German-American Bund gathering in Madison Square Garden, 1939. Real Nazis in America.
Those of you (and me) who are deeply troubled by the Trump administration’s similarity to the philosophy employed by the Nazis in the 1930s are often criticized for overstating that parallel.
Problem is that anybody who reads history knows the parallel is entirely relevant. Many Americans have had fascist leanings throughout the history of the country. The birth of the Republican party was achieved in 1912 when a group of far right-wingers decided that Theodore Roosevelt was too liberal (pro-union, pro-environment, etc.) and cast him aside. Through the 1920s and ’30s that segment of the GOP grew and the House (about 100 of its members) and Senate (a few) at the outbreak of World War II had a number of Republicans who were open Nazi sympathizers.
Table flag for Amerikadeutscher Volksbund, AV, the American Bund.
Probably the most famous Nazi group in America during the ’30s was the German-American Bund, which at one point held a rally in Madison Square Garden that attracted 20,000 screaming Nazis or Nazi sympathizers. The FBI, whose director J. Edgar Hoover was probably a closet Nazi (among other closet activities), estimated the Bund only had 6,000 or so members, but the Bund claimed 200,000 and even the American Legion estimated 25,000. And that was only one official group. The Silver Legion and the Friends of Progress were significant fascist, Nazi-admiring organizations. Those with no official official Nazi affiliation numbered quite a bit more.
Sentiment against Jews in America was strong. FDR was often called “Roosenfeld” and Hitler insisted Roosevelt’s grandmother was a Jew (she was not). There was considerable hatred of the British, as well. My guess is that if there had been an Internet in 1939, somebody like Trump would have risen to lead these American Nazis, but World War II diminished their numbers–without erasing them.
Many Nazi sympathizers were famous: Henry Ford (who was presented the Grand Cross of the German Eagle), Charles Lindbergh, Huey Long, Joseph Kennedy (the father of JFK), Norman Chandler (L.A. Times publisher), Jason Joy, Hans Peters and Henry Noerdlinger (three prominent in the movie industry) and UCLA founder Ernest Moore (along with a number of college professors). Chandler once said American journalists unfairly criticized the Nazi regime: saying they “peddled nothing but lies about National Socialist Germany.” (Fake News is born.)
Nazi salute in Charlottesville.
Arnie Bernstein’s Swastika Nation gives you an idea of the extent to which Americans sympathized (and still do) with Nazis. Politico, in a recent story comparing the Nazis at Charlottesville to the Bund’s 1939 mass rally, quoted Bernstein as saying, ““I don’t see much of a difference, quite frankly, between the Bund and these groups, in their public presence. The Bund had its storefronts in New York, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles — today’s groups are also hanging out in the public space, but in this case, they’re on the internet and anyone can access their ‘storefronts,’ or websites, and their philosophy, if you can call it that, is essentially the same.”
But it is more than Trump rallies, Charlottesville violence and the myriad other public displays of the unthinkable. Look at Facebook and Twitter and follow some of the hard right rhetoric. It is remarkable similar to that of Nazis during the growth years. Now we have a cadre of warmongers surrounding the president, considering their nuclear options.
If you didn’t believe the Nazi comparisons before, you might want to re-consider.
(Charlottesville photo: knowyourmeme.com.)