Adolf Hitler's deputy and air force chief Hermann Goring, left, presents U.S. flying hero, anti-Semite, and “America First” leader Charles Lindbergh a German sword in Berlin, 1936. | CC
An emboldened right-wing, with an enabler in the White House, has reemerged since the 2016 elections. Its most reactionary elements are not shy about openly associating with hate groups—white supremacist, anti-immigrant, Holocaust deniers—which, of course, is cause for alarm. With this in mind, Bradley W.
Hart’s Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States is an important reminder of the influence a growing and powerful web of domestic fascists and their supporters once had, a network that was dangerously positioned to vie for real political power in the United States, often with the aid of secret Nazi money.
One of the best-known domestic fascist hate groups in the late 1930s/early 1940s was so-called America First, partly led by Charles Lindbergh.
The aviator, mostly known for piloting the first solo flight across the Atlantic, and who became Time magazine’s Man of the Year, was patently anti-Semitic.
To him, Jewish people and their “large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government” were pushing the United States toward war with Germany.
As Hart writes, Lindbergh was seen by many domestic fascists as a possible “American Hitler who could unite the factions [various anti-Semitic groups] into a single movement.” While numerous fascists “thought themselves worthy of becoming the Führer…[all] of them failed.
Yet even in the midst of these competing bids, knowledgeable observers kept a single name in their minds, believing there was only one man who could have the fame, charisma, and instant network of supporters to join the far right into a single movement.
That man was Charles Lindbergh.”
Ford and the Führer
We have sworn to you once, But now we make our allegiance permanent. Like currents in a torrent lost,
We all flow into you.
Research assistance provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.
Even when we cannot understand you, We will go with you. One day we may comprehend, How you can see our future. Hearts like bronze shields, We have placed around you, And it seems to us, that only
You can reveal God’s world to us.
This poem ran in an in-house magazine published by Ford Motor Company’s German subsidiary in April of 1940.
Titled “Führer,” the poem appeared at a time when Ford maintained complete control of the German company and two of its top executives sat on the subsidiary’s board.
It was also a time when the object of Ford’s affection was in the process of overrunning Western Europe after already having swallowed up Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland in the East.
I found “Führer” among thousands of pages of documents compiled by the Washington law firm of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, which sought damages from Ford on behalf of a Russian woman who toiled as a slave laborer at its German plant.
This past September, a judge in New Jersey, Joseph Greenaway Jr., threw the case out on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired.
Greenaway, who did not exonerate Ford, did accept the company’s argument that “redressing the tragedies of that period has been–and should continue to be–a nation-to-nation, government-to-government concern.”
Ford argues that company headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, lost control of its German plant after the United States entered the war in 1941. Hence, Ford is not responsible for any actions taken by its German subsidiary during World War II.
“We did not do business in Germany during the war,” says Lydia Cisaruk, a Ford spokeswoman. “The Nazis confiscated the plant there and we lost all contact.” She added that Ford played a “pivotal role in the American war effort.
After the United States entered the war, Ford threw its entire backing to the war effort.”
Henry Ford and ‘The International Jew’
Henry Ford was peaking as a global celebrity at the conclusion of World War I, having introduced the $5 workday, assembly line and Model T — revolutionary changes that transformed the way people lived. Reporters staked out the gates of his Fair Lane mansion. Ford loved the limelight and he constantly made news, even running for the U.S. Senate in Michigan as a Democrat in 1918. He narrowly lost.
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In the midst of his fame, Ford became a media mogul of sorts, forming the Dearborn Publishing Company and purchasing the sleepy Dearborn Independent weekly newspaper, which was dying of red ink. He published the paper under his name for the first time 100 years ago, in January 1919.
Under Ford, the Independent became notorious for its unprecedented attacks on Jews. But Ford’s anti-Semitism traveled far beyond the Dearborn borders.
Showing the marketing expertise that had catapulted Ford Motor into one of the world’s most famous brands, Henry Ford’s lieutenants vastly widened the reach of his attacks by packaging the paper’s anti-Semitic content into four books.
Experts say “The International Jew,” distributed across Europe and North America during the rise of fascism in the 1920s and ‘30s, influenced some of the future rulers of Nazi Germany.
In 1931, two years before he became the German chancellor, Adolf Hitler gave an interview to a Detroit News reporter in his Munich office, which featured a large portrait of Ford over the desk of the future führer. The reporter asked about the photo.
“I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration,” Hitler told the News.
Ford’s anti-Jewish campaign provoked protests and a boycott of Ford Motor automobiles in the 1920s. Ford offered an apology — received by the public with great skepticism — and closed the paper in 1927.
It was too late, though, as copies of “The International Jew” spread widely before and after World War II, influencing generations of anti-Semites.
The glowing imprimatur of Henry Ford lent credibility to the preposterous charges against Jews the books contained.
But what might have been lost to history as an ugly curiosity has proven to be a Pandora’s box, as the Internet age has given Ford’s anti-Semitic literature a powerful new life.
Today, a century after Ford purchased the Dearborn Independent and 72 years after his death, his legacy of hate is stronger than ever — it flourishes on the websites and forums of white nationalists, racists and others who hate Jews.
Today, “The International Jew” by Henry Ford plays a significant role in fomenting resentment as the United States grapples with rising numbers of hate crimes and anti-Semitic incidents, ascendant white nationalism and a gunman armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle who massacred 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October. When he surrendered, the gunman told police he “wanted all Jews to die.”
An essay posted by the Anti-Defamation League on its website says that by resurrecting decades-old texts such as “The International Jew,” today's anti-Semites demonstrate the longevity of their beliefs, legitimizing them to both dedicated followers and potential recruits.
Because of Ford’s fame, “The International Jew” has been a “particularly powerful tool for haters trying to validate their hostile beliefs,” the essay adds.
Two examples of Ford’s influence online today: On Stormfront, a white nationalist online forum, a contributor has taken the screen name Dr. Ford and uses a photo of Henry Ford as a profile image. On the same forum, a participant whose screen name is AllisonRM wrote last year:
“I'm currently reading The International Jew: Essays from the Dearborn Independent (Ford)… Read these great books!…We, the white race, need to encourage ourselves and our children.”
Heidi Beirich, an expert on extremism in the United States at the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, said extremist websites contain thousands of references to Ford and “The International Jew.”
“In the world of the racist right, Henry Ford is almost a living, breathing human being, “ Beirich said in an interview. She added that extremist leaders use Ford “as an inspiration” and “validator” to impress people while enlisting them to join the movement.
It’s not just extremist websites that are peddling Ford’s books. Shoppers can buy “The International Jew” by Henry Ford on the websites of Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Walmart.