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The Plot Against America First
Part Two: Des Moines

5,156 words

Lindbergh saw through the events of his day. In his speeches, all of which he spent hours carefully crafting by himself, he often spoke of an “organized minority” that was behind the war agitation. He saw that the dark forces swiftly forcing us into war had power, influence, and volume, but took hope from his knowledge that they did “not represent the American people.” One of his acquaintances, Thomas Lamont of J.P. Morgan and Company, disbelievingly chided Lindbergh and asked that he name names. Lindbergh replied that he hoped it would not come to that, hoping to “avoid the class antagonism and hatred which would arise from such accusations.” He was determined not to name names and identify the “powerful elements” until he absolutely had to. Only if and when he concluded that our entry into the fray was imminent would he tell the American people who their enemies were.

As time wore on, he inched closer to exposing the identity of the war agitators. In rough drafts of a March 1941 Collier’s article, he titled the piece “To the Capitalist, the Intellectual, the Politician, and the Jew.” He crossed out “intellectual,” then added it again, and then dropped all of the names. The original draft had indicted these groups as those which “more than all others are causing the agitation” and had “sacrificed our American destiny to your idol of money, to your academic idealism, and to your selfish desires for power.” Lindbergh finally decided that it was time to put everything on the record for the public to see. He knew what the consequences would be, expecting full well the uproar and pitched smears that would result. Yet he did it anyway.

Lindbergh’s September 11, 1941 address [1] at an America First rally in Des Moines, Iowa, was the speech that, for better or for worse, he will always be remembered for. It was the high-water mark for white resistance to Jewish power in the United States, the last real public statement against our present ruling class [2] ever uttered in American life, unless one considers Senator Joseph McCarthy’s fight against institutional Communist infiltration in this light. Lindbergh was the first man with this sort of courage since Henry Ford’s activism two decades prior, for which the industrialist had also been lambasted. Privately, Lindbergh had acknowledged that Germany “undoubtedly had a difficult Jewish problem,” while still disagreeing with Hitler’s policy solution for that problem. After a meeting with Virginia Senator Harry Byrd, Lindbergh wrote in his journal: “We are both anxious to avoid having this country pushed into a European war by British and Jewish propaganda, of which there is already too much.” The Des Moines address, however, was the first and only time that the aviator publicly mentioned Jews. In a first draft of the speech, Lindbergh had written, “I realize that in speaking this frankly I am entering in where Angels fear to tread. I realize that tomorrow morning’s headlines will say ‘Lindbergh attacks Jews.’ The ugly cry of anti-Semitism will be eagerly joyfully pounded upon and waved about. . . It is so much simpler to brand someone with a bad label than to take the trouble to read what he says.”

Without further ado, the relevant portions of the speech:

. . . there has been an over-increasing effort to force the United States into the conflict. That effort has been carried on by foreign interests, and by a small minority of our own people; but it has been so successful that, today, our country stands on the verge of war. . . Who is responsible for changing our national policy from one of neutrality and independence to one of entanglement in European affairs?. . . I have often said that if the true facts and issues were placed before the American people, there would be no danger of our involvement. Here, I would like to point out to you a fundamental difference between the groups who advocate foreign war, and those who believe in an independent destiny for America. If you will look back over the record, you will find that those of us who oppose intervention have constantly tried to clarify facts and issues; while the interventionists have tried to hide facts and confuse issues. . . Are their self-styled defenders of democracy willing to put the issue of war to a vote of our people? Do you find these crusaders for foreign freedom of speech, or the removal of censorship here in our own country? The subterfuge and propaganda that exists in our country is obvious on every side. Tonight, I shall try to pierce through a portion of it, to the naked facts which lie beneath. When this war started in Europe, it was clear that the American people were solidly opposed to entering it. Why shouldn’t we be? We had the best defensive position in the world; we had a tradition of independence from Europe; and the one time we did take part in a European war left European problems unsolved, and debts to America unpaid.

But there were various groups of people, here and abroad, whose interests and beliefs necessitated the involvement of the United States in the war. I shall point out some of these groups tonight, and outline their methods of procedure. In doing this, I must speak with the utmost frankness, for in order to counteract their efforts, we must know exactly who they are. The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt Administration. Behind these groups, but of lesser importance, are a number of capitalists, Anglophiles, and intellectuals who believe that the future of mankind depends upon the domination of the British empire. Add to these the Communistic groups who were opposed to intervention until a few weeks ago, and I believe I have named the major war agitators in this country. I am speaking here only of war agitators, not of those sincere but misguided men and women who, confused by misinformation and frightened by propaganda, follow the lead of the war agitators. As I have said, these war agitators comprise only a small minority of our people; but they control a tremendous influence.

Against the determination of the American people to stay out of war, they have marshaled the power of their propaganda, their money, their patronage. Let us consider these groups, one at a time. First, the British: It is obvious and perfectly understandable that Great Britain wants the United States in the war on her side. England is now in a desperate position. . .  If England can draw this country into the war, she can shift to our shoulders a large portion of the responsibility for waging it and for paying its cost. As you all know, we were left with the debts of the last European war; and unless we are more cautious in the future than we have been in the past, we will be left with the debts of the present case. If it were not for her hope that she can make us responsible for the war financially, as well as militarily, I believe England would have negotiated a peace in Europe many months ago, and be better off for doing so. England has devoted, and will continue to devote every effort to get us into the war. We know that she spent huge sums of money in this country during the last war in order to involve us. Englishmen have written books about the cleverness of its use. We know that England is spending great sums of money for propaganda in America during the present war. If we were Englishmen, we would do the same. But our interest is first in America; and as Americans, it is essential for us to realize the effort that British interests are making to draw us into their war.

The second major group I mentioned is the Jewish. It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. . .  But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them. . .  Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government. I am not attacking either the Jewish or the British people. Both races, I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war. We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.

The Roosevelt Administration is the third powerful group which has been carrying this country toward war. Its members have used the war emergency to obtain a third presidential term for the first time in American history. They have used the war to add unlimited billions to a debt which was already the highest we have ever known. And they have just used the war to justify the restriction of congressional power, and the assumption of dictatorial procedures on the part of the president and his appointees. The power of the Roosevelt administration depends upon the maintenance of a wartime emergency. The prestige of the Roosevelt administration depends upon the success of Great Britain to whom the president attached his political future at a time when most people thought that England and France would easily win the war. The danger of the Roosevelt administration lies in its subterfuge. While its members have promised us peace, they have led us to war heedless of the platform upon which they were elected.

When hostilities commenced in Europe, in 1939, it was realized by these groups that the American people had no intention of entering the war. They knew it would be worse than useless to ask us for a declaration of war at that time. But they believed that this country could be entered into the war in very much the same way we were entered into the last one. They planned: first, to prepare the United States for foreign war under the guise of American defense; second, to involve us in the war, step by step, without our realization; third, to create a series of incidents which would force us into the actual conflict. These plans were, of course, to be covered and assisted by the full power of their propaganda. Our theaters soon became filled with plays portraying the glory of war. Newsreels lost all semblance of objectivity. Newspapers and magazines began to lose advertising if they carried anti-war articles. A smear campaign was instituted against individuals who opposed intervention. The terms ‘fifth columnist,’ ‘traitor,’ ‘Nazi,’ [and] ‘anti-Semitic’ were thrown ceaselessly at anyone who dared to suggest that it was not to the best interests of the United States to enter the war. Men lost their jobs if they were frankly anti-war. Many others dared no longer speak. Before long, lecture halls that were open to the advocates of war were closed to speakers who opposed it. A fear campaign was inaugurated.

. . . under that now-famous phrase ‘steps short of war’. . . a refrain that marked every step we took toward war for many months. . .  ‘the best way to defend America and keep out of war’, we were told, was ‘by aiding the Allies.’ First, we agreed to sell arms to Europe; next, we agreed to loan arms to Europe; then we agreed to patrol the ocean for Europe; then we occupied a European island in the war zone. Now, we have reached the verge of war. The war groups have succeeded in the first two of their three major steps into war. . . We have become involved in the war from practically every standpoint except actual shooting. Only the creation of sufficient “incidents” yet remains; and you see the first of these already taking place. .

Men and women of Iowa; only one thing holds this country from war today. That is the rising opposition of the American people. Our system of democracy and representative government is on test today as it has never been before. We are on the verge of a war in which the only victor would be chaos and prostration. . . We are on the verge of war, but it is not yet too late to stay out. It is not too late to show that no amount of money, or propaganda, or patronage can force a free and independent people into war against its will. It is not yet too late to retrieve and to maintain the independent American destiny that our forefathers established in this new world. The entire future rests upon our shoulders. It depends upon our action, our courage, and our intelligence. . .  we can still make our will known. And if we, the American people, do that, independence and freedom will continue to live among us, and there will be no foreign war.

The reaction to Lindbergh’s words was precisely the pitched smear campaign he had expected. As Kevin MacDonald put it, “America had entered into an era when it had become morally unacceptable to discuss Jewish interests at all. We are still in that era.” [1] [3] The White House compared the address to “the outpourings of Berlin.” Roosevelt himself told his Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, that “I am absolutely convinced that Lindbergh is a Nazi.” Secretary of War Henry Stimson remarked that the speech might have “been written by Goebbels himself.” There was talk of J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation investigating the aviator, and other America First leaders, as “subversives.” Secretary of the Interior Ickes, the most rabid official of all, kept an indexed file of every word Lindbergh had ever publicly spoken. To the Jewish National Workers’ Alliance, Ickes referred to Lindbergh as the “number one Nazi fellow-traveler.” Ickes said that “all of Lindbergh’s passionate words are to encourage Hitler and to break down the will of his own fellow citizens to resist Hitler and Nazism.” Ickes continued to call him a “peripatetic appeaser who would abjectly surrender his sword even before it is demanded.” Roosevelt also referred to Lindbergh as an “appeaser,” and compared him to the Ohioan Clement Vallandigham, a leading Copperhead during the War for Southern Independence; though this particular comparison was obviously meant as a searing indictment, I would have taken that as a badge of honor. After Roosevelt publicly attacked him, the aviator saw “no honorable alternative” than to resign his commission in the Air Corps.

You can buy Greg Johnson’s New Right vs. Old Right here [4]

Lindbergh was called a “fifth-columnist,” with Robert Sherwood, one of Roosevelt’s speechwriters and the man credited with Roosevelt’s sinister call to turn our nation into “the great arsenal of democracy,” calling the aviator a “Nazi with a Nazi’s Olympian contempt for all democratic processes — the rights of freedom of speech and worship, the right to select and criticize our own government and the right of labor to strike.” One letter, addressed to “dear Nazi Lindbergh,” threatened to murder his son. One professor, in the common tactic of appealing to the Founding, called the aviator the “kind of person who would have advised GW to quit at Valley Forge.” The San Francisco Chronicle printed that “the voice is the voice of L, but the words are the words of Hitler.” The Philadelphia Record noted, in a bizarre implication, that the aviator must be a Nazi because he “hates what Hitler hates.” The Des Moines Register called the speech “so intemperate, so unfair, so dangerous in its implications that it cannot but turn many spadesful in the digging of the grave of his influence in this crisis.” The Kansas City Journal said that “Lindbergh’s interest in Hitlerism is now thinly concealed.” The city council of Charlotte, North Carolina, renamed Lindbergh Drive. The lower house of the Texas Legislature informed the aviator “that he was not welcome on any speaking tour he might plan in the state.” Former Republican Presidential nominee and internationalist shill Wendell Willkie called the speech the “most un-American talk made in my time,” with former Republican Presidential candidate and two-time future nominee Thomas Dewey describing it as an “inexcusable abuse of the right of freedom of speech.”

Lindbergh’s wife, Anne, understood why her husband had named names; as he had said to her, the choice was “whether or not you are going to let your country go into a completely disastrous war for lack of courage to name the groups leading that country to war — at the risk of being called ‘anti-Semitic’ simply by naming them.” Despite having “the greatest faith in him as a person — in his integrity, his courage, and his essential goodness, fairness, and kindness — his nobility,” Anne was “very disturbed,” herself feeling the “black gloom” of moral “revulsion” and “profound grief.” She saw that her husband was “attacked on all sides. . . as now openly a Nazi, following Nazi doctrine,” that he had done nothing but state the truth. She asked, “Why was it wrong to state it? He was naming the groups that were pro-war. No one minds his naming the British or the Administration. But to name ‘Jew’ is un-American — even if it is done without hate or even criticism. Why?” On the day of the speech, she wrote that Lindbergh, as always, “must bear the brunt of being frank and open. What he is saying in public is not intolerant or inciting or bitter and it is just what he says in private, while the other soft-spoken cautious people who say terrible things in private would never dare be as frank in public as he. They do not want to pay the price. And the price will be terrible. Headlines will flame ‘Lindbergh attacks Jews.’ He will be branded anti-Semitic, Nazi, Führer-seeking, etc. I can hardly bear it. For he is a moderate.[2] [5]

As the universal smears blanketed the airwaves and papers, Anne wrote: “The storm is beginning to blow up hard. America First is in a turmoil. . . He is universally condemned. . . I sense that this is the beginning of a fight and consequent loneliness and isolation that we have not known before. . . For I am really much more attached to the worldly things than he is, mind more giving up friends, popularity, etc., mind much more criticism and coldness and loneliness.” Only one week after the Des Moines rally, Anne worried, “Will I be able to shop in New York at all now? I am always stared at — but now to be stared at with hate, to walk through aisles of hate!” It is worth quoting at length Kevin MacDonald’s analysis of these comments. Anne was:

. . .horrified at having to give up her friends, horrified at being a pariah where once she was idolized as the wife of the most popular man in the country. While she accepts the truth of what her husband said and its good intentions, she thinks it better left unsaid and does not dwell on the unfairness of the charges against her husband, in particular with calling him a Nazi. Truth is no defense if it leads to morally unacceptable actions, and slander and smear tactics are warranted and understandable if the goals are morally praiseworthy. . . The moral demeanor of Americans is more important than their survival as a nation or people. And all of this because Lindbergh simply stated that Jews had interests as a group that differed from those of other Americans. Their lesson learned, American politicians presumably realized that even rational, intelligent, and humane discussions of Jewish interests were beyond the boundaries of appropriate discussion. Jews had no interests as Jews that could be said to conflict with the interests of any other group of Americans. [3] [6]

The America First Committee received the same withering fire, though not as personally nasty as that which was directed at Lindbergh. The Committee was banned from public meeting spaces in Atlanta, Miami, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Portland. America First offices were vandalized, and many members were persecuted, some losing their jobs. An American Legion commander remarked that “the time for freedom of speech is past.” Recruitment was damaged. The lying press lied about attendees and speeches at America First rallies, labeling the Committee “America Last” in a typical case of projection. One letter to the Committee that was representative of the attacks read: “You maggots from the slums of Genoa & Berlin, you half-baked imitation of Americans, go wiggle back into the manure of your old-world ideas. Hang your swastika banner around your neck, and butt your brainless heads against the bulwork [sic] of American ideals which you pretend to support.” One interventionist group disseminated propaganda that referred to America First as a “Nazi transmission belt. . . a Nazi front. . . by means of which the apostles of Nazism are spreading their antidemocratic ideals into millions of American homes!” Clay Judson replied that “our Committee believes that its policy should not be affected one way or the other by what other nations want, but that American interests demand that we stay out. If on that one point our objective happens to be the same as the German objective. . . it cannot logically be claimed to indicate any pro-Nazi tendencies. I presume that the writers of the. . . pamphlet would have to call Christ a Nazi if Hitler happened to quote the Bible.”

Some of the supposed stalwarts of the Old Right abandoned Lindbergh. Senator Robert Taft privately denounced the address, and Colonel McCormick’s Chicago Tribune printed a disclaimer disavowing their connection. Even some Committee leaders, such as Flynn, condemned the speech. Lindbergh never understood this, writing of Flynn that “he feels as strongly as I do that the Jews are among the major influences. . . He has said so frequently, and. . . is perfectly willing to talk about it among a small group of people in private. But apparently, he would rather see us get into the war than mention in public what the Jews are doing, no matter how tolerantly and moderately it is done.” Notwithstanding these criticisms from men for whom image was more important than truth, most of the America Firsters supported Lindbergh. Senator Nye publicly defended the aviator and agreed that “the Jewish people are a large factor in our movement toward war.” Over ninety percent of the letters sent to the National Committee from the members of local chapters were supportive. One representative letter read, “History shows that whenever the Jews get hold of a nation, this very nation is doomed to destruction from within and without.” One member believed that “no group in a democracy is entitled to immunity from criticism. It was hard to believe that any group in America could be regarded as occupying a position where its attitude on any public question should be unmentionable and that anyone who did mention them should be accused of trying to incite prejudice.” The America First Committee leadership met one week after the Des Moines rally. They “pointed out that Lindbergh had sacrificed a great deal for AF. Further, most of them were inclined to feel that what [he] had said was actually quite true. Thus, the decision was made not to repudiate” Lindbergh or his speech. The Committee released a statement on September 29, noting that the warmongers were simply attempting to “hide the real issues by flinging false charges,” and that “there is but one real issue — the issue of war. From this issue we will not be diverted.”

One of Lindbergh’s final America First addresses warned that “there is no way of telling how long we will be able to hold meetings of this kind.” He reflected on the past two years, noting that he and the noninterventionist movement had, “from the beginning, encountered an insidious opposition. . . that has made constant use of undercover methods. . . that has fought in personalities and smearing campaigns, and not on issues. . . that has discarded one American tradition after another, while it claims to be upholding the American way of life.” Indeed, Lindbergh, like Senator McCarthy [4] [7] only a decade later, was more accurate than even he knew.

The 1940 Election

Before we examine and vindicate Lindbergh’s identification of the three main interventionist agitators, we must examine the 1940 Presidential election, one of the strangest episodes in American political history. Roosevelt grasped the Democratic nomination for an unprecedented third term. The two-term limit had not yet been enshrined in our Constitution, but two terms were the precedent that the American Cincinnatus, President George Washington, had established. President Ulysses Grant had tried and failed to be re-nominated for a third term, and President Theodore Roosevelt had been forced to run as a third-party candidate, thereby giving the win to Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt ran on a platform of nonintervention, as did the leading Republican candidates, including Senator Taft, Manhattan District Attorney Dewey, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg, both of the latter of which later became ardent internationalists under curious [8] circumstances. There was a fourth Republican candidate, ostensibly a milquetoast noninterventionist as well, but one who had never before held public office. Wendell Willkie was a Wall Street man, a former New Deal Democrat and utility executive who had the support of the Eastern internationalist establishment and a majority of the press barons of the day. Despite these influential financiers, Willkie was essentially a non-person in the eyes of the American public, consistently polling at only three percent.

The authorized history of what happened at the 1940 Republican National Convention goes something like this: The fall of France assisted Willkie, who supported military aid for the Allies, and led to the spontaneous creation of “Willkie Clubs” who initiated a mass telegram and letter campaign. Dewey led the first ballot at the contested convention, and further rounds set Taft and Willkie against one another. Thanks to the shifted allegiance of large Northern delegations, Willkie, a totally unknown candidate who had seemingly materialized out of thin air, won the nomination. H.L. Mencken described the nomination as having been “managed by the Holy Ghost.” Reality, however, was far murkier [9] than this, as Ron Unz has detailed [8]. The New Deal had failed [5] [10] and Roosevelt’s dictatorial tendencies had undermined his popularity. The outbreak of European war promised an opportunity to salvage the economy and perpetuate his hold on power, but the public was overwhelmingly opposed to American intervention. Only weeks prior to the Republican Convention, Ralph E. Williams, the Convention manager and a Taft supporter, suddenly and unexpectedly collapsed and died while attending a planning meeting. His replacement, Sam Pryor, was a Willkie supporter and, according to some, an intelligence operative. [6] [11]

Pryor reduced the ticket allocations to the delegations of other candidates, and ensured that Willkie’s delegations got the proper number. Pryor even went so far as to print duplicate tickets and pack the galleries with Willkie supporters who had been coached to chant “We Want Willkie!” Perhaps Pryor’s most scandalous act was intentionally installing a faulty microphone at the podium for former President Herbert Hoover. Years later, Hoover obtained a sworn deposition that this happened. Hoover was to deliver a magnificent noninterventionist speech, which his associates believed to be one of his best addresses; he was also to vindicate himself, as he was still being blamed for the Great Depression (which, despite the New Deal, still had not ended). Not only could Hoover not make himself heard over the din of fifteen thousand people, but at a later Convention press conference at the Bellevue Hotel, “a drum corps happened to march into the lobby as he was speaking.” On the third day of the Convention, effervescent swarms of Willkie supporters thronged the streets, harassed delegates, and shouted from the galleries, “We want Willkie!” Newspapers across the nation blanketed their headlines with hysteric Willkie mania. This was, contrary to appearances, far from a grassroots campaign. The “Willkie Clubs” inundating the delegates with telegrams and letters had been created almost immediately before the Convention, organized and financed by Eastern scions such as Oren Root and Thomas Lamont of Wall Street and the Council on Foreign Relations, as well as Henry Luce of TimeLife. [7] [12]

Willkie ran a half-hearted campaign, losing easily to Roosevelt. Roosevelt could not have invented a better opponent for himself; some of Willkie’s staffers defected to Roosevelt, and the President emphasized his populism against Willkie’s Wall Street. After the election, Willkie revealed himself as an interventionist, supporting the Administration’s foreign policy (even being considered as Roosevelt’s Vice President in 1944) and authoring the internationalist polemic One World, advocating for a supranational precursor to the New World Order. It was clear, if not to the American public, to America First leaders that the 1940 election had been a sham, with Willkie nothing but controlled opposition. In other words, the fix was in, “where the President and Willkie vied with one another in protesting their love of peace, only to team up on the road to war once the ballots were counted” and that the election “had not given the American people an opportunity to express their views clearly on American foreign policy.” Evidently, George Wallace would be correct when he declared, almost three decades later, that “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference” between the two parties. Willkie was considered for the position of Roosevelt’s running-mate in 1944, but Senator Harry Truman was selected. Shortly thereafter, Willkie suddenly [13] and unexpectedly died of several consecutive heart attacks.

Senator La Follette was so incensed that he began to refer to the interventionist class as “the War Party,” advocating for an America First noninterventionist “American Party,” concluding a November 1941 Committee meeting by declaring, “We leave this hall tonight with our coats off, our sleeves rolled up. We are headed for the 1942 elections. We have only two planks in our platform: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Our motto: ‘I am an American.’” Senator Wheeler speculated on the formation of a postwar party to provide a “democratic alternative to the twin threats of communism and fascism.” Lindbergh, noting that 1940 had given Americans “just about as much chance” to express foreign policy views “as the Germans would have been given if Hitler had run against Göring,” asked, “Is it not time for us to turn to new policies and to a new leadership?” He called for this new leadership to place America first. As such, America First planned to actively participate in the 1942 midterm elections.

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[1] [15] MacDonald, Kevin. The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements (1st Book Library, 2002).

[2] [16] Ibid.

[3] [17] Ibid.

[4] [18] Evans, M. Stanton. Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies (Crown Forum, 2007).

[5] [19] Rothbard, Murray N. America’s Great Depression (Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 2000).

[6] [20] Mahl, Thomas E. Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-1944 (Potomac, 2000).

[7] [21] Ibid.