FDR and the Black Legion

Talk about a vast right-wing conspiracy.  Most people born after the Nixon years have no cellular memory of the battle royal between the “left” and the “right” but  if ever there was a U.S. president who was implacably hated by the political right, it wasn’t Bill Clinton or even Hillary.  It is certainly not Obama.  It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Aided by the depredations of the Great Depression, FDR turned the tide in American politics from the unregulated corporate freebooting of the “gilded age” to government control and oversight within a couple of years of his election in 1933. A group called the American League, the leading corporations of the day including General Motors, U.S. Steel, U.S. Rubber, Standard Oil, J.P. Morgan, General Foods and above all du Pont industries, conspired to overthrow FDR by replacing him with a proxy president.  Prescott Bush, grandfather of G.W. Bush, was a member of the group.

GHW and Prescott Bush

GHW and Prescott Bush

By the 1930’s du Pont, the largest gunpowder manufacturer and munitions maker in the nation and was assisting the rise of another political power bent on militarization.  From the article:

The du Pont Co., and particularly GM, was a major contributor to Nazi military efforts to wipe communism off the map of Europe. In 1929, GM bought Adam Opel, Germany’s largest car manufacturer. In 1974, a Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly heard evidence from researcher Bradford Snell proving that that in 1935, GM opened an Opel factory to supply the Nazi’s with “Blitz” military trucks. In appreciation, for this help, Adolf Hitler awarded GM’s chief executive for overseas operations, James Mooney, with the Order of the German Eagle (first class). Besides military trucks, Germany’s GM workers also producing armored cars, tanks and bomber engines.

The Black Legion

The Black Legion

Du Pont had already worked for a decade smashing nascent labor unions in its industries.  In the 1920’s it formed the perhaps 200,000 strong Black Legion, a nativist, anti-union band closely modeled on and affiliated with the KKK by its black hooded, skull and crossbones shrouds and terrifying car caravan night rides through labor camps.  Goons hired by the company beat, kidnapped and killed union organizers and leaders.  They torched labor halls.  They tortured and killed at least 50 union organizers in Chicago alone. Du Pont was carrying on the big capitalist tradition successfully begun by Andrew Carnegie at the turn of the 20th century: break labor union organizing and keep wages at the absolute minimum to sustain life.  Interestingly, Malcom X’s father, an auto worker, was among the victims of one of the Black Legion’s conflagrations. The article :

The organization was divided into arson squads, bombing squads, execution squads, and anti-communist squads, and membership discipline on pain of torture or death was strictly enforced. Legion cells filled G.M. factories, terrorizing workers and recruiting Ku Klux Klansmen.

Since 1933 the Black Legion’s power had permeated police departments.

Du Pont and Standard Oil teamed to provide the Nazi government with much needed high octane gasoline.  From Hopium:

Du Pont’s GM and Rockefeller’s Standard Oil of New Jersey collaborated with I.G. Farben, the Nazi chemical cartel, to form Ethyl GmbH. This subsidiary, now called Ethyl Inc., built German factories to give the Nazis leaded gas fuel (synthetic tetraethyl fuel) for their military vehicles (1936-1939). Snell quotes from German records captured during the war:

But I digress.

The Liberty League members contributed an astounding amount of money to the campaign against Roosevelt’s policies.  They created affiliated organizations against these policies, many of which sound similar to day:

American Taxpayers League
League for Industrial Rights
Minute Men and Women of Today ($1,400)
National Economy League
Sentinels of the Republic ($125)
Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution ($14,600)
Women Investors in America, Inc.

They also used much the same anti-union rhetoric as today:

In 1935, when 40,000 national guardsmen were called out in nineteen states to put down strikes, he lashed into Roosevelt’s unemployment relief and farm subsidy policies. “The Roosevelt Administration,” he said, “practices the socialistic maxim ‘work like hell so that the parasites may get the benefit of your labor.'”

The League also accused FDR  with “fermenting class hatred.”

Roosevelt struck back with his backers in the press:

“the only liberty the League fosters is the liberty to water stock, rig the market, manipulate paper, and pyramid holding companies to the stratosphere. … it is the liberty to pay starvation wages and break strikes with hired thugs…. It is the liberty to warp the minds and bodies of children in textile mills and on sharecropping farms. It is the liberty to buy opinions of the pulpit and the press. It is the liberty which leads to death….accused it of

playing on the Ku Klux Klan prejudices of the South. When Raskob, a Roman Catholic, contributed $5,000, he was told his money would be used to stir up the KKK and finance a venomous attack on Mrs. Roosevelt.”

The Liberty League’s plan for overthrowing FDR involved a plot to enlist the military services of members of the American Legion under the direction of General Smedley Butler, a popular WWI war hero.  Unfortunately for them, they didn’t know he was a Quaker, or at least that he was tired of military campaigns against third world victims of exploitation.

General Smedley Butler

General Smedley Butler

He took their offer under advisement while secretly planning to denounce the conspirators.  This was the Liberty League’s Plan, as described by Butler:

[T]hey wanted General Butler to deliver an ultimatum to Roosevelt. Roosevelt would pretend to become sick and incapacitated from his polio, and allow a newly created cabinet officer, a “Secretary of General Affairs,” to run things in his stead. The secretary, of course, would be carrying out the orders of Wall Street. If Roosevelt refused, then General Butler would force him out with an army of 500,000 war veterans from the American Legion. But MacGuire assured Butler the cover story would work:

“You know the American people will swallow that. We have got the newspapers. We will start a campaign that the President’s health is failing. Everyone can tell that by looking at him, and the dumb American people will fall for it in a second…”

In the end, the scheme was foiled:

“McCormack-Dickstein” Committee (the predecessor of the soon to be infamous “House Un-American Affairs Committee):

No charges were brought against the nation’s richest conspirators.

As a footnote to history, it is often said that President G.W. Bush went to war in Iraq in order to compensate for some competitive or unresolved feeling against his father in the first Gulf War, President G. W. H. Bush. I doubt it. He was just finishing the great military experiment in freeing a state for “freedom”. All of the Bushes want the same thing, the same thing Prescott Bush wanted, a return to the freewheeling capitalist days before FDR, a final end to the great New Deal.

They just might get it this time.

3 Responses to FDR and the Black Legion

  1. The defeat of the New Deal – with Obama’s oligarchs and Bush republicans on the same page – no crystal ball is needed.

  2. spock says:

    The New Deal is being threatened every day, one bill at a time, one new tax at a time. Obama is part of a continuing line of puppets at the hands of the oligarchs. It is interesting to read about GM and their help of the Nazis. Oh what this mega-company could have been.

  3. […] — to intimidate troublemaking workers. (This wasn’t GM’s only tie to fascists: in 1935, it supplied the Third Reich with military […]

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