I read this article Against Normalization: The Lesson of the “Munich Post” in the LA Review of Books.

At the very apex of the Beer Hall Putsch, a clash between his militia and Munich’s chief opposition newspaper, the Munich Post, may have changed the course of history, giving evidence that Hitler had the potential for a far more ambitious course of evil than anyone in Germany believed. Only the reporters who had been following Hitler seemed able to imagine it.

On the night of November 8, 1923, amid a clamorous political meeting in the Bürgerbräukeller, a huge echoey beer hall where political meetings were often held, Hitler stood up, fired a pistol into the air, and announced his militia had captured the three top leaders of southern Germany’s Bavarian province and handcuffed them in a back room in the beer hall. The next morning, he declared, his Stormtrooper militia would capture the capitol buildings and then head north to Berlin.

We live in a time (Post WWII) when states/countries/nations have a monopoly on the use of force. I'm still trying to Wrap my head around Hitler's status at the time. Was he a government representative? Were there no checks and balances at that time on what he could do?

As Hitler sought to ingratiate himself with the city’s rulers (though never giving up the threat of violence), the Post reporters dug into his shadowy background, mocking him mercilessly, exposing internal party splits, revealing the existence of a death squad (“cell G”) that murdered political opponents and was at least as responsible for Hitler’s success as his vaunted oratory.

I don't understand how Hitler could organise a death squad (prior to coming to power). Were these volunteers from an angry mob he had stirred up? Was his private militia paid by a Corporation or a body of government?

My question is: How did Hitler have his own private militia in 1923?

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    That was not really uncommon in the Republic of Weimar - the DNVP (German National Peoples Party) had the "Stahlhelm" (an organisation of WWI veterans who acted as a paramilitary strikeforce), the communists had the Frontkämpferbund, the Social Democrats the "Reichsbanner Schwarz Rot Gold". So I am not sure this question should have a specific focus on Hitler (whose status was that of a stateless bum, albeit one with a private army, after he had left the German army in 1920).
    – user3769
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 11:27
  • 1
    How many militias exist today? How many gangs? Weimar was a failed state, less able to govern.
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 12:49
  • 1
    There are modern examples. For instance the French party Front National have an armed branch called Département Protection Sécurité that is used much in the same way, both for protection and harassment/intimidation.
    – liftarn
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 11:16

3 Answers 3


Hitler at the time was a foreigner (he renounced his Austrian citizenship only in 1925, I got that wrong up in my comment). He was not a state employee (not since he had been discharged from the German army in 1920 - he had fought on the German side during WWI). As far as I can tell his only "job" at the time was that of "agitator" in the (then marginal) NSDAP.

"His" milita was actually the party militia of the NSDAP. Paramilitary organizations as armed wing of political parties were not uncommon during the Republic of Weimar - the DNVP (German National PeopleParty) had the "Stahlhelm" (an organisation of WWI veterans who acted as a paramilitary strikeforce), the communists had the Frontkämpferbund, the Social Democrats the "Reichsbanner Schwarz Rot Gold". Also there were the "Freikorps", right-wings veteran groups that roamed the streets and picked fights with leftwingers. The "Sturmabteilung" (SA) that fought in the Beer Hall Putsch were "his" (Hitlers) militias in the sense that he was the leader of the movement, not necessarily in the sense that they were his personal employees (although even then he tried to establish the "Führerprinzip" where the party with all its suborganizations merely exist as extension of the power of the Führer).

The NSDAP at the time was financed by contribution of their members, and also to some extent by donations from industrials (altough at that time the donations probably were not major and they stopped after the putsch failed). However the SA was not a full time, paid army, those were people with day jobs (if they were lucky, many people were jobless) who fought in their spare time. The SA was in some sense the "socialist" part of the national socialist party, they wanted to fight the "elites" to achieve redistribution of property and power (what Marx would have called "Lumpenproletariat"). Things turned out differently.

"Checks and balances" is probably not an appropriate phrase (the thing that is checked and balanced in the sense of the phrase is usually a branch of government, and the putschists were not government). Organizations like the Sturmabteilung were held in check by the police - notice that the putsch failed, several SA members were killed by the police and the NSDAP was banned for two years. However right wingers were treated with some leniency by the authorities, who often viewed democracy as weak and undesirable.

So, how did parties (including Hitlers) have private armies in 1923 ? Because, while the state nominally had a monopoly on the use of force, it sometimes incapable and often unwilling to enforce that monopoly. You seem to wonder how this could have been legal, and the answer is that is wasn't.

  • 1
    Support from Erich Ludendorff also helped Hitler.
    – Hefewe1zen
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 17:24

The "Hitler militia" was the Sturmabteilung. Reading the Wikipedia entry is enlightening on this organization, since it has no parallel in the modern Western World that I'm aware of.

To describe this organization in my own words by using the Wikipedia and other texts as a guide, I'd say this organization was based of ex-military members who are either unemployed or underemployed and have tightly organized themselves in a political group. This is different than modern gangs or organized crime, which are usually social or economic in purpose. As such, it could be described as a militia.

In the early 1920s and indeed into the early 1930s, politics in Germany was explosive and street fights went from bad to worse in terms of severity. For example, if a political group was having a meeting, it was highly likely that opponents would arrive and try to disrupt the meeting (shouting, fist fight, etc). Since police were ineffective at this point, the political group needed its own security, and also a quid pro quo - they needed their own members to disrupt the meetings of their opponents. So as they get organized, you have units in the militia for bodyguard, security, disruption, "street fight on demand," and so on. Note that you could describe this group with a range of adjectives ranging from "paramilitary" to "drunken louts."

Such a group is also powerful for social persuasion, such as Kristallnacht. It is from this kind of group that you'd use "soldiers" to post in front of "undesirable" locations (like Jewish stores) and tell people to keep moving. The atrocities committed by your own militia would be used as propaganda to show how your group is fighting for what you define as the common good. The atrocities committed to your group by your opponent is your rallying cry and evidence of evil on the opponent's part.

The Sturmabteilung was therefore used to engage in these ends, and their staunchest opponents were the Communists. For an upstart political organization like the Nazis, it was an important part of their structure and survival. However, when the party reached national power, the violent or "disagreeable" nature of the Sturmabteilung had to be dissolved, yet its more organized and refined successor was the Schutzstaffel.


Hitler joined what later became the Nazi party in fall, 1919, and became its head, six months later, in early 1920. In doing so, he stressed oratory in beer halls and public places, particularly by himself, which also drew heckling from opponents such as Communists.

To protect these gatherings, Hitler recruited friends and friends of friends who were former soldiers with him in the German army. Because most of them served in special "Storm Trooper" units, these men formed the core of the Sturmabteilung, (S.A) or storm section.

Technically, the S.A. was supposed to protect Nazi party members at gatherings. But because Hitler was so closely associated with the Nazi party, not just as a leader, but more like a "maximum" leader, and because of his close personal association with it, the S.A. essentially became his personal, rather than just party, militia.

  • I think the last paragraph is misrepresenting the relationship. The Röhm-SA was much less personally attached to AH. Have you conflated this with the early SS or the later Leibstandarte? As these organisations grew they all developed ever more away from personal and direct control and developed a mind of their own. Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 10:55

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