Donald Trump is not Hitler
It was a political moment unprecedented in American history. A charismatic leader took the stage in an arena packed to the rafters with fanatical supporters and delivered a rousing and most assuredly politically incorrect speech decrying the United States’ “suicidal tolerance of parasitical aliens, making something entirely different out of the nation, destroying its ethics, morals, patriotism, and religious conceptions.” He told his devoted audience to pledge their loyalty to him and their desires for a greater America. In the media gallery, a reporter was forcibly removed as she openly mocked the speaker. A wild-eyed protester rushed the stage but was stopped by a steady rain of fists administered to his head and torso as the crowd roared its approval.
Another day, another Trump campaign event? No, this was the Feb. 20, 1939, gathering of the German-American Bund, a Depression-era pro-Hitler organization, at their “Washington’s Birthday Rally” in Madison Square Garden. A packed house of 20,000 plus whooped it up the Bundist leader Fritz Kuhn, a man with vainglorious dreams who roused crowds by targeting perceived religious, racial, ethnic, and/or political enemies. Like Trump, Kuhn had an uncanny talent for tapping into populist sentiments. He too was an audacious egotist, a notorious truth-stretcher, and outright liar. Among other things, Kuhn bragged that he’d been part of the mob that followed Hitler into the Beer Hall putsch, though there was no proof of the veracity of this claim.
A veteran of the Great War, Kuhn was expatriated from Germany to Mexico after he was caught stealing from his employer. He then headed to Detroit, where his master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Munich was good enough to get him hired at Henry Ford Hospital—a medical facility with an employment ban on Jewish doctors. Kuhn joined the Friends of New Germany, used hospital broom closets to practice his oratory skills, and quickly rose to the top of the organization’s Midwest division. When the group dissolved, Kuhn declared that the only way for a pro-Hitler movement to succeed in the United States was by rebuilding the organization based on core American principles and the ideas of the Founding Fathers. The group adhered to a detailed constitution, one that mimicked the language of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence in its call for the “preservation of the inalienable Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness in a truly sovereign United States of America, ruled in accordance with Aryan Christian Precepts.”
Like Trump, Kuhn was a skilled entrepreneur. Under his leadership, the Bund was transformed into a money-making machine with interests that included publishing newspapers and other propaganda, sales of Bund ephemera and uniforms, and a nationwide constellation of family retreats. Though membership numbers are at best fuzzy (records were both secretive and poorly kept), the FBI believed there were some 5,000 to 8,000 Bundists, while the American Legion estimated the Bund had numbers upwards of 25,000. Kuhn claimed he had more than 200,000 followers.
Yet America’s wanna-be Fuhrer ultimately self-destructed. In 1939 he went to prison after being caught embezzling from the Bund coffers to fund his extramarital dalliances. Stripped of his American citizenship and sent to Sing Sing, Kuhn was deported after WWII back to Germany. He died there in 1951, broken and forgotten. ...