night of the long knives

‘The Night of the Long Knives’ Shows Why LGBTQ People Shouldn’t Support the Far-Right

This post is also available in: French

While the existence of the Log Cabin Republicans has been baffling for 40 years, at least they make make more sense than groups like Twinks for Trump or the gay men voting for Marine Le Pen. While most center-right parties aren’t particularly welcoming of the queer community, the far-right makes them look like a PFLAG chapter.

night of the long knives, mike pence, ect
An alt-right meme. See, it’s funny because Mike Pence endorses using Electroconvulsive Therapy to “cure” homosexuality!

Of course, the alt-right will be quick to point to folks like Milo Yiannopoulos as “proof” they’re not homophobic. Germany’s fascist Alternative für Deutschland party has a lesbian leader and The National Front, Marine Le Pen’s party, even has a gay man as second in command.

But considering the strong links to white supremacy in the alt-right movement, it might behoove gay alt-rightists to read a bit about World War II. Mainly, we’d like to direct them to Nacht der langen Messner, or, in English, the Night of the Long Knives and the story of a man named Ernst Röhm.

The Story of Ernst Röhm

night of the long knives, ernst rohm
Ernst Röhm, Leader of the Sturmabteilung (Storm Bataillon) from 1931-1934.

Röhm was an early figure in the Nazi party. He first met and befriended Adolf Hitler in 1919, and was a devout Nazi. He led the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, the event that led to his and Hitler’s imprisonment. This is when Hitler wrote Mein Kampf.

Röhm worked his way through the ranks of the Nazi party. In 1924, he created the Frontbann, which was a legal alternative to the then-banned Sturmabteilung (or SA) — a Nazi militia. Even though he intended to retire from politics in 1925, that changed when Hitler assumed control of the SA in 1930. Hitler called up his old friend and said, “I need you.” Röhm came to Hitler’s aid and became the SA chief of staff.

Röhm proved himself to be a valuable ally. Thanks to his position, the SA grew to over a million members. Through an intimidation campaign, the Nazis rose in power. When Hitler was named Chancellor in 1933, the SA became his auxiliary police force and continued their successful campaign of intimidation, forcing officials in local-level government to surrender authority to the Nazis.

It’s worth noting here that Röhm was gay and out. So were other SA leaders including Röhm’s deputy Edmund Heines. American journalist H.R. Knickerbocker would write in 1941 that Röhm’s “chiefs, men of the rank of Gruppenfuehrer or Obergruppenfuehrer, commanding units of several hundred thousand Storm Troopers, were almost without exception homosexuals.”

This wasn’t a surprise to Hitler. He knew Röhm was gay and the two men were very close. Knickerbocker also points out that their closeness led to rumors that Hitler was also gay. Despite events like the 1933 burning of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute of Sex Research), Röhm thought everything was fine.

Everything was Not Fine: The Night of the Long Knives

The SA was controversial, even within the Reich. When Hitler took over the government, he felt the SA was no longer needed, given their street-fighting techniques. The SA had a reputation of being undisciplined thugs, so when Röhm suggested combining them with the Reichswehr, the traditional German army, it didn’t go well.

It wasn’t just the SA’s violence that turned Reich leaders against Röhm and the SA. It was the fact that the SA had been known for “corrupt morals” — code for homosexuality. Hitler proposed reducing the SA by two-thirds — and later announced he was reducing it further. Röhm was understandably upset and tried to offer compromises to keep the SA alive in some form.

On June 28, 1934, Hitler called Röhm and asked him to gather all the SA leaders for a June 30 conference. Röhm saw no reason to be suspicious and agreed.

Unfortunately for Röhm, June 30 wasn’t a conference. It was what would later be called The Night of the Long Knives. Hitler personally arrested Röhm and the SA leaders. Between June 30 and July 2, all SA leaders were “purged” (murdered), as were other Nazi adversaries.

Due to their friendship, Hitler offered Röhm the option of suicide. Röhm refused saying, “If I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself.” Hitler didn’t — Röhm was killed by Theodor Eicke, Kommandant of the concentration camp in Dachau, and Michael Lippert, Eicke’s adjutant.

What Caused The Night of Long Knives? Fear of a Coup or Homophobia?

Hitler would claim that he had to kill the SA leaders to stop a coup. However, Hitler presented no evidence of such a coup being planned. In fact, Röhm and the SA remained loyal to Hitler. When Röhm’s adjutant, Karl von Spreti — also gay — was killed, his last words were “Heil Hitler.”

Victor Lutze was Röhm’s replacement as the head of the SA. Lutze was mostly a figurehead though: He did little to support the SA and it lost power over the coming years. However, one of Lutze’s few duties was to put an end to homosexuality in the SA — that order came directly from Hitler himself.

Any mention of Röhm was soon purged from all Nazi propaganda.

A Warning for the Future

We don’t tell Röhm’s story to engender sympathy for him. Röhm was a Nazi — so fuck him. We only want to point out that it helps to be choosy when choosing your friends. In this case, it helps to know the concept of the “useful idiot,” someone who is secretly held in contempt by those in power, but whose support is accepted and exploited.

It’s also worth noting that things usually don’t turn out well for useful idiots. We’ve seen this repeatedly in America, as red state voters will disparage “Obamacare” and elect leaders who promise to overturn it — not realizing “Obamacare” is the Affordable Care Act that’s saved their lives repeatedly.

All we’re saying is given how Trump’s repeatedly thrown the LGBTQ community to the wolves, it might behoove folks like Milo and Lucian Wintrich to watch their backs. The administration they love doesn’t love them back.

  • Mapache

    Just for the record, the deciding factor that lead to the Night of the Long Knives was the ultimatum given to Hitler by the prominent, “respectable” leaders of business, politics, and the military in Germany to bring the SA to heel. Roehm and other leaders of the three-million man SA genuinely wished to overthrow the established order, replace traditional leaders with devout Nazis, eliminate traditional capitalism, and subordinate and absorb the regular army into the SA. Rumors of take-over conspiracies (for which there was some basis in truth) were floated by the SS, and the open — even flagrant — homosexuality of Roehm and his coterie was cynically used against him, but it was Roehm’s threat to the establishment that was his ultimate undoing.
    Germany’s vice-chancellor, Franz von Papen, complained of the SA in a public speech, asking “Have we experienced an anti-Marxist revolution in order to put through a Marxist program?”
    Earlier, Hindenburg had told Hitler that if something was not done to neutralize the SA, he would declare martial law, the army would take over — and that would have been the end of Hitler’s political career.
    Had Roehm and the leadership of the SA had been totally loyal to Hitler, they would have submitted to Hitler’s wishes and accepted his devil’s bargain with the old order, as did his other lieutenants. Unfortunately for the Brownshirts, they were as sincere about “finishing the revolution” as they were in their hatred of Jews and Bolsheviks. Certainly, the conspicuous sexual behavior of the SA was an increasingly inconvenient truth to a Nazi Party that was becoming mainstream, but the purge of the SA was fundamentally a political affair — a power play, in which accusations of homosexuality were used to justify the action to conservative public opinion. For fifteen years, Hitler had been indifferent to the homosexuality of his best friend, Roehm, and that of the other members of the SA. It’s impossible to believe he acquired a sense of contemporary “moral” outrage overnight.