Fascist admirers and collaborators: New book exposes Hitler’s American friends
Adolf Hitler's deputy and air force chief Hermann Goring, left, presents U.S. flying hero, anti-Semite, and "America First" leader Charles Lindbergh a German sword in Berlin, 1936. | CC

An emboldened right-wing, with an enabler in the White House, has reemerged since the 2016 elections. Its most reactionary elements are not shy about openly associating with hate groups—white supremacist, anti-immigrant, Holocaust deniers—which, of course, is cause for alarm. With this in mind, Bradley W. Hart’s Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States is an important reminder of the influence a growing and powerful web of domestic fascists and their supporters once had, a network that was dangerously positioned to vie for real political power in the United States, often with the aid of secret Nazi money.

One of the best-known domestic fascist hate groups in the late 1930s/early 1940s was so-called America First, partly led by Charles Lindbergh. The aviator, mostly known for piloting the first solo flight across the Atlantic, and who became Time magazine’s Man of the Year, was patently anti-Semitic. To him, Jewish people and their “large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government” were pushing the United States toward war with Germany.

As Hart writes, Lindbergh was seen by many domestic fascists as a possible “American Hitler who could unite the factions [various anti-Semitic groups] into a single movement.” While numerous fascists “thought themselves worthy of becoming the Führer…[all] of them failed. Yet even in the midst of these competing bids, knowledgeable observers kept a single name in their minds, believing there was only one man who could have the fame, charisma, and instant network of supporters to join the far right into a single movement. That man was Charles Lindbergh.”

In Hitler’s American Friends we learn about fascist organizations like the American-German Bund, the Silver Legion, and America First. We learn about sympathetic senators and businessmen, like Henry Ford, students, and clergy. And e learn about German spies, their handlers, their willing domestic traitors, and thwarted secret plots to bomb strategic locations.

Though most domestic fascist organizations—Hitler’s American friends—never numbered more than 100,000 actual dues-paying members (America First was by far the largest with an estimated 800,000 followers), their influence spread far and wide, tapping into a much broader anti-Semitic sentiment. A 1939 Fortune magazine poll found that 13 million Americans thought “Jews Should Be Deported,” while an estimated 29 million people listened to Father Charles E. Coughlin’s ant-Semitic radio show at least once a month, with 15 million listening semi-weekly or more frequently.

Coughlin defended “Nazi Germany’s policies toward the country’s Jewish population…[He] insisted that Nazism was merely a natural response to the threat posed by communism,” which, he said, was led by Jews. To him, “Nazi violence against Jews” was actually their fault, since “through their native ability [they] have risen to such high places in radio, press, and finance,” which, to him, warranted their persecution. Coughlin became known as the “Radio Priest” who mobilized thousands of supporters through what was then a new mass communications medium, radio.

One of the more interesting chapters in Hitler’s American Friends deals with elected officials and their pro-German, isolationist and often anti-Semitic stances, and how they used taxpayer money to subsidize racism and support fascism.

“At the center of this vast network of misinformation and propaganda,” Hart notes, “sat a single mastermind: George Sylvester Viereck…one of the most hated and feared men in the United States.”

As a German agent, Viereck worked for the German Tourist Information Office and the German Library of Information, and was considered one of “Germany’s leading propagandists and one of the Reich’s most effective agents in the United States.” He collaborated closely with a number of Congressmen, often writing their speeches, which would then be entered into the official Congressional Record.

Additionally, Viereck distributed between $70,000 and $120,000 (roughly $1.2 million to $2.1 million in 2018) in cash to influence “elite opinion on Capitol Hill.” According to Hart, Viereck boldly “set up shop” in congressional offices and “was effectively dictating German propaganda directly onto the floor of the U.S. Senate.”

Further, Viereck was the mastermind behind a “congressional franking scheme,” whereby millions of letters, postcards, and other isolationist, pro-German literature were mailed out to congressional district constituents, paid for by American taxpayers. This practice is known as franking. Basically, elected officials are entitled to this privilege as a way to communicate with and keep in touch with their home districts, a privilege Viereck and his congressional collaborators took full advantage of.

As Hart writes, “By late 1940, millions of Americans had received unsolicited mailings from a German propaganda agent carrying the return address of prominent congressmen from across the country.”

There are a lot of revelations in Hitler’s American Friends, including a section on John L. Lewis, head of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and his association with fascists. For example, Lewis’s nationwide radio address endorsing Wendell Willkie for president in 1940 (opposing Franklin Delano Roosevelt) was paid for with Nazi cash.

Needless to say, Hitler’s American Friends is a darkly informative read, a reminder that fascists and their supporters once held considerable sway in American political discourse. And, if we’re not diligent, may yet again!

Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States
By Bradley W. Hart
New York: St. Martin’s/Dunne, 2018
296 pages, $28.99
ISBN 978-1-250-14895-7


CONTRIBUTOR

Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the president of the St. Louis Workers' Education Society (WES), a 501c3 non-profit organization chartered by the St. Louis Central Labor Council as a Workers Center. His articles have been published in the St. Louis Labor Tribune, Alternet, Shelterforce, Political Affairs, and Z-Magazine, among other publications. He is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA," and is available to speak at your community center, union hall or campus.

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