Frederick J Simonelli. Historian. Volume 57, Issue 3, Spring 1995.
George Lincoln Rockwell (1918-67), the founder and leader of the American Nazi Party (ANP), was one of the most controversial and reviled public figures in the United States. As the era’s most notorious advocate of racist and anti-Semitic politics, Rockwell was also a shrewd and skillful manipulator of the media who used that ability to attract publicity that allowed him to play a larger role in the public arena of his day than his small following ever justified.
Since the ANP was a minuscule organization that lasted less than a decade, Rockwell is remembered as a racist demagogue, if he is remembered at all. Yet, he and his party merit study because Rockwell laid the foundation for what he called the “White Power” movement in the United States. Virtually all of the diverse organizations within contemporary right-wing, white supremacist U.S. politics, except the Ku Klux Klan, are philosophical and tactical descendants of Rockwell and the ANP. The Skinheads, the National Socialist Vanguard, the Order, the Aryan Nation, the White Aryan Resistance, and the New Order, share a hatred of Jews and blacks, as well as a reverence for Rockwell as the spiritual founder of the movement. Since their “White Power” rhetoric is his and their legitimacy is measured by their lineage connections to the ANP, Rockwell himself has assumed the role of their martyred prophet of racial survival.
Rockwell’s final legacy one that may prove to be his most lasting, is the informal affiliation he encouraged between his political followers and the nascent Christian Identity movement. Rockwell did not originate Christian Identity, whose origins can be traced back to William Cameron’s British Israelism of the 1920s. However, he was the first U.S. white supremacist to understand the value of connecting his political movement to a religious philosophy that provided a theological justification for racist and anti-Semitic violence.
In the early 1960s, Rockwell first explored the strategic value of cloaking anti-Semitism in the veneer of Christian fundamentalism in correspondence with a German confidant. Ralph Forbes, Richard Butler, and the late Robert Miles—all followers of Rockwell—are seminal figures in the Christian Identity movement, which currently operates churches in Idaho, California, Texas, Michigan, Arkansas, and Oregon. Today, those nominally “Christian” churches venerate Rockwell, likening Rockwell to St. Paul in the early Christian church. Even that imagery originated with Rockwell. On several occasions, he referred to the relationship between himself and Adolf Hitler as similar to that between St. Paul and Jesus Christ.
Since all of Rockwell’s records, files, and correspondence, if they exist at all, are still in private hands, the examination of Rockwell and his party presents significant challenges to the historian. The questions most persistently asked about Rockwell and his party deal with the strength of his organization and the source of his funding.
Rockwell never released specific ANP membership figures, but contemporary newspaper accounts seldom estimated more than one hundred active members in the party. Most newspapers agreed with a British assessment when Rockwell died that the American Nazi Party “has no measurable political voice in the United States.” Rockwell’s following in New Hampshire was so small that he could not obtain a hundred signatures to qualify for a place on the 1964 New Hampshire presidential primary ballot. The archconservative publisher of the Manchester Union Leader wrote, “Frankly, we were surprised, for one would expect that Rockwell’s henchmen could have found 50 drunks [in each of New Hampshire’s two congressional districts] who would sign their name to anything for ‘whiskey money’.” The “surprise” in New Hampshire was understandable since Rockwell, the consummate salesman, always seemed more formidable than his actual following justified. Even for his funeral, which his successor tried to turn into a martyr’s rally, fewer than fifty loyalists could be mustered.
Virtually all contemporary assessments of ANP numerical strength mirrored one interviewer’s opinion that “Rockwell could not be called a spokesman for any socially or politically significant minority; indeed, his fanatical following is both motley and minuscule.” Most observers agreed with one historian’s evaluation that “Rockwell’s efforts in this country to create a large national Nazi movement [failed] … At its height, Rockwell’s movement was never able to attract more than about five hundred hard-core followers.” Yet “Rockwell’s flamboyant personality and his clever if venomous stunts” produced both headlines and the illusion that the American Nazi Party was much larger than it actually was.
In 1965, the California Department of Justice investigated the ANP as part of a broader confidential investigation of extremist right-wing groups in order to determine the potential of any extremist group to engage in acts of violence within California. The investigation found that:
Rockwell … has not been able to build his party to any significant size. The Arlington [Virginia] headquarters [of the American Nazi Party] is customarily staffed with anywhere from a dozen to two dozen Stormtroopers. Additionally, there are units of varying strength located in other parts of the country. Members [of the ANY] have stated that at any given time Rockwell could mobilize less than 150 Stormtroopers nationwide.
According to this investigation, the ANP Western Division, the focus of intense organizational efforts by Rockwell for almost two years, “has never been represented by more than a handful of members.” Although actual active Western Division membership fluctuated, it usually numbered about a dozen members.
Jewish community organizations, especially the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai B’Rith (ADL), conducted continuous surveillance of the ANP. Their intelligence reports provide the most reliable assessment of Rockwell’s following from the beginning of his public career in late 1958 to his death in 1967. In early 1960, the AJC obtained a copy of a deposition given by Rockwell in a lawsuit filed against him by a financial patron who broke with him late in 1959. Rockwell admit-ted that, “the number of people that I can muster to perform an operation in this country … I would say is about 500, but those people are not party members. Our party is very small.” Later that same year, the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington advised its members that “Rockwell’s following … consists of some 30 to 50 persons … He may have another few odd-dozen scattered elsewhere.
In 1962, the AJC reported to its members at the third anniversary of the founding of the ANP that, “today, the American Nazi Party remains the same shabby, small-time enterprise, embracing no more than 50 stormtroopers.” The Anti-Defamation League’s independent surveillance and analysis of the ANP concurred with that of the AJC. In late 1963, the ADL reported to its members that the ANP had not grown to any measurable degree:
George Lincoln Rockwell … remains a nuisance, but is not a menace … Rockwell has not been able to expand his movement and seems destined to remain a mere pimple on the American body politic … A recent head count showed 16 troopers in residence at Nazi Party headquarters in Arlington, Va … In the last two years perhaps 50 other drifters have floated into the party’s headquarters, taken up residence in the barracks, stayed a while, and then moved on … In more than eight years, Rockwell has not succeeded in organizing anything that resembles a movement … He has perhaps a few hundred sympathizers or supporters scattered around the country.
By early 1964, the AJC estimated Rockwell’s following at fewer than 60 persons. According to Jewish community organizations, Rockwell’s following continued to fluctuate throughout his career, depending on events and publicity, and the faces changed as disaffected Nazis were replaced by new recruits. Rockwell’s party never achieved substantially greater numbers than it attracted during the first few years of its existence.
Although Rockwell jealously guarded party membership information, and the authoritarian structure of the ANP discouraged public discussion by anyone but Rockwell himself, statements by several former Rockwell followers verified these membership assessments. The former secretary of the ANP and one of Rockwell’s closet early advisors wrote, after he broke with him in 1961, that the “[American Nazi Party] in the U.S. numbers less than 25 active members and some 15 inactive members. In most of his operations [Rockwell] gathers all the anti-Jewish people in the Washington, D.C. area … and uses them to make his party look bigger.” One member who joined the party in 1961 and rose to the rank of lieutenant, placed party membership at Rockwell’s death in 1967 at about 200 regular members.
E. Cooper was a Rockwell supporter who joined the renamed National Socialist White People’s Party (NSWPP) in 1970. Named business manager of the NSWPP by Matthias Koehl, Rockwell’s successor, Cooper had daily access to the party’s membership lists and records. According to Cooper, the NSWPP maintained separate mailing lists for three categories of supporters: official party members (persons who had filed formal application to join the party and were accepted as members); official supporters (persons who were not official party members but who regularly made small monthly financial donations to the party); and the party newsletter mailing list (persons who subscribed to the party newsletter but were neither party members nor regular financial contributors). Cooper says that the NSWPP had approximately 100 official party members in 1970, two and one-half years after Rockwell’s death. Cooper’s estimate of NSWPP membership is generally within the range of all estimates of ANP membership under Rockwell. Cooper also estimates that the NSWPP official supporters list contained between 600 and 800 names and that there were approximately 2,500 names on the party newsletter mailing list. Since criteria for inclusion on the ANP (or the NSWPP) official supporters list or newsletter mailing list were not clearly defined, these numbers are a less reliable indicator of numerical strength than actual party membership that required specific application, review, and acceptance procedures in both the ANP and its successor organization.
In terms of both party membership—which no reliable source places above 200 individuals—and the less reliable category of ANP “supporters”—which probably never numbered more than a few thousand individuals—the number of people who were attracted to the ANP message was statistically insignificant in a country as large as the United States. As the ADL noted after his death, “Rockwell—skilled performer though he was in gaining national notoriety—was never more than the ‘Commander’ of a small and tatterdemalion group … Rockwell had become a national figure, but he was never able to marshal a significant following.”
ANP funding, like membership information, was closely guarded by Rockwell and his few intimates. However, reliable contemporary descriptions of ANP facilities and resources allow a fairly accurate assessment of the movement’s financial strength. Tony Ulasewicz monitored Rockwell’s activities for the New York City Police Department from 1958 to 1967. During 1960 and 1961, Rockwell’s street demonstrations and violent confrontations with Jewish groups in New York and Washington received constant press attention and fostered the impression of a large and growing movement. In late 1961, Ulasewicz visited ANP headquarters in Virginia:
When I finally moved inside what greeted me was a grubby haunted house … Clearly, this was no showpiece that would attract membership into Rockwell’s party. His glowing, published accounts of his party’s progress had been nothing more than a pack of lies. As I looked around, I noticed that bullet holes punctured all the walls of his house … I also saw a stack of unpaid bills high on a table. Rockwell’s electricity had been tuned off, and he used kerosene lamps to light the place … Whatever Hitler’s ghost had promised Rockwell, it hadn’t yet arrived.
Still, Rockwell encouraged the impression that he had a wide base of small contributors and an eager cadre of wealthy patrons, which drew the attention of the U.S. Jewish community. A well-funded American Nazi Party, indicative of broad-based support for Nazi intentions, would have posed a physical threat to U.S. Jews. Therefore, it was vital that the U.S. Jewish community determine the extent and nature of Rockwell’s funding.
In early 1960, the issue of Rockwell’s financial status was the subject of an exchange of Intelligence between top officials of the American Jewish Committee. The AJC had obtained a copy of a confidential deposition by Rockwell in connection with a civil law suit filed against him by his former patron. The AJC official reported on Rockwell’s testimony, given under oath: “He is not paying his bills and is in serious financial difficulty continually. This has been the case,” the report concluded, “since he … went into politics about three years ago.”
An AJC agent infiltrated ANP headquarters for a first-hand look. The AJC sent a copy of its agent’s report to the executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington. The report described ANP headquarters as:
… a wooden house, in very bad condition … There is no running water; they have to pass it in from the outside; and so the cups are passed from the kitchen to be washed; the renovation job Rockwell once had planned never panned out … Upstairs there are other rooms—the troopers’ rooms, four cots (many of them sleep on the floor); there were no sheets on the cots; everything looked and smelled unclean … all very depressing.
After receiving this intelligence from the AJC, the director reassured the member organizations of the Jewish Community Council that “the leader only gets a trickle of money and is always on the verge of being broke … Rockwell’s so-called ‘American Nazi Party’ is an insignificant handful that has managed to keep afloat by ‘smart’ opportunism and a faculty for making noise and stirring up trouble and creating disorder.” In early 1961, an AJC spokesman saw virtually no change in the financial condition of the ANP, “[Rockwell’s] men are living in a most marginal fashion,” he reported, and Rockwell himself “is consistently late in meeting alimony payments to his first … wife.”
By 1963, ANP fund-raising improved slightly but was still marginal. The Anti-Defamation League reported to its members that the annual gross income of the ANP was no more than $20,000, and that Rockwell asked his stormtroopers to find jobs and turn over their paychecks to the party. Despite a slight rise in the party’s income, living conditions for the stormtroopers did not improve much.
The rations are skimpy, unappetizing and monotonous. Some troopers have reported eating canned hash for days on end. At other times, the rations include cat food. At still other times, the diet has been a thin stew made from chicken necks.
An ADL informant reported that, the “party was, as usual, behind in paying its telephone bill and fear was expressed that the phone company would remove the two phones in the headquarters and the one in the barracks.”
The picture of Rockwell’s ANP painted by Jewish community organizations’ surveillance is dismal. None of this did Rockwell want known. However, Rockwell’s private letters reveal a relentless burden of poverty experienced by the ANP that occasionally eased, but never fully lifted. Writing to his mother in December 1959, Rockwell complained of small-paying jobs he held for food and clothing money while he pursued his political goals. Mrs. Rockwell even sent her son cash from time to time to help him make ends meet. As late as mid-1963, Rockwell depended on his mother’s largesse for such items as emergency dental work when he lacked the $50.00 a Washington dentist demanded in advance.
During the winter of 1960-61, Rockwell repeatedly appealed to his sympathizers for funds. He mailed a desperate appeal to people who had previously contributed to the ANP: “[Stormtroopers] ARE EATING STALE BREAD AND 10 CENT-A-POUND MEAT INTENDED FOR DOGS! … [T]hey can’t fight because they are hungry and COLD, … we have no money for the heat bill.” Rockwell raised enough money from this appeal to survive that winter, but the following year Rockwell’s party still only survived “from miracle to miracle.” The ANP fortunes did not improve appreciably with time. One ANP stormtrooper recalls a party that was “under-staffed, under-trained, and under-funded” living in a “residence [that] was in sorry shape.”
Rockwell’s extensive private correspondence with Bruno Ludtke, a neo-Nazi activist in post-World War II Germany, reveals Rockwell’s continual frustration with his party’s desperate lack of funds. On Christmas 1963, Rockwell wrote to Ludtke of the “desperate struggle, the cold, the hunger.” The following summer, “the eternal strangulation for money” was still a major component of his letters. Even as late as 1966, Rockwell’s letters to Ludtke reflected his anguish over the lack of funds. He spoke of the “constant struggle to survive economically” as the major factor eating away at his “health and strength” while he grappled with “the business of wondering from one day to the next how we will survive.” Sixteen months before his death, Rockwell complained bitterly to Ludtke that, “We are presently going through a miserable battle for survival without money … and we are at the very moment without even heat … and … literally starving!”
The Rockwell-Ludtke correspondence confirms the intelligence accumulated by AJC and ADL surveillance regarding ANP funding. Ludtke could only operate underground and provide Rockwell little assistance, so it is unlikely Rockwell was trying to appeal to Ludtke for funds. Other unpublished Rockwell correspondence confirms that the American Nazi Party was continually on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1964, Rockwell wrote that the ANP was “unbelievably poor.” That same year, in another letter, Rockwell wrote that “the CASH has dropped to a trickle, and we can’t survive forever on guts … we must find MAJOR help in the next few days, or suspend everything.” And in 1966, less than a year before his assassination, he wrote that, “the sad fact is that we have almost no funds.”
In August 1966, Rockwell angrily rejected a request from his second-in-command, Matthias Koehl, for additional staff.
Can you tell me … just how I am to PAY for the assistants you want, when I, too, could use a full time assistant … You are surely not unaware of the emergency financial situation … we don’t have FOOD money. I am at a complete loss to understand why you chose THIS moment, of all times, to write to me of paid assistants for your department … [Y]ou are demanding that I provide you NOW with paid assistants, when I have wracked and shredded my brain trying to think where to get money to keep the operation ALIVE … You KNOW how utterly, unbelievably BROKE we are, Major. Just WHERE am I to get funds to pay your assistants?
A member of the National States Rights Party recalls that “[Rockwell] lived in abject poverty. There was often no food to eat up there [at ANP headquarters]. The cars he drove were just junk… It was a very tough battle. He never had any money.”
From 1964 to 1966, Rockwell’s financial troubles were compounded by his difficulties with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Rockwell wrote to the IRS district director handling his case: “As I am sure my financial statements under oath will show, I am in no position whatsoever to pay these [tax] assessments. I am already in extreme difficulty with the court here because of failure to pay child support for which I am threatened with jail. I am proceeding at the moment on funds obtained from pawn shops.” In 1965, Rockwell was still battling with the IRS: “As you must know from the audit … we are far too impecunious to afford a tax attorney or even, at this point, a bookkeeper.” The IRS held a public auction in 1966, at which the first ANP headquarters on Randolph Street in Arlington and all its contents were auctioned to satisfy an IRS tax lien.
Rockwell and his disciples lived hand-to-mouth from the party’s inception to his death. Rockwell drew on the generosity of a limited number of financial patrons, who provided periodic infusions of cash or other support at critical periods to avoid the total collapse of his movement. These patrons were not connected with any other mainstream right-wing political groups, and none of the major contributors to such groups funded Rockwell’s ANP.
Rockwell’s move into flagrant anti-Semitic hate mongering was initially underwritten by one man: Harold Noel Arrowsmith of Baltimore, Maryland. Arrowsmith was an amateur anthropologist who lived off inherited wealth and spent most of his time trying to find an audience for his thesis of the genetic supremacy of the white race, which, according to Arrowsmith, did not include Jews. Rockwell probably met Arrowsmith through Russell Maguire, the racist and anti-Semitic publisher of the American Mercury. In Rockwell’s letter to his brother in October 1958, he identified Arrowsmith as the man who had provided him with “$20,000 worth of backing to get going at last, after nearly starving for a year and a half.” Arrowsmith’s backing was primarily in the form of the use of a house in Arlington, a second-hand printing press, and about $2,500 in cash.
Rockwell’s relationship with Arrowsmith did not last long. By late 1959, Arrowsmith went to court to evict Rockwell from the house the ANP was using and to recover his printing equipment. Still, Arrowsmith’s contribution to Rockwell’s conversion to full-time anti-Semitic agitation was significant. Before Arrowsmith, Rockwell barely survived on odd jobs and small gifts from his mother. After Arrowsmith, Rockwell became a professional agitator and remained one for the rest of his life. Through Arrowsmith’s financial sponsorship, Rockwell achieved enough national notoriety to draw a few like-minded followers to Arlington. These included James K. Warner and J. V. Kenneth Morgan, the men who formed the first core of the ANP. It is impossible to determine the true nature of Rockwell’s break with Arrowsmith from available sources; but, by the beginning of 1960, the breach was irreparable and permanent.
By the end of that year, Rockwell had a new patron who would remain with him to the end: Floyd Fleming of Arlington, Virginia. Fleming purchased a house at 928 North Randolph Street, which became “the hub of Rockwell’s activities and his home.” Fleming was a sign painter of modest means, but he and his wife remained regular contributors to Rockwell and his party even after the house they bought for him was seized by the IRS and sold for back taxes in 1966. A reconstruction of the Flemings’ total contributions to Rockwell and the ANP is impossible from existing sources, but it was probably between $35,000 and $50,000 from January 1960 to August 1967.
In 1964, Rockwell met his third and last major patron, Robert Surrey of Dallas, Texas. Surrey was co-owner of a modest but prosperous printing company. His partner was former Major General Edwin A. Walker. Surrey and his wife, who was Walker’s personal secretary, tried to enlist the reactionary general for Rockwell’s cause but failed. Mrs. Surrey left Walker’s employ in anger after the general refused to join her and her husband as Rockwell followers. Surrey went by the code name “Max Amann,” taken from the name of a prominent German publisher who was one of Adolf Hitler’s earliest supporters. Surrey remained a Rockwell loyalist to the end, but left the party after a dispute with Rockwell’s successor. In June 1968, Surrey mailed to the people on the ANP mailing list a memorandum that attacked the failure to maintain Rockwell’s direction of the party. Surrey said, “my wife and I … took money from our own pocket … [and] used our own money for bails and fines for the Stormtroopers; we contributed our home as an office and warehouse for the [ANP] Order Department; we filled the orders, answered the letters of inquiry, and kept things running on a day to day basis; and we raised better than $20,000 in a three year period for the Party.”
Rockwell repeatedly made cryptic references to “our backers in Dallas,” fostering the illusion of major financial patrons in Texas, which was well known in the 1960s for both its right-wing sympathies and for its rich oil men willing to put their money behind reactionary politics. Actually, Rockwell’s Dallas “operation” consisted merely of Robert and Mary Surrey and seven to ten other middle-class Texans. As the Dallas Times Herald reported,
Rockwell’s claim that a building had been purchased in Oak Cliff … can’t be substantiated … The Dallas Nazis couldn’t buy a building in Oak Cliff, or anywhere else for that matter, fight now. They’re broke. They have had financial problems from their start five months ago, the Times Herald learned reliably. They have only a small bank account at Park Cities Bank … The local party’s sole source of income is contributions and dues from the members. There are no big money contributors in the background … So far, authoritative sources report, the Nazis have been thoroughly unsuccessful in tapping any of the rich ‘angels’ who have helped finance past extremist activities in Dallas.
A few more individuals came through with financial gifts for Rockwell when his party fell into particularly difficult times, but none, with the possible exception of Mr. and Mrs. George Ware of Kentucky, were consistent patrons like the Flemings and the Surreys or had the timely impact of Arrowsmith. The only other individual who made significant and regular financial contributions to Rockwell was a Californian, Ray York, who contributed approximately $25,000 in cash, services, and rent-free use of his property between 1962 and 1967. Rockwell had been introduced to York by Robert Surrey.
In his memoirs, Tony Ulasewicz suggested that Rockwell may have received periodic funding from anti-Israeli Arab or Middle Eastern countries through their delegations to the United Nations but he offered no concrete evidence to substantiate this claim. Ulasewicz’s only reference to a specific individual is in mentioning several public statements by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser that praised Rockwell “for his anti-Zionist campaign.” Nasser’s name also surfaced in the previously cited deposition from the litigation in which Rockwell stated that “Arrowsmith had brought a man described as the head of Nasser’s secret service to see him on July 29 or 30, 1958.”
It is possible that Rockwell received some money from anti-Israeli states in the Middle East, but the precise origin of that funding, or its extent, cannot be verified from existing sources. The constant state of poverty in which Rockwell and the ANP existed—a circumstance that is amply documented-suggests that any funding Rockwell may have received from foreign nations was not enough to affect his operation.
Rockwell always believed that the wealthy individuals who regularly subsidized conservative and right-wing political candidates and causes shared his hatred of the Jews and would support him financially once they understood his uncompromising stance. He held this illusion to the end of his life. According to party secretary and early Rockwell aide, James K. Warner, Rockwell “kept sending letters to … patriotic millionaires in the U.S., but they would have nothing to do with him and the American Nazi Party.” By late 1963, the ADL was able to report to its members that “no known or respected person gives [Rockwell] support.”
None of Rockwell’s major patrons were of the same wealth or stature as the individuals who regularly contributed to the more “respectable” right-wing extremist groups. There is no evidence that either of the era’s major benefactors of extremist causes—H. L. Hunt (who contributed approximately $1 million a year to radical right-wing causes) and H. R. Cullen (who was believed to be the most generous patron of radical right-wing causes in the nation)—ever contributed financially to George Lincoln Rockwell or the American Nazi Party. Nor is there any evidence that more than two dozen wealthy U.S. industrialists who were the prime national benefactors of extremist right-wing politics in the U.S. in the early 1960s ever contributed to Rockwell or the ANP.
His failure to attract support from U.S. industrialists and the financial patrons of right-wing extremists’ groups frustrated him throughout his career. He never lost faith that he would eventually find the right issue or touch the fight nerve so as to make them unlock their purses. But Rockwell’s use of Nazi symbols and terminology made him and his party anathema among virtually all wealthy U.S. right-wing extremists. They, like the U.S. public at large, shunned him.
Throughout its existence, the American Nazi Party suffered from a critical lack of funds. The day-to-day existence of Rockwell and his followers was marked by privation. The bulk of Rockwell’s funding came from small monthly donations by a limited number of official supporters as well as the sale of party literature and materials, which was subsidized by a limited number of financial patrons.
The numerical strength of George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party remained statistically insignificant. From its rounding to the day of Rockwell’s death the ANP was little more than Rockwell’s personal vehicle for the promotion of his ideas. It never evolved into a political movement or political party in any conventional sense. He worked and agitated and marched until the day he died, but in Ulasewicz’s colorful phrase, “whatever Hitler’s ghost promised him never showed up.”