#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Rachel Maddow traces the fight to preserve American democracy back to World War II, when a handful of committed public servants and brave private citizens thwarted far-right plotters trying to steer our nation toward an alliance with the Nazis.
“A ripping read—well rendered, fast-paced and delivered with the same punch and assurance that she brings to a broadcast. . . . The parallels to the present day are strong, even startling.”—The New York Times (Editors’ Choice)
Inspired by her research for the hit podcast Ultra, Rachel Maddow charts the rise of a wild American strain of authoritarianism that has been alive on the far-right edge of our politics for the better part of a century. Before and even after our troops had begun fighting abroad in World War II, a clandestine network flooded the country with disinformation aimed at sapping the strength of the U.S. war effort and persuading Americans that our natural alliance was with the Axis, not against it. It was a sophisticated and shockingly well-funded campaign to undermine democratic institutions, promote antisemitism, and destroy citizens’ confidence in their elected leaders, with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the U.S. government and installing authoritarian rule.
That effort worked—tongue and groove—alongside an ultra-right paramilitary movement that stockpiled bombs and weapons and trained for mass murder and violent insurrection.
At the same time, a handful of extraordinary activists and journalists were tracking the scheme, exposing it even as it was unfolding. In 1941 the U.S. Department of Justice finally made a frontal attack, identifying the key plotters, finding their backers, and prosecuting dozens in federal court.
None of it went as planned.
While the scheme has been remembered in history—if at all—as the work of fringe players, in reality it involved a large number of some of the country’s most influential elected officials. Their interference in law enforcement efforts against the plot is a dark story of the rule of law bending and then breaking under the weight of political intimidation.
That failure of the legal system had consequences. The tentacles of that unslain beast have reached forward into our history for decades. But the heroic efforts of the activists, journalists, prosecutors, and regular citizens who sought to expose the insurrectionists also make for a deeply resonant, deeply relevant tale in our own disquieting times.
Homegrown American fascism sprouted in the 1930s and was taken down by patriotic spies and prosecutors, according to this labyrinthine history. MSNBC news host Maddow (Drift) surveys New Deal–era right-wing extremism, including the Silver Shirt movement headed by screenwriter, spiritualist, and Hitler admirer William Dudley Pelley; California's American White Guard, some of whose members plotted to steal machine guns, assassinate prominent Hollywood Jews, and carry out a pogrom; and the Christian Front, an antisemitic group that undertook paramilitary training for a fascist insurrection. Maddow traces these organizations' intersections with mainstream figures, including the antisemitic radio preacher Fr. Charles Coughlin and industrialist Henry Ford. There were also ties to Nazi Germany, she contends, especially in the propaganda operation of George Viereck, a German American Nazi agent who worked with New York congressman Hamilton Fish, Minnesota senator Ernest Lundeen, and other isolationists to use their congressional free mailing privileges to send pro-German, antiwar propaganda to millions of Americans. Also spotlighted are antifascist activists like Leon Lewis, a Jewish lawyer who ran a private spy ring that infiltrated the White Guard. Maddow explores this snake pit in vivid and decidedly opinionated prose, but she overstates the coherence of American fascist movements, all of whose schemes fizzled, while her inclusion of a chapter on populist Huey Long feels out of step with the rest. The result is a lively if not always convincing account of an ugly strand in American political history.
Deceiving and Erroneous
This is another pervasive and misleading example of reductionist omission. A perfunctory and cursory distilled piece of propaganda yet again that confidently leaves out one of the most important aspects of analysis, unbiased objectivity. If you are of the archetype that embellishes in the world where emotion and perception trump logic and facts, look no further. If you are someone who values erudition and critical perusal, this book is the very antithesis of that. Sorry to say I am not the least bit surprised in the contents of this sanctimonious ethnocentric work of a folly that has fallen flat on its face.