Thursday, August 17, 2017

David Motadel: The United States was never immune to fascism. Not then, not now

It has never been more important to knowledge the history of fascism and neofacism in America.

David Montadel is assistant professor of international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

America is currently experiencing a wave of increasingly aggressive far-right and neo-fascist activism. Observers have routinely considered fascism an ideology alien to American society. Yet it has deeper roots in American history than most of us have been willing to acknowledge.
Consider the interwar period. The crisis years of the 1920s and 1930s not only gave rise to fascist movements across Europe – a moment captured in Ernst Nolte’s classic The Three Faces of Fascism – but around the globe. The United States was no exception.
Across the country, fascist and proto-fascist groups sprang up. The most prominent among them was the paramilitary Silver Shirts movement, founded by William Dudley Pelley, a radical journalist from Massachusetts, in 1933.
Obsessed with fantasies about a Jewish-Communist world conspiracy and fears about an African American corruption of American culture, its followers promoted racism, extreme nationalism, violence and the ideal of an aggressive masculinity. They competed against various other militant fringe groups, from the Khaki Shirt movement, which aimed to build a paramilitary force of army veterans to stage a coup, to the paramilitary Black Legion, feared for its assassinations, bombings and acts of arson.
An important role in this history was played by radicalized parts of the Italian and German American community. Inspired by the ascent of Mussolini, some Italian Americans founded numerous fascist groups, which were eventually united under the Fascist League of North America.
Even bigger was Fritz Julius Kuhn’s German-American Bund, founded in 1936. Its members considered themselves patriotic Americans. At their meetings the American flag stood beside the Swastika banner. At a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York on 20 February 1939, a crowd of 20,000 listened to Kuhn attacking President Franklin D Roosevelt, referring to him as “Frank D Rosenfeld” and calling his New Deal a “Jew Deal”.

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