitrov and two of his fellow Bulgarians, Blagoi Popov and Vassili Tanev, were found not guilty. Hitler was furious over the not guilty verdicts and ordered all future treason trials to be moved from the Supreme Court to the Nazi-run People's Court.
Some members in the U.S. Congress believe that the major reason Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are so opposed to an independent bi-partisan commission investigating the January 6 attack is that such a panel may discover that the planners of the attack received logistical and other support from pro-Trump Republican members of the Senate and House. Exposing these members would risk their seats in Congress and any hopes of the Republicans regaining the majority in either chamber.
At the same time the Reichstag Fire trial was occurring in Berlin, a group of anti-fascists in London conducted their own tribunal on the fire. The Commission of Inquiry into the Burning of the Reichstag was led by an "International Committee of Jurists and Technical Experts." A former German National People's Party (DNVP) parliamentary leader named Ernst Oberfohren had provided to the Manchester Guardian a memorandum that stated that the Reichstag Fire was planned by Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels and carried out by a team of SA officers. The memo stated: "The agents of Herr Göring, led by the Silesian S.A. leader, Reichstag-deputy [Edmund] Heines, entering the Reichstag through the heating-pipe passage leading from the palace of the president of the Reichstag, Göring. Every S.A. and S.S. leader was carefully selected and had a special station assigned to him. As soon as the outposts in the Reichstag signaled that the Communist deputies Torgler and [Wilhelm] Koenen had left the building, the S.A. troop set to work." On May 7, 1933, Oberfohren, who opposed his DNVP voting for Hitler's Enabling Act, which outlawed the Communist and Social Democratic parties, was found dead at his home from a gunshot wound. Many German opposition figures suspected that Oberfohren was murdered by Nazi agents.
We can gain much insight into the thinking of the far-right and fascists in their planned attack on the U.S. Capitol by closely examining the events surrounding the 1933 Reichstag Fire. The London counter-inquiry into the Reichstag arson received international press attention. A White House/Congressional Democratic-sponsored blue ribbon commission or a Senate-House Select Committee on January 6 may be just as effective in getting to the truth behind the assault on Congress as a bi-partisan commission that now appears doomed thanks to Republican obstruction.