Russian helmets, MAGA mobs, and Lincoln's fears Skip to content

Russian helmets, MAGA mobs, and Lincoln's fears

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Vietnam vet Gene Nettles, 78, never dreamed somebody in a Russian army helmet would be part of a mob storming the U.S. Capitol.

“When I saw that whole mess, I thought about my fraternity brother; I thought about a good friend — an African American gentleman from Alabama — and several others who gave their lives for our freedoms in the Republic of Vietnam,” said the decorated former Army paratrooper who made lieutenant colonel before retiring to Fulton County, as far west as Kentucky goes. 

The Trump-incited Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol left him “quaking mad” at “the SOBs that would stoop so low, in particular the SOB in charge.”

“Some of them, are probably just dumb and would follow a goat into a tiger’s den, but their conduct was egged on by the SOB in charge. He really ought to go to jail.”

A rioter in a green helmet that looks exactly like the old green Russian SSh-40 steel pot I have in my collection of militaria reminded me of Zach Beauchamp’s Vox article from 2018. “Sometimes there are images that so perfectly encapsulate a moment in time that all you can do is marvel,” he wrote.

He was referring to photos of two Trump rally-goers sporting “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat” tee shirts.

Our 2020 Helmet guy perfectly encapsulates the evolution of Trumpism: from guys in tee-shirts calculated to insult Democrats, to a guy in apparent Russian combat headgear charging up the Capitol steps with violent MAGA rioters and looters, threatening to kill Democrats.

Helmet guy is in the video the Democratic House impeachment managers showed to senators to help prove that the former president is guilty of “incitement of insurrection.” 

Helmet guy shows up at the 1:20 mark on the video. He rushes in from the left and helps fellow brawlers knock down metal barriers and overpower Capitol Police. 

The above-mentioned tee shirts are “the kinds of things that will show up in history textbooks, the kind of thing that high school students will look at when they’re trying to understand a previous era,” Beauchamp added.

A photo of helmet-guy would help the teens better comprehend.

Appropriate head gear, since they were doing the work of Putin

Those of us way beyond our salad days remember the Moscow May Day parades. Helmeted, jack-booted Soviet soldiers goose-stepped through Red Square, red flags flying, in a procession that featured fearsome tanks and, even scarier, giant ICBMs mounted on trailers.

Trump’s pal Putin may still dream of helmeted Russian soldiers seizing our Capitol. But the czar wannabe is probably content to let MAGA mobs do his bidding.

The modern-day fulfillment of Lincoln’s fears

Helmet guy also made me think of an 1838 Abraham Lincoln speech in which the president-to-be warned against “savage mobs” and “the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country.” He said mob violence was a greater threat to the republic than foreign armies. 

The address went down in history as the “Lyceum Speech.” The anti-slavery Lincoln was alarmed at the rise of pro-slavery mobs who were lynching free blacks and anti-slavery whites.

(The Trump terrorists included white supremacists and white nationalists. At least one lugged a Confederate flag into the Capitol.)

Lincoln denounced “the growing disposition to substitute…wild and furious passions” for “reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason” and “a reverence for the constitution and laws.”

Lincoln declared that “passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy.” 

Lincoln worried, too, over the rise of some authoritarian ruler “possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition.”

No ‘lofty genius” this time – but what about the next time?

Donald Trump, though an authoritarian wannabe, “is not a man of ‘the loftiest genius,'” Bret Stevens wrote of the MAGA man in The New York Times after the Capitol insurgency that was unprecedented in our history. (Contrary to multiple media reports, a “mob” didn’t burn the Capitol during the War of 1812. British soldiers torched DC in 1814 in retaliation for us burning York, the capital of Upper Canada — Ontario today — the year before.)    

Trump, according to Stevens, was “a political arsonist who managed, in his inveterately asinine way, to burn down his own presidency while attempting to torch everyone and everything else. Neither is Josh Hawley nor Ted Cruz a lofty genius. They are credential-holding ideological grifters who lack the wit to see how easily they are seen through.”

Nonetheless, he described Trump, Hawley, and Cruz as “at least a hazy approximation of what the younger Lincoln most fears — men in the mold of Caesar or Napoleon who would sooner tear down than defend republican institutions in order to slake a thirst for glory. Before Jefferson Davis tore the federal government asunder, John C. Calhoun tried to nullify its power. What rougher beasts do Trump, Cruz, and Hawley prefigure? For that matter, for what kind of Reichstag fire was the Capitol Hill insurrection merely a test run?”


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