Although Rockwell affected a corncob pipe, his entry was an antismoking illustration for the American Cancer Society. Rockwell believed Sen. Joseph McCarthy's allegations of communist infiltration into the U.S. government. When recalled to active duty during the Korean War, he studied communism in the San Diego Public Library, where he found the Western powers' contemporary official documents on the Bolshevik Revolution, such as the Overman Report to President Wilson. These are a bigot's treasure trove: state publications describing the Bolshevik leaders in terms such as "atheistic Jews of the shabbiest and most dangerous kind." n Then he read Mein Kampf. Rockwell swallowed it whole over two or three days, even reading it while on duty. He found it, according to his autobiography, This Time the World, "mental sunshine which bathed all the gray world in the clear light of reason and understanding." Finally, he devoured American anti-Semitic materials, including Common Sense, a rag published by Conde McGinley, a longtime Jersey Jew-baiter. Rockwell convinced himself that a Jewish-communist conspiracy was subverting American society through racial integration and miscegenation.
In 1954, he returned to civilian life and started a magazine for servicemen's wives: he sold his interest after a falling out with his backers. He briefly moved to New York, where he was just as briefly assistant publisher of the American Mercury, founded by H.L. Mencken and since transmitted to very strange hands indeed.
Then he met Harold Arrowsmith Jr., a wealthy racist. Arrowsmith loved to research and write scrupulously footnoted anti-Semitic articles for unsuccessful submission to mainstream publications. He hired Rockwell to establish the National Committee to Free America from Jewish Domination. The committee was to print, publish and distribute material documenting the Jewish-communist conspiracy. However, Rockwell went beyond this: he began "agitation of such a blatant and revolutionary sort that the mass media could not ignore it."
On July 29, 1958, he organized the first public protest since 1941 against alleged Jewish control of the United States government. He picketed the White House to protest President Eisenhower's decision to send the Marines to Lebanon, bearing a sign reading "SAVE IKE FROM THE KIKES." The media attention pleased Rockwell. It horrified Arrowsmith, who withdrew his money.
Worse, Rockwell's wife returned with their children to her parents, which wounded him deeply. It was probably the lowest moment of his life. Then Rockwell had a religious experience. He repeatedly dreamed of being approached by a man who said, "Someone wants to meet you," of walking to a room and opening a door, of finding Adolf Hitler waiting for him. Now convinced his life's task was to carry Hitler's ideas "to total, world-wide victory," Rockwell created the American Nazi Party, brown shirts, armbands and all, and proclaimed himself the "American Fuehrer." Thus, Rockwell took up his father's business: vaudeville. From 1961 on, at Hatemonger Hill, the party barracks in Arlington, VA, he daily raised "the biggest Nazi flag that has ever flown over American territory," according to Fascism Today. The doormat was a Jewish altar cloth on which Rockwell's dog Wolf was trained to urinate, although the party mascot, Gas Chamber, was not.
By conventional standards, the ANP was a failure. Rockwell never had more than a few dozen members (largely kids, ex-convicts and government spies). After all, the number of Americans attracted to Nazism is probably limited. Too, as George Thayer observed in The Farther Shores of Politics, "The Party's unpopular objectives [were] another antidote to success. Americans have a history of massacring Indians; they have none of gassing Jews."
In 1960, Rockwell proposed a Fourth of July rally in Union Square. Mayor Robert Wagner denied his permit to speak. On June 22, 1960, Rockwell personally argued at a court hearing on his permit application. He slipped into the courtroom almost unnoticed in a conservative suit. When speaker after speaker attacked him, he spoke with wit and humor, weaving legal precedents and citations into a masterful presentation. A rabbi, enraged beyond control, rose to his feet and bellowed in broken English and Yiddish before suddenly falling to the floor in convulsions. Rockwell then held a press conference in the rotunda of the New York County Courthouse at 60 Centre St., where he advocated gassing 80 percent of all Jews as traitors.
This was quite enough: the crowd assaulted him live before the cameras. The police rescued him. He was then indicted for incitement to riot, and the warrant for his arrest remained outstanding for years. His 1962 speech at Hunter College was given by a substitute; in 1966, he was arrested and briefly held in the Tombs before he could speak at Columbia University's McMillin Theatre. Throughout his adult life, Rockwell was tall, lanky, athletic and handsome in a saturnine way. He had tremendous presence, a booming voice and a gift for extemporaneous oratory and the quick one-liner. But his strongest talent was for outrageously offensive stunts. When the Freedom Riders went south by bus, Rockwell followed on a Southern campaign tour in a "Hate Bus." When the film Exodus screened in Boston, he picketed the theater with stormtroopers (in the resulting riot, they were rescued by the police). He distributed free "Boat Tickets to Africa" on the "Coonard Lines," advertising "bananas and choice cuts of missionary." He issued 45-rpm "hatenanny" records, featuring the musical prejudices of Otis Cochran and the Three Bigots. He also promoted his cause through stickers, the most ominous being blood red, bearing the black swastika on a white disc, and the words, "We are back." He published "The Diary of Anne Fink," a pamphlet of photographs of Jews in concentration camps. George Thayer wrote one "picture showed a living skeleton of a man being fed into a gas oven on a pallet. The caption reads, 'I asked for a cheap pad?but this is ridiculous.'" Another showed "an emaciated inmate half-lying on a barbed wire fence out of sheer physical weakness. The caption reads, 'Man-o-Manoshewitz, what a wine!'"
Of course, sometimes these things didn't work out. In 1965, after a pacifist immolated himself in protest of the Vietnam War, a civil rights rally in Los Angeles was interrupted by a uniformed Nazi who poured liquid from a gasoline can over himself and declared he was going to burn himself alive in protest against "race mixing." "The police led him away," George Thayer wrote, "but not before a television reporter had offered him a match." In early 1965, Fannie Lou Hamer and two other African-American women, who had won an unofficial congressional election held under the pretext that Mississippi blacks were prevented from voting, went to the Capitol in an attempt to be seated. They were quietly turned away in the House chamber. Robert Lloyd, a stormtrooper, made a one-man counterprotest. He entered the Capitol in street clothes, which he removed to reveal black tights. He donned a black fur loincloth and applied black face paint. Then he charged up the stairway used only by representatives, past two policemen and a doorkeeper and into the well of the House. He popped a stovepipe hat on his head and yelled, "I'se de Mississippi delegation. I'se demand to be seated," and danced about, gibbering like an ape. It was the only time that anyone had succeeded in getting on the floor of the House to demonstrate. In 1965, Rockwell ran for governor of Virginia. He came in dead last, polling 6300 votes (1.2%). Perhaps, in the last days of the campaign, he was distracted by a former follower's death. Despite an IQ of 154, Dan Burros' life, as noted by Thayer, "was a chronicle of personal instability." He was frequently in trouble with the police (he liked to paint swastikas on buildings).
Burros, though blond and blue-eyed, was pudgy, sallow and short, with thick-lensed glasses and an uncontrollable giggle. When he left the ANP, Burros returned to New York, where he published The Free American, "The Battle Organ of Racial Fascism," dated YF 76 (meaning "Year of the Fuehrer," counting from the birth of Hitler) and the bluntly entitled Kill. He had become grand dragon of New York's Ku Klux Klan when he met John McCandlish Phillips, a quiet, devout man who knew Burros' deepest secret: Burros was a Jew. He had been a star pupil at Hebrew school in a Queens synagogue and had been bar-mitzvahed at 13. Phillips was a Times reporter.
The story made the front page on Oct. 31, 1965. Burros, visiting a friend in Reading, PA, bought a copy at the corner newsstand, returned to his friend's house and shot himself. Then Playboy asked Rockwell for an interview. Alex Haley telephoned for an appointment. While Haley assured Rockwell that he wasn't Jewish, he neglected to mention that he was black. Haley was escorted to Rockwell. Each man had a tape recorder ready. Rockwell took out a loaded pistol, placed it within reach, and said, "I'm ready when you are." Haley interviewed him four times. They developed an odd regard for each other: they exchanged correspondence, Rockwell addressing the envelopes to Haley with the initials "V.I.N."?Very Important Nigger. The interview, published in 1966, put Rockwell among the most sought-after speakers on the college lecture circuit. He spent much of 1966 and 1967 on tour, his views and showmanship attracting sell-out audiences. By 1967, he was making as much as $2000 a week. Remember, show business was in his blood. His cruel sense of humor and willingness to offend survives in the punk, oi and heavy metal bands released by Resistance Records. Skinhead gangs revere him as a hero and warrior, martyr and prophet. Dozens of websites bear his heroic self-portrait, reproduce his cartoons and caricatures and republish his articles and pamphlets.
On August 25, 1967, Rockwell drove to a launderette, where he loaded two machines with linens and underwear. Then he suddenly walked out to the car. He had released the brake when John Patler, whom Rockwell had expelled from the party, opened fire from the roof. One bullet entered to the right of his heart, rupturing major blood vessels. He staggered from the car and collapsed onto the pavement. No one went to him. The Associated Press yearbook for 1967 claimed his last recorded words were, "I forgot the bleach."