Free Speech for Nazis? Hate Speech as a National Issue, 1933-1940
Hate speech emerged as a national -- and international -- issue in the mid- 1930s. After the 1933 Nazi triumph in Germany, domestic Nazi groups proliferated in the United States: the Silver Shirts, the White Shirts, the Khaki Shirts, and others. One journalist counted three hundred paramilitary groups.1 The head of the Silver Shirts denounced President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a "Dutch Jew" and, in a nonpartisan gesture, claimed that Herbert Hoover had been elected "at the behest of certain great English Jews." Violence accompanied meetings of the Friends of New Germany, and there were rumors that the Silver Shirts received money from the German government. Suddenly a new kind of aggressive, militaristic, antidemocratic political movement was abroad in the land.
The largest and seemingly most respectable group was the Friends of New Germany, organized in 1933 and renamed the German-American Bund in 1938. Its membership was estimated at between 5,000 and 25,000 (and perhaps 60,000 according to an ACLU report). It was particularly strong in New Jersey, where it opened Camp Nordland in 1937. In addition to summer recreation for children and families, Nordland was the scene of military drills; about 18,000 people attended one event. The Bund's membership suggested the potential for mass support of Nazism based simply on ethnic group loyalty.2
Three aspects of the domestic Nazi groups were particularly worrisome and potentially altered their legal status as political organizations. First, the paramilitary groups possessed weapons and practiced military drill.