George Lincoln Rockwell | Eve Arnold
Not many people today remembers George Lincoln Rockwell; he should be well remembered — but not remembered well.
In the above photo taken on February 25th 1962, Eve Arnold captured a surreal scene: that of Rockwell, flanked by members of his American Nazi Party, listening to Malcolm X’s speech to black Muslims at the International Amphitheater in Chicago. It was an obscure episode in American history, when Rockwell’s white supremacists and Malcolm X’s National of Islam took segregation to its extreme ends and called for independent nations, separated by skincolour.
Rockwell was comfortable being a caricature. He believed all blacks should be deported to Africa; every Jew dispossessed and sterilised — hatreds dwarfed only by his disdain for ‘queers’. He also wanted to hang “traitors” such as former Presidents Truman and Eisenhower. When Playboy sent a black journalist to interview him, Rockwell sat for the interview with pistol on the side table.
It is unfathomable today that within fifteen years from the Second World War, someone (and a war veteran at that) would found an American version of the Nazi Party, call himself the American Hitler, and brandish Nazi insignia widely in public. But those were curious days. Partly due to government efforts to exonerate ordinary folks (who were now their allies in the Cold War) and partly due to lack of widespread mass media, it took a while for people to understand the enormity of the Holocaust. Many, even soldiers who saw the atrocities first hand, believed the Nazis’ persecution of Jews as part of their general campaign for oppression and starvation in Europe.
But by the time this photo was taken, such opinions are evaporating fast. The Eichmann trial in 1961 revealed one sordid detail after another. With each passing day, America moved away from the one he envisioned. Increasingly paranoid Rockwell himself was assassinated in 1967 by a disenchanted ex-deputy. His party is still alive today and tweets. Such a discordant divide between the 21st century technology it uses and the 19th century ideology it promotes.