[Access article in PDF]
The attempt to plant Nazi seed on American soil, as unsuccessfully attempted by George Lincoln Rockwell, is traced in Frederick Simonelli's American Fuehrer. George Lincoln Rockwell never carried out his threats to gas Jews or resettle blacks abroad; yet he gave every indication that he was serious about doing so if he came to power. Rockwell wanted to lead white people in a race war exterminating Jews and other minorities, including homosexuals, and predicted he would rise to power as president in 1972. He employed psychological and political, not terroristic, tactics to achieve these goals. But during Rockwell's career conditions did not exist to transmute his hatemongering into political power. Never able to marshal more than a hundred storm troopers for the American Nazi party he founded, Rockwell settled for notoriety rather than power.
Part of what made Rockwell tick arose from his childhood. Born to a famous vaudeville performer, George Lovejoy "Doc" Rockwell, and a shy dancer and singer, Claire Schade, he lived a chaotic boyhood, shuttled to authoritarian relatives after his parents' marriage failed when he was six. Although Rockwell idolized his father, "Doc" Rockwell neglected his son, who served only as another audience to feed Doc's ego. [End Page 235] Rockwell's mother, however, loved him deeply and stuck with him through his transformations and travails.
Rockwell was a rebel. In college he rebelled not only against the liberal orthodoxy of his professors but against the perceived lack of seriousness of his peers. Marrying an attractive socialite, Judith Aultman, he left Brown University to enlist in the Navy in 1943, where he performed honorably. The marriage to Aultman ended in divorce, and in 1953 he married a wealthy Icelandic beauty, Thora Hallgrimsson. Although this marriage too ended in divorce, Rockwell possessed a charisma that attracted women and men seeking an authority figure.
In the late 1950s, after failing to stick with a succession of jobs as an artist, promoter, and advertiser, Rockwell converted to Nazism after reading Hitler's Mein Kampf and the anti-Semitic diatribes of Gerald L. K. Smith and Conde McGinley. In 1958 he organized the American Nazi party and undertook such activities as picketing the White House over Eisenhower's support of Israel and picketing the film Exodus about the birth of the modern state of Israel. He extended his activities abroad, founding the World Union of National Socialists, placing loyalists in key positions.
The Jewish community stifled Rockwell by promoting a quarantine on news coverage to deny him publicity and funds. Rockwell complained this constituted censorship, and Simonelli discusses the quarantine at some length, a tactic Jewish communal organizations also employed successfully against Gerald L. K. Smith.
In 1965 Rockwell made his only political campaign, polling 6,500 votes in the Virginia gubernatorial race. He abandoned Aryan racism and replaced it with a pan- White movement to unite all whites, not simply Nordics, against Jews and blacks. Finally, he married his party to the Christian Identity movement which claims that Anglo-Saxons are God's Chosen People and present-day Jews are impostors. Rockwell's chief contributions to political history were his attempts to unite the racist movement into a pan-White, international crusade and to forge a religion superficially Christian yet directed to serve Nazi purposes. Rockwell was only one of several individuals since the 1950s to attempt to unite the far right under a common purpose and ideology, as well as a single leader, and he enjoyed only minor success.
American Fuehrer was difficult to research, and Simonelli has done an unusually industrious job of piecing together Rockwell's personal life and painting a compelling human portrait. The sections on Rockwell's relationship with his mother are particularly strong. The biography is controlled and informative rather than salacious. Still, the story might have been spiced by additional quotations from Rockwell...