There’s a documentary called A Night at the Garden about a little known event in American history, a rally held by Nazis at Madison Square Garden in 1939 that was billed as a “pro-America” rally and used much of the same rhetoric we’re hearing today from Trump and his supporters. It deserves to be widely seen. Here’s the trailer:
The documentary was made by Marshall Curry, who was shocked to learn about this event a few years ago himself, having never heard about it before. So he began to dig into the historical archives and turned it into a documentary that everyone really should see. The footage above shows how fascism was sold as pro-American. The fascists of that day, as in every age, sold their totalitarian ideas as patriotic, pledging allegiance to the American flag under a giant picture of George Washington.
The rhetoric of these men, like Charles Lindbergh, is echoed by Trump and his supporters today. Lindbergh’s America First Committee was a perfect example. Putting America first meant not getting involved in World War II to fight Hitler and Mussolini’s fascist regimes and their zeal to take over the world. In an interview on the film’s website, director Curry says:
Q: What struck you about the footage?
A: The first thing that struck me was that an event like this could happen in the heart of New York City, a city that was diverse, modern, and progressive even in 1939. The second thing that struck me was the way these American Nazis used the symbols of America to sell an ideology that a few years later hundreds of thousands of Americans would die fighting against.
It really illustrated that the tactics of demagogues have been the same throughout the ages. They attack the press, using sarcasm and humor. They tell their followers that they are the true Americans (or Germans or Spartans or…). And they encourage their followers to “take their country back” from whatever minority group has ruined it.
And such rhetoric goes back much longer than just 1939. The fascist movement of the late 30s was just the latest incarnation of the same bigoted, anti-immigrant elements of society that periodically have risen up and tried to take power. When Chinese immigrants were brought here in the 1860s to build the railroads, the know-nothings rose up and agitated against these “invaders.” They formed the Anti-Chinese League, the Asiatic Exclusion League and other organizations. And again, their rhetoric echoed the anti-immigrant rhetoric that Trump uses today — they were an “invasion” that was destroying America. This rhetoric is virtually identical to what Hitler said about the Jews in Germany.
All Americans need to understand this history and the enormous dangers posed by every instance where these nationalist and populist — read: bigoted — sentiments have risen to prominence and been embraced by demagogues like Trump. What we are seeing today is a repeat of this repulsive history.