A History of Fascism in America
by Coast Watcher
Somewhere in and around the city there is a beat-up old car held together with duct tape and baling wire. It’s not an unusual sight in the impoverished city where damaged vehicles are a dime a dozen, but plastered over the surface of this particular vehicle (and probably helping to hold it together) is a range of pro-Trump propaganda and a portrait of George Washington. It was the latter image that made me think of this photo taken of the German-American Bund rally in Madison Square Gardens held on George Washington’s birthday on February 20, 1939.
The rally drew over 20,000 members of this American Nazi organization dedicated to promoting the rights of white gentiles, whom the literature described as “true patriots,” and to keeping the United States out of the war looming in Europe. The crowd booed President Franklin D. Roosevelt and chanted Heil Hitler. The overt use of Nazi symbols and terminology made no bones about where this organization’s loyalties lay.
The Turbulent Thirties
The Bund originated in the Friends of New Germany (FoNG), an organization founded in 1933 by Nazi party member and immigrant Heinz Spanknöbel with German Deputy Führer Rudolph Hess’ approval. Based out of New York City with a strong presence in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Chicago, members wore a uniform of white shirt and black pants for the men, white blouse and black skirts for women.
From the first the FoNG were openly pro-Nazi and sought to infiltrate and subvert the numerous non-political German groups throughout the US. It was responsible for a massive outpouring of Nazi literature and counter-attacks against Jewish, socialist and communist moves to warn the world of Hitler’s growing power and attempted boycotts of German goods.
Not long after its foundation the FoNG went through a spell of infighting on a smaller and less bloody scale to that which occurred in the German party when Himmler ousted SA leader Ernst Röhm. Spanknöbel was ejected from the FoNG and subsequently deported as an unregistered foreign agent. The FoNGs’ numbers were noisy but remained small, ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 until 1935, when Rudolph Hess ordered all German citizens to leave the group and the leadership to return to Germany.
The German-American Bund arose out of the FoNG in Buffalo, New York under the leadership of WWI veteran Fritz Julius Kuhn. At its height the organization had over 25,000 members—including an 8,000 strong Sturmabteilungen (SA Storm Detachment) brigade and ran summer camps modeled on the German Hitler Youth, one of which, Camp Hindenburg, was located in Grafton, Wisconsin. A photo exists of a 1937 Bund rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin, scene of recent protests against the fascist attitudes of the local police in regards to their shooting of Jacob Blake seven times in the back.
The Bund engaged in several bloody clashes with opposition groups, including Jewish WWI veterans in New York City, which mirrored those clashes occurring in Britain, notably the “Battle of Cable Street” in 1936.
In 1934 it became the subject of a special Congressional inquiry headed by Congressman Samuel Dickstein which concluded the Friends were a branch of Hitler’s Nazi party. Another inquiry in 1939 confirmed the findings. Dickstein had reason to investigate and turn the screws on the Bund. Not only was he a Jewish immigrant (born the son of a Rabbi in Vilna, Russia in 1885), a subsequent release of Soviet-era documentation showed Dickstein worked as an agent of the NKVD, predecessor to the KGB.
The decline and fall of the Bund came quickly. A New York State tax investigation found Kuhn had embezzled $14,000 from the Bund’s coffers. The party declined to press charges, holding that the leadership had absolute power in the party and could do as they wished. Nevertheless, the New York DA pressed charges in an effort to cripple the Bund and succeeded in jailing Kuhn for tax fraud. The Bund replaced Kuhn as leader, but the writing was on the wall.
Congress enacted a peacetime draft in September 1940, which led to the Bund ordering members of draft age to avoid conscription—a criminal offense which carried a jail sentence of up to five years and a $10,000 fine. By 1941 membership of the Bund had waned. When the United States actively entered the war in December 1941 the Bund was officially outlawed.
The Present Day
Neo-Nazi groups like the so-called “Proud Boys” are widespread across America. Whether their membership numbers are anywhere like what they claim is debatable. I suspect that, like their predecessor organizations the FoNG and German-American Bund, the number of actual members is in the thousands, but those who tacitly support their far-right aims are far greater. Social media is a powerful vector for spreading such hatreds, something the current demagogue president quickly picked up on.
It certainly works in the case of the poor individual driving around town in that beat-up vehicle plastered with Trump propaganda. Does he and those poor Americans who share his far-right mindset really believe Trump gives a damn about them and their plight? Do they really believe Trump will “Make America Great Again” (or even “Make America Great Again Again” – as Vice President Pence said at a recent rally.) I suspect they either don’t know or don’t care, being content merely to spread hatred and division when the ordinary people of America should be uniting against the oppressive oligarchy.
Related articles:BIO: Coast Watcher keeps a close eye on the present as he researches the past. The parallels between the German-American Bund and modern-day white supremacists groups are too close--and downright scary--to ignore. We can't afford to let history repeat itself. We must be vigilant and take out the fascists as our (great) grandparents did.
Other excellent articles to read:
Chris Hedges: American Bloodlands
Democracy Dies In Obfuscation