On the night of Feb. 20, 1939, 20,000 Nazi sympathizers gathered at a "Pro-America Rally" inside Madison Square Garden in New York City. They proclaimed George Washington the "first fascist" and mocked the man who was then president as "Franklin D. Rosenfeld." They characterized his New Deal as a "Jew Deal."
Outside the hall, 80,000 anti-fascist protesters gathered. Some fought with police while trying to get inside the Garden to shut down the Nazi event. I suppose someone might have said that there was hatred and violence on both sides, as President Trump said of the confrontation last weekend between neo-Nazis and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va., but history shows us which side was right and which was wrong.
Most Americans are poorly educated about their country's past, and the current president appears to be especially ignorant. Does Trump know that in the 1930s, thousands of Adolph Hitler's American admirers were politically active throughout the country? Has he heard of the Silver Legion of America, an anti-Semitic, white supremacist group that ran William Dudley Pelley for president on a third-party ticket in 1936?
Has Trump seen the photographs showing tens of thousands of white-robed Ku Klux Klan members marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington in 1925 and again in 1926? Can he recognize the names Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney? Does he know they were young civil rights workers who were killed by the KKK in 1964 because they were helping black Americans register to vote?
Dark forces have tried to control our society since the country's inception. Racists, anti-Semites and anti-immigrant bigots have always been among us. Sometimes they have been on the fringes; other times, they have held power in many states and in Congress. The reason new manifestations of these dreadful philosophies need to be resisted is that they are never completely defeated, and, if not opposed, they can gain in popularity and power.
Here's the disturbing question that now faces us: Is President Trump simply ignorant of this darker history, or is he fully aware and eager to be part of it?
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