August is the month for…assassination. Or at least for advocating–and dramatizing–it.
On August 9, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump told a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina: “Hillary [Clinton] wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment.
“If she gets to pick her [Supreme Court] judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
The Clinton camp instantly saw it as a “dog-whistle” solicitation for political assassination:
“Don’t treat this as a political misstep,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, who has called for stiffer gun laws, wrote on Twitter. “It’s an assassination threat, seriously upping the possibility of a national tragedy & crisis.”
“A person seeking to be the President of the United States should not suggest violence in any way,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said in a statement.
The Trump campaign issued a statement denying that he had meant any such thing.
Three days after Trump’s remarks, Operation Antrhopoid, a UK-French-Czech historical film, appeared in theaters. Directed by Sean Ellis, it stars Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Charlotte Le Bon and Bill Milner.
Its subject: The 1942 assassination of SS Obergruppenführer (General) Reinhard Heydrich.
For Trump it was a moment of supreme, if unnoticed, irony.
“The constant violent, brutish talk from Donald Trump,” said Michael Steel, a top adviser to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, “is unworthy of the office he seeks.”
Political violence has long been a feature of Trump’s campaign. During the primaries, he openly endorsed retaliation against protesters who disrupted his rallies, many of whom accused him of racism.
And Heydrich–“the man with the iron heart,” as Adolf Hitler eulogized at his funeral–similarly earned a reputation for brutality and racism.
A tall, blond-haired formal naval officer, he was both a champion fencer and talented violinist. Heydrich joined the Schutzstaffel, or Protective Squads, better known as the SS, in 1931, and quickly became head of its counterintelligence service.
In 1934, he oversaw the “Night of the Long Knives” purge of Hitler’s brown-shirted S.A., or Stormtroopers.
The S.A. had been instrumental in securing Hitler’s rise to Chancellor of Germany in 1933. They had intimidated political opponents and organized mass rallies for the Nazi Party. But after Hiter attained power, he saw them as a liability.
In September, 1941, Heydrich was appointed “Reich Protector” of Czechoslovakia, which had fallen prey to Germany in 1938 but whose citizens were growing restless under Nazi rule.
Heydrich immediately ordered a purge, executing 92 people within the first three days of his arrival in Prague. By February, 1942, 4,000-5,000 people had been arrested.
In January, 1942, Heydrich convened a meeting of high-ranking political and military leaders to streamline “the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.”
Up until that time, the Nazis had been unable to agree on a comprehensive anti-Jewish policy. Some had argued for the “mere” expulsion of Jews from Germany while others advocated their wholesale extermination.
At the now-infamous Wannsee conference, Heydrich decreed that, henceforth, all Jews in Reich-occupied territories would be shipped to extermination camps. No exceptions would be made for women, children or the infirm.
An estimated six million Jews were thus slaughtered.
Returning to Prague, Heydrich continued his policy of carrot-and-stick with the Czechs–improving the social security system and requisitioning luxury hotels for middle-class workers, alternating with arrests and executions.
The Czech government-in-exile, headquartered in London, feared that Heydrich’s incentives might lead the Czechs to passively accept domination. They decided to assassinate Heydrich.
Two British-trained Czech commandos–Jan Kubis and Joseph Gabcik–parachuted into Prague.
With limited intelligence on Heydrich’s movements and little equipment in a city under lockdown, they had to find a way to carry out their assignment.
Unexpectedly, they got help from Heydrich himself. Supremely arrogant, he traveled the same route every day from home to his downtown office and refused to be escorted by armed guards, claiming no one would dare attack him.
On May 27, 1942, Kubis and Gabcik waited at a hairpin turn in the road always taken by Heydrich. When Heydrich’s Mercedes slowed down, Gabcik raised his machinegun–which jammed.
Instead of ordering his driver to “step on it,” Heydrich ordered him to halt–so he could take aim at his would-be assassins.
Rising in his seat, he aimed his revolver at Gabcik–as Kubis lobbed a hand grenade at the car. The explosion drove steel and leather fragments of the car’s upholstery into Heydrich’s diaphragm, spleen and lung.
Hitler dispatched doctors from Berlin to save the Reich Protector. But infection set in, and on June 4, Heydrich died at age 38.
For Donald Trump, the timing of Operation Antrhopoid couldn’t be worse.
Trump has long been accused of being a racist and would-be dictator. Facebook routinely carries memes of him wearing a Nazi uniform, complete with Hitler forelock and toothbrush mustache.
It is Trump who raised the issue of using assassination to attain political ends. The last thing he needs is a movie showing that Right-wingers can also be targets for death.