SOME TROUBLING HISTORY THAT WASN’T TAUGHT IN OUR HIGH SCHOOL CIVICS CLASSES

Examining the life of Fred Koch, father of the billionaires Charles and David, points to extreme right-wing activities in America’s Great Depression, a subject that deserves much wider public awareness. It’s not that the information isn’t out there – it just takes time to piece the implications together.

For starters, Al Carroll’s When the Right Wing Tried to Overthrow FDR in the Daily Kos, has one summary of an event that was news to me:

“The American Liberty League plotted to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt, sometimes referred to as the Business Plot. Some US businessmen were so opposed to the New Deal they planned to bring down Roosevelt by force using a private army and install a fascist government.”

That’s right. Overthrow the elected government by force. Not only that, but “The list of plotters included some of the most prominent businessmen in the country.” Household names, for the most part.

And that, in turn, leads to a remarkable but now largely unknown American hero, Smedley Darlington Butler, who not only refused to participate in the conspiracy but then boldly exposed a plan so insidious he was initially ridiculed before a congressional investigation found enough to lend support to the allegations.

That’s a lot to take in, even before learning of an actual attempted assassination on FDR in Miami, Florida, on February 15, 1933. The gunman missed the president but several shots wounded five people, including Chicago mayor Anton Cermak, who died from the injuries.

A Koch Truths account notes that the German Reichstag was burned to the ground two weeks later, supposedly by a lone, unemployed bricklayer – an event Hitler used to consolidate his power and the ascent of the Nazi party.

As that entry continues: “In Florida, the FBI immediately claimed that the assassin, Giuseppe Zingara, also a brick mason, was a lone anarchist from New Jersey. Within two months, he was tried, convicted, and sent to the electric chair without any investigation into possible deeper political motives or financial connections.”

Anyone else feeling an eerie sense of foreboding here? Any parallels to the JFK assassination to come?

The blog then presents its own account of the Business Plot:

“By June 1933, a new coup attempt had been put in motion. The so-called ‘Business Plot’ involved the use of the 500,000 Bonus Army from WWI to encircle Washington and force the President to either repeal New Deal Legislation or abdicate. The plot was spoiled by retired Major General Smedley Butler of the U.S. Marine Corps from Pennsylvania who at the time was a vocal critic of military policy and the most decorated Marine in U.S. History. In 1934 Butler testified to a Congressional Committee that he had been contacted by a group of wealthy pro-Fascist industrialists to lead the overthrow of the government.

“He claimed that he had been approached by representatives of the American Legion and an offshoot called the American Liberty League to organize the military for the coup. He was told they had a war chest of $15 million and they wanted him to give a speech at the Legion convention demanding re-institution of the gold standard. Butler turned down the bribe, but said he played along to see who was actually behind the coup and to gather evidence against the conspirators. He even brought in a reporter from the Philadelphia Record, Paul Comley French, to substantiate his story.”

So far, I’ve seen no evidence that Fred Koch was one of the industrialists, but he was hardly isolated in his views, either. How much his overlapped with theirs remains a question. The American fascist sympathies were more widespread than we commonly acknowledge today. As the blog continues:

“In the early 1930’s, the National Commander of the American Legion, Ralph T. O’Neill, and the Executive Committee openly praised Mussolini as a ‘great leader’ in a resolution. At the time the American Legion was accused of being anti-Semitic when it called for the end of ‘non-Aryan’ pollution of ‘American stock’ and an end to non-Anglo Saxon immigration as a way of controlling ‘anarchist’ infiltration.

“In 1934, several other pro-fascist organizations became active to combat the New Deal and the policies of FDR but the most prominent was the recently formed American Liberty League.”

It would be comforting if these currents had long vanished from the American scene, but it’s becoming obvious they’ve been festering. The fact that prominent citizens – some of the richest families in the nation, in fact – were willing to overturn the elected government and replace it with a coup is shocking. Is it safe to ask ourselves, What would stop them now?

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6 thoughts on “SOME TROUBLING HISTORY THAT WASN’T TAUGHT IN OUR HIGH SCHOOL CIVICS CLASSES

  1. more should read the Daily Kos… it consistently has items of this import…days before other outlets. There are lots of things that never made it into the history books. As an Historian I find obscure doings all the time that I did not know previously.

  2. “So far, I’ve seen no evidence that Fred Koch was one of the industrialists, but he was hardly isolated in his views, either. How much his overlapped with theirs remains a question.”

    This troubles me; it is conviction by association (let alone the implication that his sons follow in his precise footsteps. I’m no fan of the Kochs.

    At the same time, we must never underestimate the constant drive toward fascism. I highly recommend a viewing of Gabriel Over the White House, if you can find it…

    • Those questions of association and influence and historical accuracy deserve attention, as you point out. Under the shroud of secrecy that surrounds so much here, they’re even harder to pursue. And yet? The mere fact that so little is known about an assassination attempt on the president is in itself troubling.
      Thanks for the recommended viewing, by the way.

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