Before Being a Neo-Nazi Was Trendy
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because bad ideas rarely get better.
By Eugene S. Robinson
- James Madole could be considered the first neo-Nazi, forming the National Renaissance Party in 1949.
- It wasn’t terribly popular: He lived in an apartment with his mom and had maybe 50 followers.
- But his ugly ideas can be found in today’s hate groups.
“I die with a happy heart aware [that there] will spring up … the seed of a radiant renaissance of the National Socialist movement.” This statement, purportedly dictated by Hitler from his Berlin basement redoubt the next to last day of his “1,000-year Reich,” concluded by saying that against “international Jewry and its helpers” he hoped a true community of nations would spring up.
A liberal interpretation of “nations” wouldn’t exactly preclude an apartment on 10 West 90th Street in a formerly German section of Manhattan called Yorkville. And it certainly wouldn’t preclude James Hartung Madole, born there 72 hours after Independence Day 1927, deciding, in 1949, to start a political organization totally Hitlerian in its aspirations: the National Renaissance Party (NRP).
After more than 405,000 Americans died fighting in World War II, many of them at the hands of Nazis, for neo-Nazis to be springing up not even four years later is shocking. That Madole, who lived with his mother for almost his entire life, was one of the first is even more shocking.
But there was something about the postwar world that rubbed Madole the wrong way. And, presaging modern neo-Nazism, it was largely a sense of feeling unloved in world filled with women in the workplace, increased civil rights and a power structure that promised more of the same.
“Because America has accepted the poisonous doctrine of tolerance, as well as economic and racial equality,” Madole wrote to the late Willis Carto, another racist whose tendrils touched on everything from Holocaust denial to the John F. Kennedy assassination, “our people now stand at the gateway of racial extinction.”
The Garden of Eden, according to Madole, was in North America. North America was the new Atlantis and it would hold a godlike race of white people.
That the aggrieved and panic-fueled hyperbole seems to match the current zeitgeist of “Jews will not replace us” marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, or the spate of anti-Semitic attacks this past December is not nearly as surprising as the fact that Madole was fulminating a scant four years after the end of World War II. While many assume that most of America hadn’t heard about the horrors of the Holocaust until much later, a Gallup poll in 1944 found that three-quarters of respondents knew precisely what the camps were being used for. And still … Madole.
“[A] nuisance, but is not a menace,” said a 1963 Anti-Defamation League report about a friend and fellow traveler of Madole’s, American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell. “A mere pimple on the American body politic.”
A criticism that Madole may have been sensitive to since his messianic reality in the apartment he shared with his mother was, perhaps, directly at odds with his messianic fantasy. He predictably inflated his membership rolls to as many as 700 loyal adherents, a figure later countered by historians whose research states that Madole’s membership never stretched very far beyond 50 people.
But when you do the math, while Madole’s cult of personality may have been only strong enough to pull in 50 followers, there were other things happening both prior to America’s entry into World War II and post victory. Rockwell, typically sporting full Nazi regalia in public, was featured in an interview in Playboy magazine where, in a case of the strangest bedfellows ever, he was interviewed by the very African American Alex Haley.
And then there were other Nazi worshipers inspired by Hitler, and to a lesser degree Madole, that he had picked off, embraced and pulled into his orbit. Including Dan Burros, the head of a Nazi group who subsequently killed himself when he was outed as Jewish. Additionally, in 1939, before America and Germany were officially enemies, American Nazis and members of the German American Bund were holding sieg heiling rallies that drew 20,000 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
So while Madole may have been out of the mainstream, he wasn’t completely crazy, and he really couldn’t have been faster on the trigger after the cessation of hostilities in September 1945. Using a blue lightning bolt in a white circle on red on his standards, along with gray and black uniforms worn by his “stormtroopers,” Madole published and spoke along brand-consistent lines. With twists.
The Garden of Eden, according to Madole, was in North America. He believed North America was the new Atlantis and it would hold a godlike race of white people who would live happily ever after. Right after Blacks were “voluntarily” sent back to Africa and Jews were “removed.”
His followers also took to the streets, where they were promptly arrested for “planning to incite” a riot at White Castle hamburger joints or a rally five blocks from his house that drew more than 2,500 counter-demonstrators and ended with his arrest. No Beer Hall Putsch and no Landsberg prison like Hitler had, but Madole took it.
“There are other tactically more efficient methods than street theater,” said Tom Metzger, founder of the White Aryan Resistance and noted white supremacist. “I employed street theater for several years, but it created no real power and simply makes a target out of you. Underground methods and behind-the-lines tactics are the only methods that still work.”
Or would have, had Madole not succumbed to cancer in 1979. His mother, an ardent sympathizer and supporter, then handed the organization over to a World War II Czech military officer who, the next year, was promptly killed by a mugger, ending the NRP definitively.
“I don’t think it was so much that James hated Jews,” the late Church of Satan leader Anton LaVey once told me of his associate, “but that he really loved Hitler.”