HITLER OR FASCISM ? We've forgotten what a terrible time of upheaval the Great Depression was. If we think of World War II as just a continuation of World War I, it diminishes what a powder-keg America was in the 1930s. An enormous range of political activists tried to seize on the discontent of millions of unemployed, from the furthest right to the furthest left. Strange bedfellows and stranger enemies were made; Communists attacked Trotskyites, Nazis tried to undermine fellow fascists. Behind much of the crisis, which I won't discuss here, was the deadly war (and war it was) between the labor unions and the great industrialists. While there was no real danger of America becoming either a Soviet state or a Fascist one during the 1930s, the energy of the labor/management struggle during the Depression created an opportunity for the Fascists and the Communists to nearly destroy Europe and did enormous damage to the liberals in the United States, to say nothing of the fate of the Jews.
There was support for both Hitler and Fascism in the United States, and much of it was contrary. Some Fascists were anti-Hitler, and the German Nazis took pains to avoid the American Fascists, who brought unwanted attention to the Nazis most brutal anti-Semitic and anti-Labor policies in Europe.
THE GERMAN AMERICAN BUND +The German American Bund was formed in July 1933 from the ashes of previous German American societies. Wilhelm Bohle, a German undersecretary of state, organized the Nazi support for Germans abroad, consisting of agitation among German immigrants and German Americans, cooperation with other anti-Semitic groups, and direct espionage. His assistant was the spy Dr. Ignatz Griebl, the leader of the "Friends of New Germany". Griebl was later an organizer of German Americans in the New York Republican Campaign Committee in 1936, when Alf Landon was the Republican candidate. He also organzized a spy ring, which was broken up by the FBI and Griebl fled the country. (Heym 1938, 7, 40-42) The Bund was divided into three parts or "Gau": A Gau in Los Angeles, directed by Hermann Schwinn, one in Milwaukee, directed by George Froboese, and one in New York City, directed by Fritz Kuhn, a former employee of Ford Motor Company in Detroit. You'll see the name of Henry Ford again soon. The three Gau were subdivided into 93 locals or "ortsgruppen". The Department of Justice estimated that there were 8,000 members in the Bund, although they may have started with as many as 25,000. (Heym 1938, 8) Still, it was discovered after the war that the Nazis had a mailing list of 250,000 German Americans with relatives still in Germany, and a master file of over eight million German American names. (Hoke 1946, 299)
At first, the Bund operated under the radar. The German government actually wanted the Bund to take it easy on the marching, Red-baiting and beating of Jews in the street, as they were trying to keep the United States from becoming too involved in European politics, while they also conducted espionage. The Bund operated German language schools with a Nazi theme, and several divisions of Hitler Youth. They ran four weekly newspapers, all under the moniker Weckruf und Beobachter, in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. (Heym 1938, 16-17, 21) That was, until 29 March 1936, when Fritz Kuhn took over the leadership of the Bund. (Higham 1985, 4-6)
Fritz Kuhn was supposed to play down the rabid Nazism of the Bund, and did so at first; Kuhn and Dr. Griebl even spoke on the radio in favor of the Republican candidate for President in 1936. The Bund also supported the failed campaign of Reverend Gerald Winrod of Kansas to the Senate and the successful campaign of Fred Gartner to the Fifth District of Congress from Philadelphia. They also had ties with Mayor Hague of Jersey City, one of the most anti-labor cities in the U.S. at the time. (Heym 1938, 30, 32) But Kuhn soon returned to his old ways. Non-Aryans were excluded from membership, and the press, always looking for a good story in the 1930s, turned most Americans, even German Americans, against the Bund eventually. Even at its peak, the Bund boasted only about 100,000 members out of the millions of German Americans. The press especially liked to mock the 22 Nazi camps run by the Bund, especially after a parade at Camp Hindenburg, near Buffalo, which was reviewed by the German Ambassador, Hans Dieckhoff, on 8 August 1937. (Heym 1938, 13-14) Fearing more bad publicity, the German government withdrew financial support of the Bund after a rally of 1150 uniformed storm troopers at Madison Square Garden two months later, on 3 October 1937. (Heym 1938, 9; Higham 1985, 8) The Garden banned the Bund from any more rallies through 1938, and the Gau in Milwaukee was ejected from the Federation of German-American Societies. In October 1938, Manfred von Killinger, the German Consul General in San Francisco, who was also accused of arranging the murder of a German minister of state and helping to set fire to the Reichstag in Berlin, may have accidentally set off a large explosion on the Nazi liner "Vancouver" in Oakland. Ironically, the Nazis had set up a new group in America, the Deutsch-Amerikanischer National Verband, the same month. Their slogan was "my country, right or wrong." (Heym 1938, 10, 12, 37) Fritz Kuhn also continued to attract attention; on 22 February 1939, he organized a rally for Washington's Birthday at Madison Square Garden in New York; 22000 members of the Bund, other Fascists and curious onlookers showed up with 2000 police to protect them from protests outside. (Higham 1985, 8-9) But by Christmas, Kuhn was finished, sent to Sing Sing for larceny after large amounts of the Bund's finances were discovered to have disappeared into his accounts. By then the Bund had been reduced to about 20000 members. (Higham 1985, 9; Lavine 1940, 138) Edward James Smythe, the pro-Fascist leader of the Protestant War Veterans, organized a joint meeting of the Klan and the Bund in August 1940, which came to naught; in April 1944 Smythe was charged with sedition and fled to Canada, where he was caught, deported, and released after a mistrial in January of 1945. Amazingly, he made a comeback to publish The Defender, a racist newsletter in Kansas with a circulation of 50,000. (Hoke 1946, 184-186, 193)
THE AMERICAN LIBERTY LEAGUE + Although it was savaged in the press as a silly "cocktail putsch" at the time, the actions of the American Liberty League came as close as the United States has come to overthrowing the elected President in a coup d'etat. After the extent of his New Deal plans to end the Great Depression became known, many of the wealthy industrialists in the country considered President Franklin Roosevelt at the minimum a "traitor to his class" and a pawn of "Jewish Communism". They formed the American Liberty League, no gathering of crackpots, but a roll-call of the most powerful American capitalists, a list which reminds me of the credits before a PBS show...including J.P. Morgan, the DuPonts, Andrew Mellon, the Rockefellers, E.F. Hutton, and Joseph Pew of Sunoco. The value of the Liberty League, according to one estimate, was 37 billion dollars...in 1938 dollars! (Archer 1973, 31) At the time, DuPont and Alfred P. Sloan of General Motors were in control of the powerful anti-labor National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) With the help of Joseph Pews, NAM subsidized the Sentinels of the Republic, the first industrial group to declare "the New Deal is Communist" and to openly decry the "Jewish threat". (Seldes 1943, 80, 97)
During July of 1933, two men claiming to be representing the American Legion (of which we'll hear more later) came to Major General Smedley D. Butler, looking for a man to help rally the members of the "bonus army", a group of disgruntled World War I veterans estimated at 500,000 men. These men stated that they were planning to combine the American Legion, the Bonus Army and the Veterans of Foreign Wars into a new group based on the Croix de Feu, a powerful Fascist veterans organization in France. Just a few years before, the Bonus Army had been dispersed from Washington by Douglas MacArthur. The plan of the Liberty League was to descend upon Washington with this "army" and install Butler in a position as the Director of National Security, essentially making him an "assistant President" to "help" President Roosevelt. In reality, Roosevelt would have been a mere puppet. (Archer 1973, 24-25; Seldes 1947, 210) Although it was censored from published versions of later Congressional testimony, they indicated that the DuPonts were willing to finance weaponry for the entire army. (Archer 1973, 161)
When he realized what the men wanted, Butler was aghast. He called on James Van Zandt, the head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in concern. Van Zandt was also approached by representatives of the Liberty League and quickly rebuffed them. Butler wanted to go to Congress and the press, but needed evidence, so he continued to meet with the men from the Liberty League, while an editor friend assigned reporter Paul French of the Philadelphia Record and the New York Post to investigate. Butler drew more names and information from the men, and thinking that he was nearly ready to "come around", they offered him $18000 in cash on 24 September 1933. The meetings continued for another year, until French broke the story on 20 November 1934. (Archer 1973, 139, 178)
When questioned by Congress, Van Zandt corroborated the plot, along with Douglas MacArthur, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt Jr., and the former Commander of the American Legion, Hanford MacNider, who were also approached by agents of the Liberty League. (Archer 1973, 176)
Nearly unknown today, Smedley D. Butler is a real hero in many respects. He turned down money and power in the service of his country, and also continued to speak candidly about his career in the Marines. He went on the radio to continue the attack against the Liberty League and groups like it, and staged a speaking tour in 1935. He wrote a book, War Is a Racket, in which he made the following statement: "I spent 33 years [in the Marines] and during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism...I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested." (Archer 1973, 209, 219; Seldes 1947, 212)
Butler refused an attempt to draft him for a run against Roosevelt in 1936, but Butler did succeed in getting Congress to pass a bonus bill for the World War I veterans over Roosevelt's veto. (Archer 1973, 227) Thus rather than lead them into treason, he gave the "Bonus Army" the just due it had been demanding since 1919.
With their candidate soundly defeated, the American Liberty League collapsed after the election of 1936. (Archer 1973, 229) This was the end of the true Fascist uprising in the United States. Many groups continued, as we shall see, but they were never able to muster great monetary or logistical support from industrialists again, as they had in Germany, Japan and Italy. As a political force, anti-Semitism didn't work, as the Jews were already integrated into American society, unlike in Europe; racial hatred in America was more successfully directed against blacks, a lesson the German American Bund and other American Fascists learned (fortunately) too late. After the collapse of the Liberty and the assassination of Huey Long, the contest for control of the American government moved from brute unconstitutional force to political oratory. (Ward 1935, 56)
THE AMERICAN LEGION + What? You might ask how the venerable American Legion fits into a discussion of Fascism and Hitler. Well, in 1922, before the Fascists had even taken control in Italy, Colonel Alvin Owsley, then the Commander of the Legion, declared that the Legion was poised to fight "Soviets, anarchists, I.W.W.'s, revolutionary socialists and every other 'red'." Owsley invited Mussolini to speak at almost every yearly convention of the Legion. "Do not forget," he said, "that the Fascisti are to Italy what the American Legion is to the United States." This was real Fascism; "What comes nearer true Fascism is this kind of violent anti-labor activity, carried on not by hired strong-arm men or state troopers but by volunteers in the nature of vigilante groups." (Bingham 1935, 186) Owsley, incidentally, was later a minister to Ireland and then Denmark. (Seldes 1943, 109-111) The Legion was not unique, either; even the Daughters of the American Revolution supported a rather gentle description of Fascism in their 1934 Handbook. (Seldes 1938, 150-151)
Members of the American Legion committed violent anti-labor acts all through the 1920s, and any pro-union posts were expelled. The Legion endorsed the anti-labor Christian American Association, a Ku Klux Klan front, in the middle of the war during May 1943; they also accepted 20 million dollars from NAM. Their involvement with the Liberty League and the plot to take control of the American government has already been described. Indeed, the hold of the industrial elite on the Legion did not end until after World War II, when unions organized a drive among their own Legion members to throw out the Legion leadership, one post at a time. (Seldes 1943, 114-115, 117, 120)
THE CHRISTIAN FRONT + Today the charismatic Father Charles Coughlin is barely remembered, but along with Huey P. Long, he was a real American Fascist. At first, amazingly, Coughlin was an energetic backer of Franklin Roosevelt. As a Catholic priest, he hated the Ku Klux Klan and the local Detroit Fascist Gerald L.K. Smith; he attacked Wall Street bankers for their oppression of the working people and used as his motto "Roosevelt or Ruin!" throughout the 1932 Presidential election. But he was not Union man; Father Coughlin used his power to arrange for a Ford Company Union to keep the CIO and the AFL out of Detroit. Henry Ford, of course, was an early supporter of Hitler beginning in 1922, a charge never denied by Ford. (Seldes 1943, 130, 136) Coughlin's Radio League of the Little Flower, started in 1930, had a radio audience of between three and 15 million regular listeners. (Lavine 1940, 117-119) Father Coughlin's Guild of Saint Sebastian claimed to have 400,000 members. (Piller 1945, 76)
But then Coughlin broke with the New Deal, and formed the Union Party with his old Detroit nemesis, the Fascist Gerald L.K. Smith. They supported William Lemke as the Union candidate in the 1936 Presidential election; even so, Lemke received only 891,858 votes, a good measure of the extreme right-wing support in the country at the time, when over fifty million voted. (Hoke 1946, 129; Lavine 1940, 124) Still, Coughlin as a Catholic could not really ever be a true Fascist leader. (Bingham 1935, 188) The remarks he did make were enough to get him attacked his own Archbishop and by the Vatican itself. (Carlson 1943, 57)
In 1937, Father Coughlin was associated with the Committee for Constitutional Government, organized by newspaper publisher Frank Gannett (now the publisher of USA Today), who distributed more than 760,000 books. The CCG also included the famous Reverend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and Father Edward Curran, an old supporter of Coughlin and founder of the American Rock Party. (Piller 1945, 17-19) The Committee for Constitutional Government also included Dr. Edward A. Rumely, who served a year in prison during WWI as a German agent (until he was pardoned by President Calvin Coolidge), newspaper syndicator Samuel McClure, a propagandist for Mussolini and Italian Fascism who spent two years in Italy, and former Senator Edmund Burke of Nebraska and a former Khaki Shirt. Under pressure from his constituents, the Reverend Dr. Peale later resigned. (Hoke 1946, 225; Seldes 1947, 213) Peale formed Guideposts in 1944 to support Republican Thomas_Dewey in his race against President Roosevelt that year. (Piller 1945, 22)
In May 1938, Father Coughlin became even more seditious, urging his followers to form platoons of 25 men each; and thousands did as he asked. He attacked the very nature of democracy, holding up the Fascist governments of Italy and Germany as models to be copied. His platoons peddled his Fascist rag Social Justice on street corners, selling about 300,000 at its peak; although Coughlin claimed to have a mailing list of over one million readers. (Higham 1985, 72) Even in a sophisticated city like New York, the Christian Front often started street fights with blacks and Jews; the police would occasionally join in until Police Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine cracked down. (Lavine 1940, 88, 97-98, 129) By then the Christian Front was operating in New York City with a small group called the Paul Revere Sentinels, including Father Curran (another Catholic priest with fascist inclinations) and William Goodwin, who later ran for Mayor of New York. Father Curran tried to make his mark with a raucous pro-American rally on 30 October 1938 at the Biltmore Hotel. (Piller 1945, 27-28)
Finally, Coughlin's show was kicked off of WMCA in 1939; the station was picketed for months by the Christian Front to no avail. In January 1940 seventeen members of the Christian Front were tried for sedition. The charges were dismissed but more damage was done. Social Justice stopped printing in the spring of 1942, not due to outside pressure but because of financial improprieties. (Hoke 1946, 123-124; Piller 1945, 30)
HOMEGROWN FASCISM + The first Fascists in the United States were European; Italian Black Shirts and German Brown Shirts. But without the industrial support (after the collapse of the Liberty League) and the jealous nationalism surfacing in Europe, these groups soon failed. The homegrown Fascist, however, were a more threatening kind of animal, although most of them were in the game more for financial gain than any political power. (Ward 1935, 55) "These 'shirt-movements' were too obvious imitations of European Fascism to be genuine; they were all rackets of one sort or another, and an American Fascism will unquestionably be so indigenous as not even to call itself Fascist or recognize itself as Fascism." (Bingham 1935, 186) True enough; the closest America ever came to a dictator, Huey Long of Louisiana, himself said "Fascism in America will arrive on an anti-Fascist platform." (Seldes 1938, 192) He was referring to the Communists, although he could just as well have been looking in the mirror, until a young dentist put a bullet in him. As Norman Thomas, the perennial Socialist candidate for President during this period said, "Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and Dr. Townsend suggest the kind of appeal which the Fascists will use." (Thomas 1936, 148)
A real character in this Fascist mileau was William Dudley Pelley, the founder of the Silver Shirts. Pelley was a failed newspaperman who went to Hollywood and wrote sixteen scenarios for the silents. Although he later claimed to be persecuted by Hollywood Jews, Pelley left the screenwriting life after he had a dream in April 1928 of dying and being led by angels into the afterlife. Shortly thereafter he began a pseudo-religious white supremacy rag, The New Liberator. (Lavine 1940, 178-180) A few years later Pelley had relocated to Asheville, North Carolina, and formed the Silver Legion of America. The day after Hitler became Chancellor of the German Reich in 1933, Pelley created the Silver Shirts. (Heym 1938, 35; Lavine 1940, 182) Even as estimated by other Fascists, there were never more than 10000 Silver Shirts; Pelley was much more important to the Fascist movement with his Skyland Press, which according to some distributed one million publications a year. (Lavine 1940, 185) During the war he received a sentence of fifteen years in prison for sedition. (Hoke 1946, 222-223)
Another Fascist group, the Khaki Shirts, was started by Major L.I. Powell, a former aide to William Pelley in 1932. The Khaki Shirts were completely American in their fascism, and even encouraged Jews to become members. Like Father Coughlin, though, anti-Semitism soon became part of their program. Art Smith, a leader of the Khaki Shirts, once accused an anti-Fascist of murder, and was corroborated by Samuel Wein, one of his "Jewish generals". When Wein later recanted his testimony, he claimed in court that Smith had threatened "he would kill all the Jews in America" if Wein didn't cooperate. "Did you believe that?" the judge asked Wein with incredulity. "Well, I didn't want to be the first," Wein replied. (Thomas 1934, 192)
Dudley Gilbert, a New York socialite, took control of the Khaki Shirts and remolded them into the American Nationalists in April 1935. He claimed to have 500,000 members by that summer. According to anti-Fascist researcher Harold Lavine, "American Nationalist, Inc., never had five hundred members, to say nothing of five hundred thousand." (Lavine 1940, 67-68)
Perhaps the most violent and colorful group of homegrown Fascists was the America First Party of Gerald L.K. Smith in Detroit, not to be confused with the America First Committee we'll be looking into later. (Piller 1945, 76) Smith started out with Huey Long in Louisiana, and tried to pick up the pieces of Long's Share the Wealth movement after his assassination. He started the pro-Fascist Nationalist News Service. (Hoke 1946, 222-223) He ran for President in 1944, and received less than 2000 votes out of 50,000,000 cast. Then a year later he tried to disrupt the United Nations conference in San Francisco during May 1945. (Piller 1945, 85)
There were a mulitude of other racists jumping on the Fascist bandwagon. Joseph P. Kamp printed over two million copies of his anti-labor pamphlet, "Join the C.I.O. and Help Build a Soviet America" which he advertised with the Ku Klux Klan. Millionaire John Kirby in Houston began publishing the anti-black, anti-labor Christian American in support of "right to work" legislation. The anti-black, anti-Semitic Commoner Party was started by wealthy farmer James Shipps in Conyers, Georgia. Even during the middle of the war, the pro-Fascist Citizens USA Committee was formed in Chicago during 1943. (Piller 1945, 35, 48, 56, 67) Former Congressman John Hoeppel of Arcadia, California, kicked out of office for selling appointments to West Point, started the pro-Fascist newsletter National Defense during the war, and Dr. A.J. Lovell, the leader of the pro-Fascist National Kingdom, part of the racist Anglo-Saxon Federation, gave a rousing anti-Semitic anti-Hitler (!) speech at the Embassy Auditorium in Los Angeles on 10 July 1944. (Piller 1945, 97, 99)
Perhaps the oddest Fascist group were the National Blue Star Mothers of Pennsylvania, not to be confused with the normal National Blue Star Mothers supporting the troops during World War II. Under pro-Fascist Agnes Waters, the National Blue Star Mothers of Pennsylvania used franked envelopes provided by sympathetic Congressmen and also obtained casualty lists; she had her friends mail vicious anti-Semitic and anti-Roosevelt letters to the bereaved parents of recently killed soldiers. Waters was linked to Gerald L.K. Smith in 1944, and also to the National League of Mothers in 1939, another fake group started by Father Coughlin, whose membership was claimed to be in excess of 500,000. (Hoke 1946, 172-173; Piller 1945, 115)
It should also be noted that there was a significant Fascist movement in Canada under Adrien Arcand, a former aide to Premier Duplessis of Quebec. (Heym 1938, 4) Just as Asheville and then the Midwest had the Silver Shirts and the Khaki Shirts, in Quebec they were called the Blue Shirts. (Haider 1934, 234)
However, none of these movements were ever taken seriously. The Fascists were considered crackpots until the fall of France. (Lavine 1940, 7) During the late 1930s, the press liked to talk about the "fifth column", an expression that arose during the Spanish Civil War, when a Fascist said during the siege of Madrid, "We have four columns of soldiers and the fifth column will rise up from within Madrid to help us." (Lavine 1940, 4) I've included the following long comment by Lavine about the fifth column, partly because it is amusing but mainly because it show the paranoid upheaval of the country during this dark time:_"Once again the words reverberated: "Fifth Column." And now the horror mounted to hysteria. Members of Jehovah's Witnesses, an innocent group of religious fanatics who refuse to salute the Stars and Stripes because their religion forbids the worship of symbols, were mobbed in the streets. A foundry worker in Sparta, Mich., killed his neighbor because "he was in the Fifth Column." In Sapulpa, Okla., it was decided that Technocrats were Fifth Columnists, and one was actually jailed. An Erase-the-Fifth-Column, Inc., was formed in Los Angeles. Jeff Davis, self-styled King of the Hoboes, appointed One-Eye Connolly, the hobo gate crasher, to watch for the Fifth Column on freight trains riding the rods. Some fifty women, meeting in New York, started an organization pledged to shoot down German parachutists, with the acting regional director of the National Legion of Mothers as their head. The Erie County, New York, American Legion mobilized to keep Fifth Columnists from crossing the border at Niagara Falls. In this uninhibited mood of emotionalism the Fifth Column soon came to include everyone you didn't like. The Communist Party, USA, whose hatred for Leon Trotsky was gargantuan, assailed the Trotskyites as Fifth Columnists, adding that JP Morgan, whom it also doesn't like, was one too. Dorothy Thompson found the Fifth Column lurking "in our great industries...the line taken with them is that Nazism represents the logical quintessence of industrial--as opposed to financial--capitalism." A fellow publicist, Thomas F. Woodlock, of the Wall Street Journal, found it elsewhere--in John Dewey's theories of progressive education. New Dealers caught the Fifth Column marching in the ranks of the G.O.P. Republicans saw it slithering up the White House steps. A speaker before the New York State Association of Young Republican Clubs declared: "We must see that no Fifth Column operates in this party." He was referring to Kenneth Simpson [chairman of the Republican National Committee]. As usual, George U. Harvey, New York's most effervescent politico, outdid everyone, including himself. Mr. Harvey announced that " Fifth-Column parachutists" had been landing in the United States for nigh onto two decades. They "don't wear uniforms or bristle with guns," he explained. "They are disguised as so-called 'liberals'..." (Lavine 1940, 5-6)
THE AMERICA FIRST COMMITTEE + The America First Committee was a different animal than the German American Bund or the homegrown Fascists, and they were far more powerful. These were Americans from many different backgrounds who shared a desire to end the war with Germany and Japan, but not out of any pacifist streak. The most prominent member to us today would be Colonel Charles Lindbergh, an internationally known figure due to his solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927. Along with Lindbergh, other prominent members of the Committee included: World War I air ace Eddie Rickenbacker, industrialist Henry Ford, Thomas McCarter, the Director of Chase National Bank, Robert Wood, Chairman of Sears Roebuck, Douglas Stuart, a member of the Quaker Oats family and owner of the Fascist publication Scribner's Commentary, and even Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy Roosevelt's socialite daughter and a distant cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. At its peak, the Committee boasted a following of 5 million members. (Higham 1985, 13) They had friends in high places, too; from Senator Wheeler, who supported the America First Committee by selling them a million franks (the free postage given to Congress and Senate members), and from Senator Lundeen, who was later killed in a mysterious plane crash with the FBI man following him. Lundeen had hired George Viereck as a speechwriter; Viereck was later convicted as a Nazi agent. (Hoke 1946, 105, 108)
George Viereck was also linked to the publishers of the Fascist Herald and Scribner's Commentary in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Scribner's published articles by Lindberghs and many other Fascist apologists, and when the FBI raided the Lake Geneva complex, Fascist Ralph Townsend disappeared into Canada, while several German agents were arrested. (Hoke 1946, 158) The future members of the Committee were not detered. In November 1939, Charles Lindbergh wrote the following for the Reader's Digest: "Our civilization depends on a united strength among ourselves; on a strength too great for foreign armies to challenge; on a Western wall of race and arms which can hold back either a Genghis Khan or the infiltration of inferior blood; on an English fleet, a German airforce, a French army, an American nation, standing together as guardians of our common heritage, sharing strength, dividing influence...we can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races." (Seldes 1943, 149)
The Reader's Digest, not surprisingly, was owned and published by the pro-Fascist and anti-labor DeWitt Wallace. (Seldes 1943, 175) Among the other right-wing, if not outright pro-Fascist publications were the Chicago Tribune, the Hearst newspapers, the newspapers of Frank Gannett, the Scripps-Howard (later UP) Syndicate, and the Washington Times-Herald. (Seldes 1943, 208) Throughout the 1930s, the Chicago Times offered rewards of $1000 to $5000 to prove that certain items in the Tribune were NOT lies. The rewards were never claimed. President Roosevelt himself denounced William Randolph Hearst, the UP Syndicate and the Chicago Tribune for their support of Hitler. (Seldes 1943, 223-224)
Originally, the idea for the Committee began at an amazing 1939 meeting between the German Consul of Boston, the German Consul of San Francisco, representatives of General Motors and Pierre DuPont, Colonel Lindbergh, movie mogul Joseph P. Kennedy, then ambassador to Britain, industrialist Henry Ford, Fascist advertising director Bruce Barton, former President Herbert Hoover, and Senator Vandenberg of Michigan. (Seldes 1943, 75-78) Not all of these men were Fascists, of course, but all of them were interested in making peace between the Fascist powers and the United States. O.K. Armstrong of the American Legion and Lindbergh created the No Foreign War Committee in June 1940, but Lindbergh pulled out by 1941 because the Committee was infiltrated by members of Father Coughlin's Christian Front. The America First Committee was also eventually taken over by members of the German American Bund and the Christian Front, but not before Lindbergh finally destroyed his credibility with the American public in September 1941 by blaming the British, the Jews, and President Roosevelt for dragging the United States into war. (Hoke 1946, 209, 214-216) On 17 December 1941, just a week after Germany declared war on the United States, Lindbergh offered to help negotiate a peace agreement, subjecting him to further ridicule.
One of Lindbergh's closest associates was Lawrence Dennis, a critical figure in the growth of American Fascism. Dennis had been a minor diplomat for the State Department in Romania, Nicaragua and Honduras. Dennis was also an intellectual who wrote numerous books and articles, edited the Fascist periodical The Awakener, assisted Lindbergh with his speeches and helped his wife, the popular columnist Anne Morrow Lindbergh, with her fascist apologia and anti-war book The Wave of the Future. (Dennis 1935, 73; Higham 1985, 56) This book was disturbing to many Americans, including my own grandmother, whose copy I now own; although pacifist in tone, it was openly supportive of the German position, and Colonel Lindbergh's thought that
Dennis himself stated that Fascism was the party of peace. "Fascism has been denounced by the liberals, pacifists and socialists as a war breeder," he said, "yet, at the time this book went to press, it was the latter who, along with the international banking and pro-English interests and sympathizers everywhere, were on record in the Italian-Ethiopian situation as supporting sanctions which could only mean a world war." (Dennis 1936, 282) An odd remark considering his own close ties to major American banks, but for what the Communists and Socialists did for hyperbole, the Fascists in the 1930s seemed to do for mendacity. Just a year before, Dennis stated, "...I see the captains of industry, along with the realistic leaders of radical reaction to prolonged depression, climbing on the fascist band wagon." (Dennis 1935, 63)
The difficulty regarding the Lindberghs, according to my grandmother and other sources, was the enormous popularity of Mrs. Lindbergh, who had suffered through the tragic kidnapping and murder of her child, and for years wrote a popular and interesting column on the Lindbergh's global travels.
ANTI-FASCIST ORGANIZATIONS + The vast majority of American citizens never supported any Fascist group, which explains why none of the movements of the 1930s extended "to effective anti-Fascism. Mussolini and Hitler were too distant, and the domestic radical Right did not present a serious threat. Its motley ranks--the Liberty League, Silver Shirts Legion, German-American Bund, Ku Klux Klan, Father Coughlin, Huey Long, etc.--lacked the programs, funding, organizers, and conditions to develop a substantial following. Native Fascists remained on the periphery of American politics. (Ceplair 1987, 196) Indeed, the most effective anti-Fascist was undoubtedly no single group, but the broadcaster Walter Winchell, who exposed many Fascists and Fascist apologists to his newspaper and radio audience of some 50 million. (Piller 1945, 172)
The opposition to Fascism, of course, was still far more significant and long-lasting than the disorganized Fascists themselves. They were often not heard, however, because of infighting between labor, the Communists, the Socialists, and other splinter groups; in many ways they were as disorganized as the Fascists, a situation the industrialists and the liberals took advantage of. The Fascist apologist Lawrence Dennis was correct when he said "the Communists believe that Fascism is the last kick of dying capitalism." (Dennis 1935, 62) The left, Communist and Socialist alike, focused on the Fascists, ignored the real drive to war, and paid the price. Ironically, some Communists believed that President Roosevelt's concentration of power was the real prelude to Fascism; the "overwhelming dominance of one party". They saw the Socialist and Democratic attacks on Communism as inherently Fascist, and expressed not with cross-burning or anti-Semitic leaflets, but anti-labor violence. (Ward 1935, 58) But the Fascists did not suffer the fate of the far left; first the Trotskyists, and then the Communists (who had condemned the Trotskyites as a fifth column) lost their civil liberties under the Alien Registration Act of April 1940, which made it a crime to organize the overthrow of any government within the United States. By definition, it covered every Communist of any flavor.
The Anti-Fascist Alliance of North America was formed by Italians Americans in April 1923 in reaction to Mussolini. (Ceplair 1987, 183) But most Americans were impressed by Mussolini and how well he organized the Italian economy...until the invasion of Ethiopia. With a small and well-integrated Jewish population, Italian Fascism did not overtly imply anti-Semitism, and there was little indication of the horrors ahead. Industrialists and other powerful figures also supported the Fascists at first, including George Ryan, the President of the New York Board of Education, Thomas J. Watson, the President of IBM, and stockbroker Charles M. Schwab. (Seldes 1938, 191)
"Though Hitler's appointment as Chancellor of Germany spurred activity, Communist determination to control the anti-Fascist groups that formed provoked division, fragmentation, and weakness." There were actions, of course. The National Student League, formed in December 1932, voted an anti-Fascist plank into their platform. The American League Against War and Fascism was a Communist front, with only 20,000 members by 1939, but they organized 1,023 affiliated organizations (in excess of 7 million members), the largest anti-Fascist organization in the United States. At their 2nd congress in September 1934, there were delegates representing 1,807,210 members; at the 3rd congress, delegates representing 3,291,906 Americans and 350,000 in the Canadian League Against War and Fascism. (Proceedings 1936, 50) By May 1933 there were anti-war committees on 90 college campuses, and the AFL not only condemned Hitler's treatment of Jews in October 1933, but recommended a boycott (which was opposed by the Jews themselves...keep reading.) These actions, like them or not, were organized by the Communist Party U.S.A., although the American Federation of Labor had voted to oppose both the Communists and the Fascists in 1928. (Ceplair 1987, 184-188)
Even like today, students were the backbone of the anti-war and anti-Fascist movements (which did not always agree; as World War II was the end result.) 25,000 students organized a peace strike on 13 April 1934, a successful strike that spurred creation of the American Youth Congress. The following year, the student peace strike of 12 April 1935 involved some 175,000 students and 150 schools! Nearly forgotten now, the student movement of the 1930s laid the groundwork for many of the activists for civil rights in the 1950s and against the Vietnam War in the 1960s. In December 1935 the National Student League, a relatively benign group, became the activist American Student Union, with 20,000 members. Along with the AYC, they organized even larger peace strikes in 1936 and 1937. (Ceplair 1987, 189, 193, 195) The strike against war in April 1936 also included the radical ideas of abolishing mandatory ROTC and protesting the Nazi Olympics that summer in Berlin.
The jealous conflict between the Communists and the Socialists was omnipresent during this time. The Jewish Labor Committee was formed, but refused to cooperate with any Communist groups, limiting its appeal. They did, however, publish Nazism: An Assault on Civilization, including essays by Alfred E. Smith and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise. At the same time, the End Poverty In California (EPIC) movement was gathering strength in California. Based on the theories expounded by Upton Sinclair in an essay of 26 December 1933, by November of the following year, 1000 EPIC clubs and 100,000 EPIC members existed in California, attacked by both the Communists and the Fascists. When he ran for Governor of California on the EPIC ticket, Sinclair received only 879,537 votes (37.3 percent); yet 29 EPIC candidates were elected to the State Assembly and one to the State Senate. (Ceplair 1987, 190-192)
The zeal of the anti-Fascists was amusing to some: "All over the country were organizations which for years had done little else than spy on anti-Semitic, pro-Fascist and pro-Nazi propagandists in the United States. Perhaps the most energetic of them was (and is) the News Research Service of Los Angeles, whose [undercover] activities once caused an official in the Silver Shirts to complain: "If those Yids ever resigned from the Silver Legion we'd lose half our membership." (Lavine 1940, 7)
And what of Jewish groups, who could see their fellow Jews being oppressed and murdered in Germany? It is difficult to understand their lack of action today, but in the 1930s, most American Jews were intent on assimilating, not creating a situation where their "otherness" could be remarked upon. With many groups struggling for identity during the Great Depression, many American Jews demanded a "normal" life, a life outside the community of International Jewry. It is also important to remember the unique position of the German Jews in the heirarchy of Jews in general; they were the "top of the ladder" in America, the wealthiest and the most powerful, often exploiting and in turn being resented by the great mass of Polish, Czech, Russian and Ukrainian Jews in this country. In Germany, they were the leading financiers, scientists and professionals, considering themselves German first (many fought for their country in World War I) and Jews second. They themselves could not imagine what was coming until it came. (Arad 2000, 114, 159)
The primary organizing body was the American Jewish Committee. Even among fellow Jews, they could find little support, at first, against Hitler. The first anti-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden in March of 1933 was lightly attended, and a conference in May 1933 failed to produce any results in the Roosevelt Administration. Even American Jews on vacation in Germany saw little oppression, due to careful planning by the Nazis themselves, although they did hear from the German Jews themselves as the oppression grew more serious; but ironically, the strongest voice against oppression of the German Jews was Michael William, the editor of the Catholic Commonweal, who begged American Jews not to be fooled by Fascist propaganda. (Arad 2000, 108, 112)
Jewish opposition to the Fascists remained fragmented for two years after Hitler's elevation to Chancellor. A planned boycott of Germany was abandoned when the Nazis threatened to begin a complementary anti-Jewish boycott in Germany. (Arad 2000, 150)
Then came the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935, stripping German Jews of their citizenship, and the "Anschluss" or occupation of Austria on 12 March 1938. Americans of all races and religions read in horror of the brutal treatment received by Jews in Vienna. President Roosevelt called the Evian Conference in France to decide what to do about Jewish refugees; the conference was a failure, but the Nazis could no longer hide their machinations. On 9 November 1938 a young Jew killed the Third Secretary of the German Embassy in Paris and the next day in Germany began the pogrom of Kristallnacht, with hundreds of Jews killed, thousands imprisoned, and enormous numbers of businesses and synagogues destroyed. Nearly 1000 newspaper editorials appeared in America alone against Germany. (Arad 2000, 180-181, 196, 198) In many ways this was the end of any real public support in the United States for the Fascist.
In retrospect, of course, the growing anti-Fascist sentiment in the United States did not translate into more assistance for European Jews, who soon would be dying in the millions, like the millions of Ukrainians being starved to death by Josef Stalin. By the end of November 1938, 160,000 people in Berlin applied for US visas. Few were granted, and even a bill to admit 20000 refugee children failed in Congress shortly thereafter. (Arad 2000, 199, 203) After the German-Russian Nonaggression Treaty of 1939, the anti-Communists were proven right regarding Russian treachery; but as the backbone of the anti-Fascist movement, without the Communists, the anti-Fascist movement collapsed permanently. (Ceplair 1987, 201)
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