History Repeats Itself

One of the most disconcerting realizations triggered by the election of Donald Trump and the various rages of MAGA Republicans has been my realization that there are many more haters in the American public than I had ever imagined. If survey results and academic research are to be believed, these fearful and angry people comprise some 25-30% of our “body politic”–and they are coming for the rest of us: Blacks, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ+ folks…anyone who isn’t a White Christian. 

Not a majority, thankfully, but a substantial and incredibly dangerous minority–made infinitely more dangerous by anti-democratic political mechanisms (gerrymandering, the Electoral College, the filibuster) that allow them to exercise far more power than they would be entitled to on the basis of raw numbers.

The New York Times recently ran an essay by Michelle Goldberg tracing differences between the Christian Nationalism favored by Trump and his supporters, and the version being developed by Ron DeSantis.

As she noted,

The issue isn’t whether the next Republican presidential candidate is going to be a Christian nationalist, meaning someone who rejects the separation of church and state and treats Christianity as the foundation of American identity and law. That’s a foregone conclusion in a party whose state lawmakers are falling over themselves to pass book bans, abortion prohibitions, anti-trans laws, and, in Texas, bills authorizing school prayer and the posting of the Ten Commandments in classrooms.

Goldberg reported on the recent ReAwaken America Tour, “a Christian nationalist roadshow co-founded by the former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.” Two of the speakers on that tour were jettisoned when the tour arrived in Miami because of negative publicity over their praise of Hitler, although they remain on the group’s website.

Unsurprisingly, Trump called in to offer his unrestrained support.

Goldberg notes that DeSantis is “fluent in the language of the religious right, and strives to check all its policy boxes”. 

Put on the full armor of God. Stand firm against the left’s schemes,” he said at the Christian Hillsdale College last year, substituting the “left’s schemes” for the “devil’s schemes” of Ephesians 6:11. In addition to the abortion ban and his war on “woke” education, he will almost certainly sign a recently passed bill intended to keep trans people from using their preferred bathrooms in government buildings, including schools.

As Goldberg notes, the question is whether rank-and-file religious conservatives care more about consistency or charisma. “DeSantis treats Christianity as a moral code he’d like to impose on the rest of us, Trump treats it as an elevated status that should come with special perks.”

Both are terrifying–and both are eerily reminiscent of the significant pro-Nazi movement in the United States during the interval between the first and second World Wars. Most of us today are unaware of just how robust that movement was–it became considerably less fashionable once we entered the Second World War (although some American corporations that traded with Germany continued to do so even after declarations of war).

I was certainly unaware of the extent of American pro-Nazi sympathy.

In 1933,  Rudolf Hess, then deputy führer of Germany, authorized formation an official American branch of the Nazi Party, to be known as the Friends of New Germany in the U.S. Although based in New York, it had a strong presence in Chicago, and it was openly pro-Nazi. According to historians, members stormed the German-language newspaper New Yorker Staats-Zeitung and demanded that the paper publish articles sympathetic to Nazis.

The German American Bund formed in 1935 and lasted until America formally entered World War II. Its goal was a united America under Nazi ideology. It was anti-communist and anti-Semitic. Taking inspiration from Hitler Youth, the Bund had a youth division–  members “took German lessons, received instructions on how to salute the swastika, and learned to sing the ‘Horst Wessel Lied’ and other Nazi songs.”

The Bund continued to justify and glorify Hitler and his movements in Europe during the outbreak of World War II. After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Bund leaders released a statement demanding that America stay neutral in the ensuing conflict, and expressed sympathy for Germany’s war effort. The Bund reasoned that this support for the German war effort was not disloyal to the United States, as German-Americans would “continue to fight for a Gentile America free of all atheistic Jewish Marxist elements.”

The Bund didn’t disband until the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

It’s impossible to read today’s news without seeing the parallels–and concluding that the pro-Nazi sentiments that led to the Friends of New Germany and the German-American Bund have simply remained underground until encouraged to emerge by the MAGA movement and its would-be fuhrers. 

We can only hope that it won’t take another World War to defeat them.


  1. The Bund may have disbanded but it certainly didn’t go away. I too was unaware how organized and robust pro-Nazi groups were prior to America’s entering the war, but it doesn’t surprise me. It sickens me how organized and robust those groups are now, and how the big names in the GOP openly endorse them—because of the support they’re ensured to get from large swaths of voters. And, as a Jew, I’m fearful of how much power they will wield going forward.

  2. We really don’t need surveys or academic research to uncover the depth of the open hatred released as acceptable since 2015; look within our own families, our neighborhoods, our friends of many years and watch local news wherever you live in America today.

    We need to be concerning ourselves with preventing another Civil War if we are to have the capability to prevent another World War.

  3. In a little while I will tune in to my weekly reminder of what is sane and good about America. CBS Sunday Morning is also reality TV…just a different reality than the one I can get sucked into the rest of the week. It helps me stay in balance. I recommend it.

  4. For people who can’t ‘pass’ or have revealed themselves, isn’t this old news?

  5. Sheila accurately notes that “these (are) fearful and angry people…” I see it played out recurringly among certain people even in my own neighborhood who by their words or actions betray their twisted view of what they view as moral or “right”. Such behavior exhibits ethnic or racial animus to the core spawned by sheer ignorance or prejudice of other individuals’ value as a human being. For many, it appears to be a convenient way to maintain an illusory sense of order and security in their own narrow world by categorizing and labeling those individuals who do not fit their desired form of reality.
    When we encounter these situations, we need to immediately call these people out and condemn them for what they are and what they represent; otherwise we are no better than what they profess to be.

  6. Just a reminder of what we all already know, but need to keep reminding ourselves of… It’s a minority of US Christians who are “Christian nationalists.” The Christian community is as diverse and diffuse as the Jewish and Moslem communities are; and the far right hates on us progressive Christians as much as they do on their other targets. MORE in some ways, since they regard us as traitors for embracing refugees, our LGBTQ+ family, freedom to think, science, etc etc. It’s complicated.

  7. the history is wrote and in too many back of the minds. I read many a book of this movement as a kid,with my grandfolks explaining their efforts against the rise of nazism and then helping the war effort,and why. I was influenced further by neighbors,diverse and maybe a few gens here in America who served in both theatres of war. i wasnt left out of the conversations. today its the same tract of words and ideals,that started facism, and the slam dunk of headline no context magatphones. stiring up disbelief and ignorance between themselves,while trying to crush the democracy that gives them that right. the bush/cheney Iraq prelude to the invasion was the American equivalent of how we, allowed the christain song of our country stir rebuke to the muslum religion and slant how they,their governents undermind their democracy thru their religious beliefs/theology. take the play book to our new far right so called conservatism today here in America, and they have only propagated the same ideas of hate. they have now the right to demand we,give up our freedoms accordingly for religious hate. we rewrote the book in bushs reign..now we have these asswipes demanding we submit for a goverment they want,the kind they critisized in in bushs reign.

  8. In order for the Nazi movement to solidify, it needs right-wing communications – enter Fox News. Rupert Murdoch is the Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment.

    It doesn’t take much to see the parallels with Nazi Germany, but the movement is international and funded by guess who?

    The US is a significant supporter of Nazi and Fascist leaders across the globe because it prevents socialists from taking over the country and nationalizing industries for the benefit of the people. The idiots in this country also support it and use Socialism as a negative term.

    The oligarchy approves of this behavior because Socialism naturally kills their profit schemes. Our form of Capitalism is dying.

    Lastly, if you know anything about Ukrainian’s recent history, the USA used Fascists to overthrow the government in 2014, causing Russia/Putin to take Crimea. The expansion of Nazism within Ukraine was the impetus of Russia’s Special Military Operation.

    Yes, these are all inconvenient truths, but this has also played out across the Global South. We even back military juntas if it protects the USA’s Oligarchic interests – aka “national interests.”

  9. I am old enough to remember going to the movies during the Thirties in my little town in southern Indiana. There was always so-called Movietone News and a cartoon that preceded the “show.” I vividly recall seeing (marching in New York) men in uniform with swatiskas and men in uniform with hammers and sickles on Movietonenews. I have since come to understand just what those emblems represent and how such isms come to the fore during strains on our democracy such as the then Great Depression and the now Trump-manufactured poor me syndrome. I have also been exposed to a book written by a friend (and retired curator of the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri) that deals with a Nazi propagandist during the pause between WW I and II.

    A vibrant democracy depends upon respect for the rights of others to be who they are and what they believe and with freedom for all limited only by whether in such exerxcise we do not invade the rights, privileges and immunities of others. The Nazis and Stalinists of that day did not offer any such civic understanding of governing philosophy, nor do they today, and those among us today who ascribe to such views apparently do not care to understand that following such a governing philosophy will sound the death knell of our bloody sacrifices in securing and maintaining our democracy. I am not one of those, since, as I often write > “Our democracy is the most precious asset we hold in common, and one of the last few things left worth dying for.”

  10. Raising this alarm is important, because the Christian Nationalists are so well organized , and appear to have so many sympathizers virtually, if not literally all over the place.
    In my view they are beyond capable of being reasoned with, an idea captured in the famous Johnathan Swift quote ““You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place.”
    These people are proudly, intransigently ignorant, respond well to sound bites, and too many are in government positions, passing sick laws.
    It is sad that a virtually psychotic narcissist provided the spark to bring life and energy back to this rancid, dark underbelly of American culture.

  11. I had to laugh at the notion of 45 as a Christian Nationalist. He is devoid of belief. His only desire is self aggrandizement and personal wealth. He is the ultimate user and he is using those white Christians to gain power. He bilks them out of their hard earned money and they love him for it.

  12. I know I’ve written about many of these specific points over the years on this blog, suffice it to say, Marv was very good at pointing these things out also.

    The Germans actually figured the United States would join the war on their side eventually. But why do you think the Bund had such a staunch following. When they disbanded, they just melded into society and formed many of these white nationalist groups we see today. Interestingly, they didn’t get along with the KKK in the beginning, but they realized that KKK would be useful idiots. So they did formulate a relationship eventually.

    The KKK use their bizarre religious beliefs to bolster their attack on minorities and those folks who might be righteously inclined to love their neighbor no matter spot, stripe or color.

    Interestingly, I really believe that there will be a backlash against the religiously pious and and those who are hypocritically self-righteous. The apostle Paul predicted this very thing way back when at 2nd Thessalonians 2:6-8 that the apostasy would start and over the centuries would evolve and take different forms as an antithesis to true righteousness. Basically, manipulating scripture and using it to be divisive rather than following guidelines set forth by Christ. Also, check 2nd Corinthians 11:12-15, and see if you don’t actually recognize this scripture happening today. And, interestingly 3rd John 9-10.

    These cell for grand dies and self righteous so-called preacher politicians, are definitely revealing themselves as the current incarnation or iteration of “The Man Of Lawlessness.” And who are also referred to as “Sons Of Destruction!” (Ephesians 2: 2) also (Acts 13: 10)

  13. And this time the war will be fought here!
    IMO – It’s already started – home-grown CWN terrorists who mow down people, including kids, while the nation offers “thoughts and prayers.” CNN “hosts” DJT as a legitimate candidate to spew his lies AGAIN!
    I am looking into Belize as a possible country for my child and her family to emigrate. I will probably stay here to fight and resist.

  14. The Other Sheila – I am ready to be your “Miep”.
    Peggy Hannon – yep!!
    Mitch D. — The Jonathan Swift quote is perfect!
    Al Rider – Agreed, but I think most commentors on this blog know the distinction and too few
    Progressive Christians are calling the others out.
    David Stippler – when you call them out, they get even uglier.
    JoAnn Green – Prevention? Too late – IMO – see my other comment above

  15. According to Jamelle Bouie of the Washington Post recently, these are the Four Freedoms that the Republican Party values:
    1. The Freedom to Control
    2. The Freedom to Exploit
    3. The Freedom to Censor
    4. The Freedom to Menace

    In his words…

    “There are, I think, four freedoms we can glean from the Republican program. There is the freedom to control — to restrict the bodily autonomy of women and repress the existence of anyone who does not conform to traditional gender roles. There is the freedom to exploit — to allow the owners of business and capital to weaken labor and take advantage of workers as they see fit. There is the freedom to censor — to suppress ideas that challenge and threaten the ideologies of the ruling class. And there is the freedom to menace — to carry weapons wherever you please, to brandish them in public, to turn the right of self-defense into a right to threaten other people.” Jamelle Bouie

  16. Growing up in Detroit, my parents were well aware of the pro-fascist Father Coughlin, and made certain that I knew that part of history. His radio audience in the ’30s was around 30 million, about 25% of the US population.

    The anti-semites, racists, and their ilk never went away, it just became less and less acceptable to express their beliefs, especially after the ’60s. The modern GOP from Reagan’s dog-whistles to Trump’s open embrace have made it acceptable again, at least among their ranks.

    It is scary, but I always realized that is was there.

  17. Sherry Stone – Thank you for citing Jamelle Bouie’s excellent essay.
    Len Farber – I am so saddened to realize there is no longer push back toward anti-semitism, racist behaviors….as you stated, it is embraced. )-:

  18. This is an excellent column as is usual for Sheila Kennedy. But there’s a but, in the German language nouns are capitalized. führer means leader, is a noun and should always be written Führer

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