The Nervous Liberals: Propaganda Anxieties from World War I to the Cold War

By Brett Gary | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
The Justice Department and the
Problem of Propaganda

By the late 1930s images and sounds of homegrown fascists and foreign-born Nazi imitators suffused U.S. popular and political culture. Newsreel audiences and readers of popular magazines saw footage and photo-essays featuring German-American Bundists flaunting Nazi paraphernalia and marching alongside Italian-American Blackshirts on the grounds of Camp Siegfried, Long Island. They saw images of American Nazi thugs pulverizing Jewish-American World War I veterans and others who interrupted Hitler-worshiping meetings in New York's Madison Square Garden. They saw Bundists polluting icons of Americana by festooning their podiums with swastikas hung alongside American flags and by claiming George Washington as the “first Fascist” in their effort to create a long, respectable lineage for native fascism. They heard and saw the radio priest Father Charles Coughlin increasingly vilify Jews and attack President Roosevelt over the air and in the pages of his popular Social Justice, as did dozens of other native-born fascist agitators who echoed Nazi doctrine in their endless newspaper attacks on Jews, Hollywood, President Roosevelt, FDR's cabinet, U.S. military preparedness, and so-called Jewish bolshevism. Meanwhile, those alarmed by Germany's expansionist thrusts knew that Hitler and his chief propaganda minister, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, were using German nationalist groups throughout the world, along with German press services, libraries of information, consulates, and shortwave radio broadcasts beamed directly from Germany, to promote acrimony and disunity abroad and to try to ensure the eventual military and ideological triumph of the Third Reich. Consumers of popular culture and mainstream political reportage were frequently reminded that the noisy and visible Nazis in the American midst were part of a much larger National Socialist propaganda conspiracy.1

For U.S. opinion leaders and policy makers at decade's end, the ubiquitous presence of domestic and foreign-born fascists parading around the United States created an urgent need for action, especially after the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. Government officials knew they had to develop a strategy for preventing the spread of odious Nazi doc-

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