How Trump's hidden Nazi messages help conceal his open antisemitism

Now that Trump is finally facing legal consequences for his actions he's amplifying his Hitlerian language

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published May 22, 2024 5:45AM (EDT)

Donald Trump | Townspeople give the Nazi salute as German police march through Imst, Austria after the Anschluss of March 1938. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | Townspeople give the Nazi salute as German police march through Imst, Austria after the Anschluss of March 1938. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

One of the most important rules for surviving and triumphing over an authoritarian regime is to always take seriously what the dictator says. They are not kidding. This rule most certainly applies to Donald Trump, who has promised that he is going to be a dictator on “day one” if he defeats President Biden in the 2024 election. With Trump tied with or leading President Biden in the early polls, the American people need to quickly internalize the aforementioned rule for survival.

As leading historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat warned in a recent social media post, “Folks, he is not going to leave office, ever. Know this before you decide not to vote for Biden. It will be worse than you can imagine and a national security disaster. The aim is to destroy America, to the benefit of autocrats around the world.”

Time magazine recently featured an extensive interview with Trump where he outlined, in great detail, his authoritarian plans and vision for the United States if he takes power in 2025. Several days later, the New York Times obtained audio from a meeting at Trump's Mar-a-Lago with his donors. There, Trump lied, of course, and claimed that President Biden leads a “Gestapo” that he is using to persecute his supposed enemies.

Trump’s statements about a Biden-led “Gestapo” are projections and an application of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels' command to always accuse the opposition of that which you are in fact guilty of doing. Trump’s Nazi projections are part of a much larger dynamic where today’s right openly embraces antisemitism, white supremacy, and racism.

On Monday, for the latest example, Trump shared a video on his Truth Social disinformation platform that fantasized about his victory in the 2024 election over President Biden including the rise of a "unified Reich."

Dr. Sharon Nazarian, who is a board member of the Anti-Defamation League and a noted expert on global antisemitism, issued the following statement in response to the Trump campaign's "unified Reich" video:

Words like Reich don’t just accidentally end up in campaign videos. This is a message to antisemites and anti-democratic extremists everywhere about what to expect should Trump return to the White House. Donald Trump knows exactly what he is doing. This is part of a long pattern of behavior where he normalizes antisemitic language and behavior and then later claims that he ‘didn’t know’ or it was ‘fake news’, but the extremists know full well where he stands, and we need acknowledge that these aren’t mistakes, he is telling us exactly what he would do in a second term. Donald Trump no longer should be given the benefit of the doubt. He sees antisemitism as a powerful tool to be used towards his own political goals, and those goals are to reshape American democracy and society in ways that will make the lives of Jews unsafe.

Trump's campaign claims that the Nazi references in the video were shared by accident. Given Donald Trump and his propagandists' long pattern of antisemitic and white supremacist behavior, however, such denials have little to no credibility. 

Trump and his propagandists and other agents repeatedly amplify the Great Replacement Theory (white people are somehow being “replaced” by non-whites who are “imported” into the country/West by Democrats and “liberals”) and lies that Democratic Party donor George Soros (he is Jewish and a Holocaust survivor) is the leader of a vast secret cabal to rule America and the world. These are based on old and virulent antisemitic conspiracy theories and lies, most notably the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Trump’s messaging has been very effective: A majority of Trump MAGA people and a large percentage of Republicans now believe in the Great Replacement Theory.

To that point, Donald Trump has repeatedly said that Jewish Americans who support the Democrats and not the Republicans and Israel are “disloyal” and somehow not “real” Jews. Of course, Donald Trump believes that “good Jews” support him. This is textbook antisemitism: Jewish people are individuals and not a hive mind.

Donald Trump infamously said that Nazis and other white supremacists are “very fine” people after the Charlottesville rampage in 2017 that killed Heather Heyer and injured dozens of other people. Trump has repeatedly shared antisemitic images and memes on social media and has met personally with antisemites and white supremacists.

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The first Trump administration created a concentration camp system and set of policies intentionally designed to break up the families of black and brown migrants, refugees, and undocumented residents as a “deterrent." If Trump returns to power he is promising and has planned a much more expansive version of that same cruel policy.

The Trump administration deviated from established tradition and did not properly honor Holocaust Remembrance Day. Instead, it chose to minimize the unique and historically specific crimes that the Nazis inflicted upon the Jewish people during the Holocaust.  

Trump has continued to channel Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, with his threats and promises to purify the blood of the nation by getting rid of human “vermin” and other “pollution” as part of final battle and campaign of retribution and revenge when/if he takes power in 2025. These are eliminationist and genocidal threats of violence against those individuals and groups targeted as other or who dare to resist the regime and its attempt to end multiracial pluralistic democracy. Trump has also threatened, on numerous occasions, while president and afterwards, to have his political and personal “enemies” killed.

Project 2025, Agenda 47, the Red Caesar Scenario, and the other plans that a second Trump regime will use to end America’s real democracy have clear connections to the Enabling Act and German legal theorist Carl Schmitt’s “state of exception” that empowered the Nazi regime and its rise to power.

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Writing at The New Republic, Greg Sargent warns of Trump’s eliminationist language and the types of violence and other harm it has and will cause to entire communities of people in the United States. Sargent also highlights the mainstream news media’s repeated failures to properly explain this to the American people.

Trump’s ugly demagogic rants in Michigan, and others like it, deserve to be treated as a national scandal. The cherry-picking of isolated terrible crimes to smear migrants as a class is not something we would tolerate if it were directed toward other groups. Never mind what Trump is attempting to do politically. His deranged, malicious, hateful public conduct should be seen as the real story here. It should be covered that way….

In covering Trump’s Michigan event, some news accounts dutifully noted that fact. But they tended to treat this as a conventional fact-check of typical political rhetoric, rather than treating his heinous smearing of a large class of people as itself being the story.

Trump’s constant use of the deranged “migrant crime” trope provides the hook for doing just that. The Republican National Committee now has an official website devoted to chronicling “migrant crime” and “illegal alien crime,” listed out by state (in some states no “illegal alien crimes” have yet been documented). The casual use of such terms to smear large classes of immigrants is the official party position.

Eight or so years ago, at the beginning of the Age of Trump, warnings that Trump and the MAGA movement were neofascists who were channeling Hitlerism and the Nazis as part of a project to end multiracial pluralistic democracy were mostly met with outrage, disgust, and bellowing objections of “impossible” and “it can’t happen here!” because “we are Americans and better than that!” Then as Trump and his agents continued with their Nazi-talk and other racial authoritarianism (and related violence and threats), the same gatekeepers and public voices responded with shock and disgust and momentary condemnation. This was especially true on and in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 coup attempt.

Now, Donald Trump is (finally) facing some legal consequences for his decades-long crime spree and has responded by amplifying his Hitlerian language and threats. The mainstream news and other elites and gatekeepers who shape the “boundaries of the approved public discourse” are largely responding with indifference, because they are more focused on the familiar horserace of the 2024 election and have rationalized Trump’s aberrant and very dangerous behavior as this is “all Trump just being Trump.”

In an excellent essay at the Atlantic, historian Christopher Browning explains, with great vulnerability and transparency, how his thinking on these questions about Donald Trump, the MAGA movement, and American fascism evolved:

For some years, a variety of news commentators and academics have called Donald Trump a fascist. I was one of those who resisted using that term. I thought it had long been abused by casual, imprecise applications, and as a historian of Nazi Germany, I did not think Trumpism was anywhere close to crossing the threshold of that comparison. I still deny that Trump’s presidency was fascist—but I’m concerned that if he wins another trip to the White House, he could earn the label.

Fascism was most fully exemplified by the regimes of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. These regimes combined totalitarian dictatorship, wars of imperial conquest, and outright genocide in the case of Hitler (of Jews, Slavs, Roma) or ethnic mass murder in Mussolini’s case (of Libyans, Ethiopians, Slovenes). Placing Trumpism in the same category seemed to me trivializing and misleading.

I argued instead that Trump was more like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan than Hitler or Mussolini, and should be categorized as an “illiberal populist” rather than a fascist. And in one very important respect, Trump differed sharply from the European fascists of the interwar period.

They were ardent militarists and imperialists. War was the crucible in which the new fascist man was to be forged; territorial expansion was both the means and the end of fascist power and triumph. Trump has shown little ambition to pursue such aims. In his first term, he shamelessly abased himself before Russian President Vladimir Putin, exchanged “love letters” with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, signed the Doha Agreement with the Taliban committing the U.S. to withdrawal from Afghanistan, and petulantly sought to downgrade U.S. treaty obligations to NATO and South Korean allies that he deemed to be “delinquent” and getting a “free ride.”

Trump has continued in the same isolationist vein in recent interviews and speeches. …

Browning continues:

A huge transformation of the administrative state is being deliberately planned. The government agencies and civil service he has decried as the “deep state” would be purged or politicized, and the “retribution” he has promised against his enemies would also be carried out. The “unitary executive” theory long promoted by some Republicans would become the reality of an unabashed authoritarianism.

The very last months of the Trump presidency foreshadowed what a second term would entail. When formerly loyal vassals such as Attorney General William Barr and Defense Secretary Mark Esper demonstrated that they would not cross the line into unconstitutional insurgency, Trump sought sycophants for whom no such line existed. In a new Trump administration, total devotion to the leader would be the sole qualification for appointment.

Unlike previous fascist leaders with their cult of war, Trump still offers appeasement to dictators abroad, but he now promises something much closer to dictatorship at home. For me, what Trump is offering for his second presidency will meet the threshold, and the label I’d choose to describe it would be “isolationist fascism.” Until now, such a concept would have been an oxymoron, a historical phenomenon without precedent. Trump continues to break every mold.

To experience such a rapid progression in real time is surreal. My worn copies of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," Milton Mayer’s “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45," Du Bois’s “Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880” and Sheldon Wholin’s “Democracy Incorporated” are on the floor next to me while I write this essay. I am increasingly worried that a type of path dependence has set in with the Age of Trump and the country’s democracy crisis and ascendant neofascism. The water in the pot is boiling more rapidly and too many Americans have gotten far too comfortable in it.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Antisemitism Commentary Democracy Crisis Donald Trump Election Fascism Racism Republican Party