Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany in the 1930s changed the course of European history. But Hitler and his Nazi Party inspired many Americans as well. These American groups nearly succeeded in their efforts to support the Nazi cause and prevent America from helping to defeat the Third Reich's efforts to take over the world.
Rachel Maddow's "Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism" explores the rise of Naziism in the United States before and during World War II. Many people contributed to this movement with a range of motivations. Some opposed American involvement in any foreign war; others advocated fascism as a superior form of government over democracy; and many embraced Hitler's Great Lie that a secret cadre of international Jews controlled the world's economy and politics.
The significant actors included politicians, businessmen, and preachers. Organizations like the Silver Shirts and the Christian Front actively advocated and trained for the violent overthrow of the United States government. Congressmen used their franking privilege to mass mail Nazi propaganda to US citizens at taxpayer expense. Others incorporated Nazi messaging into their speeches.
Most of the players were unknown to me, but too many wielded enormous power. Some congressmen and journalists pushed for the United States to join the war on the side of the Nazis. Industrialist Henry Ford was so enthusiastic in his hatred of Jews that Adolf Hitler came to admire him. Hitler quoted Ford in his book "Mein Kampf" and even hung a portrait of Ford in his office. Aviator Charles Lindbergh delivered many public speeches in favor of Hitler's government.
The racist message of these far-right groups came close to succeeding. Many American citizens and authorities viewed Communism as a more significant threat than fascism, and these hate groups pushed the narrative that most Jews were Communists. The American Fascist movement failed because of the people who dared to stand up to them. Sadly, very few of the conspirators were ever brought to justice. An attempt to bring to justice the Nazi sympathizers who sought to overthrow the government was unsuccessful. The trial dragged on so long and was so chaotic that the judge eventually died of stress. Prosecutor O. John Rogge brought back from the Nuremberg Trials evidence of direct ties between Nazi officials and US politicians. His report was suppressed by the Truman administration, which hoped to avoid a public scandal. The public ignored the report when it was finally released decades later.
History has forgotten this xenophobic movement, yet it could have had disastrous consequences for democracy in America. We mustn't forget so we can recognize the signs when others try something similar.