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The general versus the president.
Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, likened Donald Trump’s effort to hold on to power after the 2020 election to Adolf Hitler, saying the president was preaching “the gospel of the Führer” with his lies about the election being stolen, according to a new book by two Washington Post reporters.

As chronicled in I Alone Can Fix It, by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, the Pentagon’s top general said shortly before the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol that Trump had led the country to the brink of its own “Reichstag moment,” viewing him as a potential threat to American democracy. (Intelligencer obtained a copy of I Alone Can Fix It, which is due out July 20.)

Trump had appointed Milley to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 2018, over the objections of Defense Secretary James Mattis. The Army general’s tenure at the top of the Pentagon had been relatively quiet, until last summer, when he appeared in uniform during an infamous photo opportunity for Trump in Lafayette Square that followed the clearing of protesters in front of the White House. Milley later apologized for creating a “perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

Although the book chronicles Milley’s concern with Trump dating back to that moment, the general’s worries grew rapidly as the president plunged the nation into chaos following Election Day. Seven days later, Milley got a call from “an old friend” with an explicit warning that Trump and his allies were trying to “overturn the government.” Milley was confident that any attempts by Trump to hold on to power would be thwarted, because the military wouldn’t go along. “They may try, but they’re not going to fucking succeed,” he told aides. “You can’t do this without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with guns.”

Photo: Penguin Press

Still, Milley was disturbed by the sight of Trump supporters rallying to his cause in November, calling them “Brownshirts in the streets.” Leonnig and Rucker wrote that Milley “believed Trump was stoking unrest, possibly in hopes of an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and call out the military.” The general likened the U.S. to Germany’s fragile Weimar Republic in the early 1930s. “This is a Reichstag moment,” he said, referring to the arson attack on Germany’s Parliament that Hitler used as a pretext to assume absolute power and destroy democracy.

On January 6, Milley watched with disgust as Trump addressed his supporters. Soon after Trump finished speaking, a violent mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to disrupt the certification of the presidential election by a joint session of Congress — and many promised to return for Biden’s inauguration. “These guys are Nazis, they’re boogaloo boys, they’re Proud Boys. These are the same people we fought in World War II,” Milley said a week after the attack on the Capitol.

After Biden took the oath of office on January 20, and Trump was finally an ex-president, former First Lady Michelle Obama encountered Milley at the Capitol and asked how he was feeling. “No one has a bigger smile today than I do,” he said. “You can’t see it under my mask but I do.”

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