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The 1930s: Nazis Parading on Main Street Part 1: The Plot Against Roosevelt

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One cannot hope to gain an understanding of fascism in America without first looking at its roots in the 1930s. For most readers, the 1930s evoke images of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. However, this wrenching decade of world economic turmoil involved far more serious events. From the beginning of the decade, events were conspiring to unleash on an unsuspecting world the horrors of the Second World War and the unfathomable inhumanity of the Holocaust. The Second World War would go on to shape the geopolitical scene for the remainder of the century. Claims arising from the Holocaust would still be front-page headlines as the world entered the 21st century.

The 30's were a decade in which Nazis openly paraded, unopposed, in the streets of America and were supported by many. Much of the details of 1930's fascism are still shrouded in secrecy. It has been over a half-century since the end of the war, yet news is still surfacing of corporate America's dealings with the Nazis. As of yet, no one has exposed, in a comprehensive manner, the connections between the 1930's fascists and today's American right wing. Many of the events of the decade have been quietly swept under the rug, such as the plot against Roosevelt. The press downplayed the assassination attempt at the time and even today, most people are still unaware of it.

Just as economic hardships in Germany led to the rise of Hitler, many Americans hit by the depression joined the fascist ranks. Likewise, it was the long and deep recession of the 1980s that lead to a reemergence of fascism, not only in the United States but worldwide, as the world transformed from the industrial age to the information age.

In the 1930s membership in fascist groups expanded, with some groups claiming over a million members. This influence extended to the very end of the twentieth century. Many of today's far right extremist groups were founded by former pro-Nazis, an example being the Posse Comitatus founded by former Silver Shirt leader, Henry Lamont Beach. Other far right extremist groups, such as the World Anti-Communist League, are rife with former pro-Nazis and even Nazi war criminals. The Republican Party has been infested with Nazi war criminals. Many of the ethnic heritage groups the Republican Party set up under Nixon are nothing short of havens for former Nazi war criminals. The American Security Council founded in the 1950s was formed by elements from three pro-Nazi groups of the 30s, and exerted a serious influence on the Reagan administration, as did the LaRouche fascist group.

The rhetoric of today's right-wing extremists is telling evidence of their connection to the fascists of the 30s. The current wild-eyed claim among many in militia groups about Russian or UN troops massing on the Canadian border is nothing but recycled rhetoric from the fascists of the 30s. The 1960s right wing group, the Minutemen, made a similar claim. Their version had the Red Chinese massing along the Mexican border for an invasion. This too, can be traced back to the 30s, when fascists claimed Jews were massing along the Mexican border for an invasion.

With the exception of Russia, Hitler never invaded a country without first unleashing his agents to create domestic unrest. The United States was no exception. The Nazi's web of intrigue in the United States extended far beyond the use of spies and noisy street agitators such as the Silver Shirts. The Nazis found willing accompanists in the media, the halls of Congress, as well as corporate boardrooms.

Fortunately, the fringe right has always been badly fragmented indeed; it would be cause for great concern to see a consolidation today among the various groups. However, the fragmentation of the 30s was even greater than it is today.1 There were well over 700 different fascist groups during the 30s. The American-National-Socialist Party, German-American Bund, Christian Front, the Silver Shirts, America First Committee, the Christian Mobilizer, National Worker's League and the Committee of One Million were some of the more prominent fascist groups at the time. In addition, many factions of the Mother's Movement were openly fascist.

There are numerous parallels between the fascist groups of the 1930s and the far right groups of today, they are as striking as they are disturbing, and should stand as a vanguard, warning of the hidden agenda of right wing elements in this country. Among the many common elements between yesterday's fascists and today's far right groups are the intense hatred of minorities and unions, isolationism, destructive division, nationalism and religion. The Identity religion common to so many of today's far right groups will be shown to have evolved directly from fascist groups of the 30s.

However, the real story of fascism from the 30s and 40s is one of traitors and seditionists escaping justice after the war's end. As the following quote taken from Facts and Fascism by George Seldes shows:

"Only the little seditionist and traitors have been rounded up by the FBI. The real Nazi Fifth Column in America remains immune. And yet there is evidence that those in both countries who place profits above patriotism---and fascism is based entirely on profits although all of its propaganda speaks of patriotism---have conspired to make America part of the Nazi Big Business system. Thurman Arnold, assistant district attorney of the United States, his assistant, Norman Littell, and several congressional investigations, have produced incontrovertible evidence that some of our biggest monopolies entered into secret agreements with the Nazi cartels and divided the world among them. Most notorious of all was Alcoa, the Mellon-Davis-Duke monopoly which is largely responsible for America not having sufficient aluminum with which to build airplanes before and after Pearl Harbor, while Germany had an unlimited supply. Of the Aluminum Corporation sabotage, and that of other leading companies, the press said very little, but several books have now been written out of the official record."2

It is this unbridled corporatism that is the very heart of fascism. Notice how the words of George Seldes written in 1943 are still true today about those that place profits above patriotism. The stated objective of the first Bush administration was to determine, which corporations were responsible for supplying Iraq with the equipment to produce chemical and biological weapons, and to bring them to justice. Ten years after the Gulf War, not a single corporation has been charged, and the media has quietly swept that pledge under the rug. As Seldes stated, they are immune.

More odious is that Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense in the first Bush administration and the current vice-president, sold Iraq dual-use equipment during his tenure as CEO of Halliburton. Such equipment can be used to rebuild Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. As Secretary of Defense, Cheney awarded several contracts to Halliburton's subsidiary, Brown and Root Services, for reports as to how private companies could provide logistical support to troops in potential war zones. From 1992 to 1999, with Cheney at Halliburton's helm, Brown and Root was awarded a total of $1.2 billion in defense contracts. Here again is a revolving door between corporate America and government. A door leading only to servitude. Not one mention of these deals was made in the press during the 2000 election campaign. Nor was the failure to prosecute the companies that supplied Iraq with the weapons of mass destruction ever mentioned. While the press viciously accused President Clinton of wagging the dog after UN inspectors were forced to leave Iraq, they made no mention of Cheney selling dual use equipment to Iraq.

Here we have the heart of the problem of the next century: corporate power. Corporations have acquired too much power. They have become so powerful they can openly flaunt our labor laws, our environmental laws and even sell materials for weapons of mass destruction without fear. The problem has become so widespread, and corporations have become so powerful, that society now serves the corporations rather than corporations serving society.

In short, as we progress into the new century, the right wing issues at the forefront of today's political scene are nothing more than recycled pro-fascist issues of the 30s. It is an agenda of corporate rule. The GATS treaty currently being negotiated and the now-dead Multi-Lateral Investment Agreement, are nothing more than attempts to go global with fascist corporatism.

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Due to the depths of the depression the early 1930s were rife with grandiose plots. In the fall of 1933, Americans learned of a sensational plot by General Art Smith and his Khaki Shirts. Smith, a soldier of fortunate had formed a tight knit band of around thirty to one hundred followers. Smith was a raging anti-Semitic and the Khaki Shirts had killed a heckler in New York City in July. As his reputation grew so did his ambitions. Smith’s idol was Mussolini and he boasted that a million men would follow him and they would kill every damn Jew in the United States. He announced he would march on Washington and seize the government much as Mussolini had done in Italy. Fortunately, Smith was arrested In Philadelphia on October 12 upon a tip police received about an arms cache.113

There is no better place to begin studying the fascism of the 1930s than to start with the one element that was common to all of these fascist groups, and at the heart of their ideology. Fortunately, such an element exists simply it was the visceral hatred of Roosevelt and liberalism by the native fascist. It would take until the 1990s before we would see such a vicious level of hate displayed in mainstream politics again, with the Republican attack on President Clinton. Both events show how far right-wing extremists will go to gain power and subvert democracy.

There is no better event to begin with than the attempted coup d'état against Roosevelt financed by Irenee du Pont along with the Morgans and a few other wealthy industrialists of the time. Others involved with the plot were Robert Clark, heir to the Singer Sewing machine corporation, Grayson Murphy, Director of Goodyear, and the Pew family of Sun Oil. During the war, all three of these corporations were involved in aiding of the Nazi empire. Singer's plant located on the east side of the Elba was used to manufacture machine guns. Today, Singer has given up the sewing machine business and is now engaged in defense contracting.

Central to the plot were two groups: the American Legion and the Liberty League. The American Legion was formed and financed by the Morgans and Murphy in 1919 to be used primary to break strikes. Several high-ranking officials from the American Legion were associated with the plot: William Doyle, a former state commander of the American Legion and Gerald MacGuire, a former commander of the Connecticut American Legion.

Irenee, the power behind the du Pont throne at the time, held a controlling interest in General Motors. He was an avid fascist and supporter of Hitler, tracking Hitler's career closely from the 1920s. On September 7, 1926, du Pont gave a speech before the American Chemical Society, in which he advocated the creation of a race of supermen. Injecting special drugs into them during childhood would create these supermen. Not every child would receive such injections; du Pont insisted that only those of pure blood would get the injections.96

Throughout the 1930s, the du Ponts invested heavily in Hitler's Germany through their corporate empire. General Motors under the control of the du Pont family had invested thirty million dollars alone into I.G. Farben. Wendell Swint, du Pont's foreign relation's director knew that I.G. and Krupp had arranged to contribute one half of a percent of its payroll to the Nazi party. Swint testified before the 1934 Munitions Hearings that du Pont was fully aware that it was financing the Nazis through the Opal division of General Motors. Even more telling is the amount of financial backing the du Ponts provided pro-Hitler groups in the United States. Starting in 1933, du Pont provided financing for the American Liberty Lobby, Clark's Crusaders (who claimed 1,200,000 members) and the Liberty League.3

In 1934, Irenee du Pont and William Knudsen, the president of General Motors, along with friends of the Morgan Bank and others set into motion a plot to overthrow FDR. They provided three million in funding for an army of terrorists that was modeled after the French fascist group, Croix de Feu.4 The objective of the plot was to either force Roosevelt to take orders from this group of industrialists as part of a fascist style government or to execute him if he chose not to cooperate.

The plotters selected General Smedley Butler, a WWI hero to head the plot. Butler was overtly opposed to fascism and had spoken out denouncing Mussolini as a murderer and thug in 1931. The Italian government demanded an apology and President Hoover complied along with placing Butler under arrest for court-martial proceedings. Roosevelt then governor of New York spoke out against the charges against Butler. Roosevelt had been responsible for awarding Butler's Second Medal of Honor for his service in Haiti. President Hoover then backed down, and Butler received a mild reprimand for refusing to retract his words.

The plotters had selected Butler because of his immense popularity among veterans. Butler had spoken words of encouragement to the Bonus Marchers and was relentless in his pursuit for better treatment of American veterans. Gerald MacGuire and Bill Doyle first approached Butler at his home. Both were wounded veterans of WWI. Both played on Butler's sympathy for veterans. However, Butler was not an easy man to fool. After pleasantries were exchanged, the men discussed each other’s service in WWI. Then MacGuire worked up the nerve to present his plan to Butler.

According to MacGuire, they wanted Butler to attend an American Legion convention and give a speech in favor of the gold standard. Butler immediately asked about the bonus for the veterans. The best answer MacGuire could produce was that they wanted the veterans to be paid in gold and not "rubber" money. Butler was suspicious both MacGuire and Doyle were dressed in fancy tailored suits and they had pulled into his driveway with a chauffeured limousine. With his suspicions aroused Butler refused to give them an affirmative reply, but he left the door open a crack to learn more.

Unbeknownst to the plotters however, Butler was a man of honor and believed in the constitution and democracy. He had a reputation of absolute honesty and was careful in how his name was used and by whom his name was used by. Stringing MacGuire along, Butler attended several more meetings with MacGuire before the latter left for Europe.

MacGuire was a bond salesman for Clark and had been sent to Europe to study how fascist in Europe used veterans. Upon his return from Europe, MacGuire once again sought out Butler. Additional meetings followed, including one in which MacGuire laid out 18 thousand dollar bills to prove that he had enough funding and to alleviate any concerns Butler had. At the same meeting MacGuire wanted Butler to attend an American Legion Convention with 200 hundred or so of Butler's friends. Butler refused to attend. Again he was suppose to give a speech in favor of the gold standard.

By insisting on an endorsement of the gold standard MacGuire aroused Butler’s suspicions and concerns of  an ulterior motive. In one meeting MacGuire implied that they had men inside the Roosevelt Administration that kept them fully informed to convince the reluctant general to join his plot. Butler noted that McGuire had correctly predicted the dismissal of officials from the Roosevelt administration. He also noted that McGuire had correctly predicted that the American legion would endorse the gold standard. Additionally, Butler did observe that other events MacGuire predicted came true in several cases.

In another meeting, MacGuire threatened that if  Butler did not accept leadership of the plot that General Douglas MacArthur would replace him. MacGuire claimed that the Morgans favored MacArthur but that he had held out for Butler. Another name mentioned, in case Butler refused to head the plot was former American Legion head Hanford MacNider of Iowa. MacArthur was very unpopular among the veterans for leading the charge against the bonus marchers. MacNider was also unpopular with veterans for opposing early payment of the bonus. MacGuire noted this and informed Butler that MacNider would soon switch his view on the bonus. Within a week Butler noted MacNider's switch.

There were other meetings with Butler, who eventually demanded to meet with the leaders of the plot. Clark then met with Butler and offered him a bribe to read a speech (once again favoring the gold standard) before the American Legion written by John W. Davis, a former Democratic presidential candidate, and chief counsel to J.P. Morgan. Butler bristled at being offered a bribe. Clark backed off, and announced that he was withdrawing his own support from the effort. In response, the plotters brought in Frank N. Belgrano JR, a senior vice president of the Gianinni's Bank of Italy that handled Mussolini's business accounts to head the American Legion. Giannini also founded the Bank of America. Belgrano remained an official of Bank of America until after the death of the founder, Giannini after which, Belgrano founded Transamerica.

Eventually MacGuire had to confess to Butler that the plot involved replacing Roosevelt. MacGuire suggested that Roosevelt was tired and needed an assistant to run the country while he attended to ceremonial activities much like the King of Italy, who had relinquished such power to Mussolini. Butler bristled at the idea.

In July, the Morgan-Mellon controlled press (including Henry Luce's Fortune magazine) unleashed a propaganda blitz extolling the virtues of fascism. In August, the American Liberty League appeared. Butler had been informed of the appearance of this group as part of the plot beforehand.

Morgan and du Pont cronies (including John J. Raskob) funded the League. Included in the League's advisory council were Dr. Samuel Hardin Church, who ran the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, W.R. Perkins of National City Bank; Alfred Sloan, CEO of GM;  Joseph M. Proskauer, former New York Supreme Court Justice and the general counsel to the Consolidated Gas Company;  J. Howard Pew of Sun Oil and the financier of the openly fascist Sentinels of the Republic; and David Reed, the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania who remarked on the floor of the Senate in May 1932: ``I do not often envy other countries and their governments, but I say that if this country ever needed a Mussolini, it needs one now."


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Fearing the plot was about to climax with the appearance of the Liberty League, Butler wanted to go public with what he knew. However, he knew he would be ridiculed without someone else to collaborate his story. Seeking out help from a newspaper reported that he trusted. Butler had Paul French interview MacGuire. In the interview with French, MacGuire confirmed what he had told Butler and also confirmed his ebullience for fascism as follows:

"We need a fascist government in this country… to save the nation from the communists who want to tear it down and wreck all that we have built in America. The only men who have the patriotism to do it are the soldiers, and Smedley Butler is the ideal leader. He could organize a million men overnight."75

Once French had confirmed the plot, Butler informed the Roosevelt administration. Roosevelt realized that with the backing of such a plot from such powerful business leaders, that he could not dismiss the plot as a crackpot scheme. Yet, Roosevelt was also well aware that by arresting the leaders of such industrial powerhouses of the day; it could create a national crisis that could abort the fledgling economic recovery and perhaps trigger another Wall Street crash.

To foil the plot, FDR had news of the plot leaked to the press and formed a special House committee to investigate the matter. The McCormick-Dickstein Committee agreed to hear Butler's story in a secret session that met in New York City on November20, 1934. Over four days the committee heard Butler and French present the details of the plot and the testimony of MacGuire. Although, Butler did not testify that MacGuire had offered him $750 for each speech he delivered if he included a remark favorable to the gold standard, a secret report reached the White House from Val O'Farrell, a former New York City detective confirming it.

Both McCormick and Dickstein described MacGuire's testimony as imminently self-incriminating. MacGuire was caught lying several times. The committee determined that MacGuire did have in his possession the thousand dollar bills mentioned and was in the proper location although he claimed to have been elsewhere. George Seldes noted that all of the principals in the case were American Legion Officials and conservative financial backers. Other administration officials urged the committee to get to the bottom of the case. McCormick indicated that Butler's evidence was not the first of the plot that in fact the committee had been in possession of other evidence for five weeks.

With many of the country's leading papers openly pro-fascist, coverage of the plot was promptly buried or dismissed as the ravings of a mad man. On November 22, the Associated Press struck a low blow at Butler in the headline "'Cocktail Putsch'" Mayor Says."108 Mayor LaGuardia had came out against Butler.

Butler however, received fresh support from James Van Zandt, who revealed to the press that he also had been approached by the plotters. Van Zandt was the head of the VFW. Van Zandt claimed that besides himself, MacArthur, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and MacNider had all been sounded out. After announcing that Clark would be subpoenaed to appear before the committee as soon as he returned from Europe, the committee quickly adjourned without calling additional witness. Not a single name mentioned in all of the testimony ever appeared before the committee. Writer John Spivak learned that Frank Belgrano had been called to testify but had returned home after never being called by the committee.

The committee was formally dissolved on January 3. No other witnesses ever appeared before the committee. Apparently when one is rich enough, one is immune from the laws of the country, regardless of how damning the evidence is. On February 15 the committee released its preliminary findings.

In the last few weeks of the committee's official life it received evidence showing that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist organization in this country. No evidence was presented and this committee had none to show a connection between this effort and any fascist activity of any European country. There is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient. This committee received evidence from Maj. Gen Smedley D. Butler (retired), twice decorated by the Congress of the United States. He testified before the committee as to conversations with one Gerald C. MacGuire in which the latter is alleged to have suggested the formation of a fascist army under the leadership of General Butler MacGuire denied these allegations under oath, but your committee was able to verify all the pertinent statements made by General Butler, with the exception of the direct statement suggesting the creation of the organization.

This, however, was corroborated in the correspondence of MacGuire with his principal, Robert Sterling Clark, of New York City, while MacGuire was abroad studying the various forms of veterans organizations of Fascist character This committee asserts that any efforts based on lines as suggested in the foregoing and leading off to the extreme right, are just as bad as efforts which would lead to the extreme left. Armed forces for the purpose of establishing a dictator- ship by means of Fascism or a dictatorship through the' instrumentality of the proletariat, or a dictatorship predicated on racial and religious hatreds, have no place in this country. 109

The total vindication of Butler was muffled by the press. The New York Times failed to report the committee's findings on the plot. Instead it chose to report on the committee's recommendation of registering all foreign propagandists. Buried deeply in the pages of the Times was a brief acknowledgement that Butler's story had been proven to be true. Much the same held true for the rest of the nation's newspapers. The story would be killed by not reporting it. John Spivak had been tipped off that the committee findings were censored. A veteran Washington correspondent had told Spivak, a Cabinet member had made the decision. The implication was that the release of certain names would embarrass the Democratic Party. At least two prominent Democrats who had been presidential candidates had been involved: John Davis, who now was a lawyer for the Morgans, and Al Smith, now a crony of the du Ponts. About a week after receiving the tip Spivak accidentally stumbled across the uncensored report. Spivak copied the uncensored version and then compared it to the official version. The censored portions of the testimony given by Butler and French can be found in The Plot to Seize the White House.107

Even more curious is the fact not a single person ever faced charges. Spivak went to the Justice Department and was informed that the Justice Department had no plans to prosecute. The American Civil Liberties Union issued an angry statement on the lack of justice stemming from the committee's findings.

The congressional committee investigating un-American activities has just reported that the of a  Fascist plot to seize the government. . . was proved; yet not single participant will be prosecuted under the perfectly plain language of the federal conspiracy act making this a high crime. Imagine the action if such a plot were discovered among Communists! Which is, of course, only to emphasize the nature of our government as representative of the interests of the controllers of property. Violence, even to the seizure of government, is excusable on the part of those whose lofty motive is to preserve the profit system. . . 110

Obviously powerful forces had been brought to bear on the committee. Forces more powerful than the government, forces immune from the country's laws. Perhaps, Spivak explains why the plot failed best.

The takeover plot failed because though those involved had astonishing talents for making breathtaking millions of dollars, they lacked an elementary understanding of people and the moral forces that activate them. In a money-standard civilization such as ours, the universal regard for anyone who is rich tends to persuade some millionaires that they are knowledgeable in fields other than the making of money. The conspirators went about the plot as if they were hiring an office manager; all they needed was to send a messenger to the man they had selected. 111

Four years after the formation of a congressional committee, the committee released a white paper concluding that certain persons had attempted to establish a fascist government. Further investigations disclosed that over a million people had contracted to join the terrorist army and that Remington, a du Pont subsidiary, would have supplied the arms and munitions5.

As the du Ponts saw their plot crashing in around them, they chose to work within the system to gain power just as Hitler did after the failed Beer Hall Putsch. In the1936 presidential race, the du Ponts and the American Liberty League backed Alf Landon.

The fascist groups initially had agreed to back Father Coughlin's third party candidate, Bleakley. After agreeing to back Bleakley, Fritz Kuhn, the leader of the American Bund visited Nazi Germany ahead of the election and conferred with the leaders of the Nazi party. At the urging of Hitler's henchmen he returned backing Landon and urged other fascists to do the same.