Star-Spangled Fascists

The language of American politics seems to get more hysterical with each election. Recently, among other insults, the label “fascist” has been thrown around with reckless gaiety. Both the right and left wings have seen fascists among their opponents and, no doubt, we’ll be hearing the “F” word more over the next nine months.

So, as a public service, we’d like to show what the word really means. Using an article by Post writer Stanley High, we present the 1939 class of home-grown haters: dedicated, I’ve-got-the-shirt-to-prove-it fascists.

George E. Deatherage (White Camellias, Knights of) testifying before Congress.

Nineteen thirty-nine was a promising year for America’s extremists, who had seen Nazi Germany gobbling up large chunks of Europe. Hoping to repeat that success in America, they were busily cranking out campaign literature to anyone who’d read it. They were led by an assortment of demagogues and would-be führers—all “chronic speechmakers” according to High—who were pushing the ideas of authoritarian government, racial purity, and the elimination of communists.

Several, as High noted, had begun their activism while members of the Ku Klux Klan. For example, George E. Deatherge, founder of The Knights of the White Camellia.

[He] insists that, thanks to the Klan, America started toward Fascism long before Germany.

Nazi policy toward the Jews, he says, is only a copy of the Klan’s program for the Negroes.

Even the Nazi salute, according to Deatherage, is a straight steal from the Klan.

His publication serves as one of the distributing agents of World Service, the English-language newssheet printed by the Nazi International. He does not attempt to conceal his Fascist preferences or the Nazi sources from which he gets them. “Fascism,” he has said, “is America’s only solution.”

So taken was he with the Nazi’s success that Deatherage told his supporters to stop burning crosses on people’s lawns and burn swastikas instead (even if they were harder to build).

Another Klan alumnus, George W. Christians, founder of the White Shirts, idolized Germany’s führer.

George W. Christians (White Shirts)

He imagines that he looks like Hitler. He has a pruned mustache and a lock of hair that, on the day of my visit, had to be coaxed before it fell into place athwart his forehead.

Christians is looked upon by some of his colleagues as dangerous. He makes no bones about his belief that violence has to come in the United States, or of his hope that it will come soon.

On his desk, when I visited him, he had a full-sized brick with a sticker on it of the Crusaders for Economic Liberty. I asked for an explanation.

“Well,” he said, “we don’t tell our boys to throw bricks through the windows—not yet. But we tell them that if they do, be sure to put our stickers on them.”

Meanwhile, the Klan was nursing hopes it could benefit from all the talk about “racial purity” etc.

Over the previous decade, Dr. Hiram Wesley Evans, the Invisible Empire’s Imperial Wizard, has presided over its diminished destiny from a modest Atlanta office and, as an undiminished sideline, has sold concrete. Today he lives in a beautiful modernistic home in the city’s swankest section… and confidently predicts that 1940 will usher him and his organization into the limelight again.

Dudley Pelley (Silver Shirts)

Deatherage and Christians were just two among many men trying to gain a national following. There was also Dudley Pelley, founder of the Silver Shirts, an anti-Semite and opponent of all things communistic.

He ran a sizeable publishing operation that printed 30,000 pieces of propaganda every day. But his faith was in the sword, not the pen.

“Violence is on the way. When it comes, we’ll be ready for it.”

Then there was Reverend Gerald Winrod, publisher of “The Defender,” and Donald Shea of “The National Gentile League, Inc.” And every major city, it seemed, sprouted its own fascist organization, which usually masked a hatred of Jews behind a front of Christianity. There was the American Gentile Protective Association (Chicago), the Christian American Crusade (Los Angeles), the Christian Constitutional Party (San Francisco), the Christian Democrats (Dallas), the Christian Protective League (Mobile), and the American Christian Defenders (New York).

They gained followers by downplaying their love of autocracy and racism and promoting patriotism.

No group in America make freer use of the Founding Fathers or play closer to the flag. That, too, is out of the Nazi book. On behalf of the Founding Fathers, they hate democracy. The Founding Fathers, they maintain, did not found a democracy— “mob rule”—but a republic—”a government of representatives.”

With varying degrees of openness, they doubt—as the Nazis did—whether so much evil can be uprooted without the use of force. Most of them appear to relish the prospect. Some of them are actively organizing to have a hand in it. Meanwhile, in support and for the spread of these hatreds, they are pouring upon the country an extensive propaganda which, for incoherent violence, might be drawn directly from the [German Nazi] presses — as some of it actually is.

Ersatz Führer Fritz Kuhn

While some fascists hid their sympathies behind polite and noble phrases, the German-American Bund openly emulated the German Nazi party. Its membership —230,000 German Americans and 10,000 uniformed strong-arm storm troopers— was led by Fritz Kuhn, “ponderous of mind and body, but inclined to swagger…  a stiff disciplinarian and a good organizer, but no platform rabble-rouser.”

Kuhn called his Bund “a militant organization of patriotic Americans.” While his public messages were restrained, his subordinates were telling Bund members—

“we must be prepared to fight for the right kind of government… There will be bloodshed and fighting. We shall have to do our part… There will be a time to wipe out our enemies.”

America First, the country’s most vocal advocate of isolationism, was very active in 1939. Most of its members believed it was a politically neutral organization that wanted to keep America out of Europe’s coming war. But it was directed by James True, who published the Industrial Control Report, a fascist report on Washington.

If an American Hitler arises and has need, as he will, of a newspaper, he could… do worse than to take over Industrial Control Reports. That, I am sure, would please Mr. True… The editorial policy would hardly have to be touched. It is already as pro-Hitler as—at this stage—it is prudent.

Each one of these men hoped for national prominence. If any of them gained power in America, High wrote—

Reverend Gerald Winrod ("The Defender")

what he leads will be neither good to look at nor easy to handle. It will include some sincere citizens and, with them, as unlovely an assortment of aliens, bigots and malcontents as any that ever abused the privileges of a democracy.

It seems safe to predict that, thanks to their presence in it, the country is due for some discomforting, and perhaps prolonged, attacks of ideological indigestion.

No candidate of today’s major party, regardless of how extreme they talk, merits the label “Fascist.” There are many people in this country, however, for whom the title is a perfect fit, and — as The Huffington Post noted this week— that number is growing.