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When Fascism Comes to America...
January 18, 2006 7:17 AM   Subscribe

Corporate Interest Plot to Overthrow US Government. Approximately 72-years ago, the predecessor to the House Un-American Affairs Committee, known as the McCormack-Dickstein Committee, investigated claims made by Marine Corps General Smedley Butler that a vast right-wing conspiracy funded by the American Liberty League (Wiki) (funded by US Steel, Goodyear, DuPont, Morgan-Stanley, Chase-Manhattan, Remington Arms, and others) with backing from some of America's wealthiest citizens (such as Al Smith and Irene DuPont) and various Wall Street interests (1930s American Business seemed to be pro-fascism as a hedge against communists and socialists to protect their own wealth in the face of the Great Depression).  Their goal was to overthrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt and install a military dictatorship in order to stop FDR's New Deal and its "redistribution of wealth" and to enact fascist policies to protect the economy and their investments. [more inside]
posted by rzklkng (51 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Butler's cooperation was solicited by promising him a 500,000 man army and playing on his loyalty to his troops (they maintained that WW1 soldiers were due a bonus - they insisted it be paid in gold).

The cover story was to be that Roosevelt had fallen ill, with Gerald C. MacGuire giving Major General Smedley Darlington Butler assurances that:
"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..."
Butler, having allies in Congress and the Press, decided to testify. The American press, including the New York Times and Time Magazine, largely ignored the matter, as did the American populace. Despite ample corroborating evidence, no indictments ever resulted from the hearings, and the Congressional Record was scrubbed of any embarassing statements and references to the business elite, with no full and complete transcripts existing to this day. Transcripts and PFS of the committees findings can be found here.
posted by rzklkng at 7:18 AM on January 18, 2006


Yeah, well, they lost that battle, but they won the war. See Abramoff and Co.
posted by spicynuts at 7:26 AM on January 18, 2006


I have been meaning to read up on this, since I was shocked to first really hear about it not long ago. Amazing, that this could be planned/nearly implemented and the companies behind it are still around today. Does that make Chase/DuPont the godfathers of modern society or something? thanks for these links. my printers will be humming...
posted by Busithoth at 7:30 AM on January 18, 2006


I really puts everything into perspective...they want democracies and free markets, because with reduced government oversight and strong corporations, they infact are the government. And by they, I mean all of that mindset, which exists in both of our political parties. Perhaps the second ammendment IS the important one?

I suspect that todays wealthy elite are simply following the precedent by their predecessors - dismantling our democracy for some quasi-fascist-economacracy.
posted by rzklkng at 7:35 AM on January 18, 2006


Previously.
posted by ND¢ at 7:36 AM on January 18, 2006


The 72-year links are interesting, too. I think that this incarnation of the republic, the Fourth, stems from the interpretation of Congress being able to regulate business via the Commerce Clause...which enables the mechanism for their obedience to be bought.
posted by rzklkng at 7:38 AM on January 18, 2006


As usual, Cecil Adams has looked into this.
posted by TedW at 7:38 AM on January 18, 2006


ND¢ , actually a triple, dammit.
posted by rzklkng at 7:39 AM on January 18, 2006


Still really interesting though.
posted by ND¢ at 7:40 AM on January 18, 2006


smedley butler was the best marine ever, i think. two medals of honor, for chrissakes, and the balls to call it like he sees it.

amazing. most marines go for chesty puller, of course, and dan daly was awesome as well. but my vote goes to mgen butler.
posted by taumeson at 7:43 AM on January 18, 2006


I wonder if this Gen. Butler was the inspiration for Smedleyman's nom de MeFi?
posted by alumshubby at 7:43 AM on January 18, 2006


Anyone ever written a novel about this plot? No, not the Roth book.
posted by johngoren at 7:47 AM on January 18, 2006


alumshubby - yes, I believe it was.
posted by longbaugh at 7:50 AM on January 18, 2006


Anyone ever written a novel about this plot? No, not the Roth book

Almost. See Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here.
posted by Rothko at 7:54 AM on January 18, 2006


I think the conspikracy worked and the country has been taken over.
posted by Postroad at 7:55 AM on January 18, 2006


This story has also made it onto the History Channel, as well.
posted by Atreides at 8:04 AM on January 18, 2006


I don't understand your statement about the Congressional Record's being scrubbed of references. Committee hearings transcripts aren't normally published in the Record, and the linked article includes a passage that was inserted into the Record. Sure, maybe full transcripts don't exist, but that doesn't mean they were scrubbed from the Congressional Record.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:06 AM on January 18, 2006


MrMoonPie, that's an error on my part - the committee transcripts as recorded by the GPO are incomplete.
posted by rzklkng at 8:17 AM on January 18, 2006


Absolutely fascinating and great links. I'll be coming back to this for sometime. Thanks.
posted by Acey at 8:23 AM on January 18, 2006


These are not the corporate fascists you are looking for.
posted by nofundy at 8:30 AM on January 18, 2006


Also, here's a list of individuals and groups who funded American Liberty League, including a Rockefeller, a Widener, a Heinz, a Hearst, a Pew, and Douglas MacArthur.
posted by rzklkng at 8:32 AM on January 18, 2006


Thanks for the clarification, rzklkng.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:36 AM on January 18, 2006


Yeah, this is not news, but it never ceases to amaze me every time I revisit it.

The most perplexing thing to me is that it had such limited political fallout. Why did the "left" or "progressive" side of American politics not use this, make it almost a national holiday to remind the people? You have to admit, even if your a righty, that it is a baffling waste of political ammunition.

Think about it: shortly afterwards, the right managed to take us into the McCarthy period, demonizing the left as a cabal of unpatriotic traitors. And they continue to make hay with this tactic. But here we have the most well-documented, extensive and serious attempt to actually take down the government, and it comes from the right. This is an important historical and symbolic lesson. Why has it been forgotten?

And it continues to this day. Like a lot of us here, I'm an anti-authoritarian lefty. If I lived in a left-wing dictatorship, I'd oppose it vigorously as a perversion of the ideals I believe in. But in the US, the real threat has always been authoritarianism from the right , pretty much along a line between plutocracy and theocracy, and pretty much since our foundation (but most catastrophically during the Civil War). But mainstream progressives have almost always (at least since the time of FDR) reticent about saying so. The most recent examples that come to mind are the OK City bombing, the escapades of Rudolph, and perhaps even the anthrax attacks after 9/11.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:52 AM on January 18, 2006


Just For The Record
posted by hortense at 8:56 AM on January 18, 2006


Wikipedia's entry seems to be Business Plot. The Business Plot talk page is some interesting reading. It made me a little more scheptical. Smedley Butler's story sounds credibly though...
posted by Chuckles at 9:01 AM on January 18, 2006


Ugh, sometimes I think editing causes more errors in my posts than the direct stream of typing that comes out of my finger tips -- then I read a post like the above...

The other thing that is interesting about the talk page is how easily people choose ideological sides in debates like this... I'm very sympathetic to mondo dentro's position, but I feel I need a lot more information about the historical period to evaluate some of the evidence. That adds another very significant aspect to the debate though, it isn't just the Business Plot that has been forgotten, the Great Depression as a whole is under emphasized.
posted by Chuckles at 9:13 AM on January 18, 2006


I’d say the overthrow happened..maybe not the way it was thought to happen..but it happened.
posted by wyldeboi at 9:25 AM on January 18, 2006


“Perhaps the second ammendment IS the important one?”

*trots out ‘I told you so’ soapbox*
I’m still wondering why no one gave Ken Lay - et.al. the Marie Antoinette treatment.
I think a jury would have a rough time convicting someone who’s life savings, pension, children’s collge money, etc. etc. was stolen so the Enron cadre could buy solid gold toilet seats (or whatever).

----
Yeah. Two time winner of the CMH. Straight shooter. Principled. (Eventually) enlightened. How can you not admire a guy like that?
----

“Why did the "left" or "progressive" side of American politics not use this, make it almost a national holiday to remind the people?” - mondo dentro

I agree, it’s odd. I think part of it relates to what Tommy Lee Jones said in MIB. “A person can be smart. People are stupid.”
The Machiavelli thing - you run things because people think you run things.

I suspect it’s a concession by people who are in the political game to keep the game itself in legitimacy. If people realize they are more or less on their own (so goes the reasoning) they could freak.
Sort of like training a tiger or a horse, whatever. I’ve patted tigers on the head. The animal didn’t rip me to peices because it thought it’s handler was stronger than it was.

So - by that reasoning - you don’t want people knowing you are not as in control or competant as you appear to be. Which is silly. It’s the horse that runs anyway. Most “modern” political theory is still hundreds of years out of date. Poor engineering if you ask me. (And religion....sheesh.)

Just speculation tho.

Also instructive - that era saw the creation (by a fat, seat polishing advertising executive *cough*) of the American Protective League(also on Wiki).
So - while I somewhat agree with Cecil Adams that those who tried to overthrow the govt. were a small group of crackpots - they were crackpots with a lot of money and they were riding the zeitgeist and in cohoots with the G.

They could even show you their stinkin’ badges.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:54 AM on January 18, 2006


I’d add mondo dentro - that this kind of thing may appear to have it’s genesis in the right, but it is more of a corruption or failing the right is vulnerable to. Much like the left seems to be vulnerable to the (stereotypical) bomb throwing anarchists or pure idealists who ignore the practical (communists, e.g.)
/slight derail - I’d argue that while economically there was a schizm during the civil war - it was folks on the right who were the abolitionists. (Pretty lengthy argument there though - I’m willing to cede to a variety of errors made by that incarnation of the “right” wing - but I resist that label since it’s so outdated)

That said I agree that - currently - in the US - the threat is from this corruption in the right.
As a conservative, I do in fact, vigorously oppose it as the perversion of the ideals I believe in.
It’s awful lonely here sometimes though. Too damned many cheerleaders not enough players.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:00 AM on January 18, 2006


When you consider that some of the biggest names in the USA -- Ford, Bush, Watson -- were involved with supporting or profiting by the Nazi regime... well, is there any doubt that these men would not do all they can to secure their family's ever-lasting power and wealth?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:17 AM on January 18, 2006


Forget it, Jake, it's Rollerball. (The 1975 classic, not the sucky 2002 remake, which is rollberball.) "Ladies and gentlemen, will you stand please for the playing of our Corporate Hymn."
posted by kirkaracha at 10:17 AM on January 18, 2006


I have also attached the final draft of the TA support info document.

I agree, Smedleyman. I tried to make that clear, and I'm glad you emphasized it.

This could (but won't cuz I'm busy at work) split off into a much-needed discussion of what "left" and "right" really mean, a revisiting of the "political compass" (that is, the need to move beyond 1D political characterization) and the like. As a libertarian, secular, "lefty", I have a lot more in common with certain "righties" and "evangelicals" than I do with those on the authoritarian left, militant atheists, etc.

I would also love to hear your theory on the Civil War. Perhaps in another thread...
posted by mondo dentro at 10:21 AM on January 18, 2006


One other quicky: I think it's a mistake to be too glib in equating deep authoritarian impulses (fascist or stalinist or some other yet-to-be created "ist") with mere corruption. Widespread corruption is both a consequence and a tool of authoritarianism, but if what we are facing (a subversion of the constitutional basis of our republic) were merely "corruption", I'd be a hell of a lot less upset.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:24 AM on January 18, 2006


I have also attached the final draft of the TA support info document.

Wow. That was one of the most ridiculous cut and past errors EVAH.... :(
posted by mondo dentro at 10:27 AM on January 18, 2006


FDR, by any reasonable standard, was a criminal. He forced everyone in the nation to turn in their gold in exchange for paper dollars. He then immediately devalued the dollar, reducing its value by about a third.

In other words, he forcibly expropriated a third of the wealth of the ENTIRE COUNTRY, to try to pay for the monetary missteps of the 1920s. (which is the real cause of the huge stock market bubble and ensuing crash in the 1920s, leading to the Depression of the 1930s.)

I'm not saying that what they did was justified, but FDR's mass expropriation of wealth was among the worst crimes ever committed by a standing President.
posted by Malor at 10:30 AM on January 18, 2006


I’d add mondo dentro - that this kind of thing may appear to have it’s genesis in the right, but it is more of a corruption or failing the right is vulnerable to.

Well, the labels - left and right - just don't really correlate with how people actually are. In fact, they are practically useless, except that most people 'know what you mean'...

I very much agree about the vulnerability to corruption aspect of your argument, for example, but in my day-to-day language 'the right' is synonymous with the corruption you speak of. It is completely erroneous of course, I mean, anarcho-leftists and hard core libertarians have similar goals... But my experience, the political messages around me, my knowledge of western history in the last 2-3 hundred years (which conveniently leaves out Soviet communism, even though it does belong in the analysis, so it is another error) all points to that usage.
posted by Chuckles at 10:33 AM on January 18, 2006


I'm not saying that what they did was justified, but FDR's mass expropriation of wealth was among the worst crimes ever committed by a standing President.

What do you mean "forced"? Did he use extra legal means? Gulags? What?
posted by mondo dentro at 10:35 AM on January 18, 2006


if that's the worst crime committed by a US President, then I want another of the worst criminal minds in the Presidency. (I guess Bush is just a lickspittle criminal mind)
posted by Busithoth at 10:38 AM on January 18, 2006


It is completely erroneous of course, I mean, anarcho-leftists and hard core libertarians have similar goals...

I guess that depends on what you mean be "similar". Are plutocrats really the same as corrupt left-wing populists, like, say, Pol Pot? Do motives matter? Note: I'm not saying either of these is "good" or better then the other. Far from it.

conveniently leaves out Soviet communism

I don't disagree in the abstract (I believe I made that clear), but I would argue that a discussion of Stalinism/Maoism is irrelevant to an analysis of authoritarian impulses in the US, at least those with any serious chance of success. Both AIDS and ebola are very scary diseases, but as an American I would do well to take the former much more seriously than the latter.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:41 AM on January 18, 2006


mondo dentro: a revisiting of the "political compass"

Yes, of course. That is only slightly more useful though... Well, it is a lot more useful, but it still doesn't come close to defining the problem. I always think of this in terms of linear algebra - vector spaces, orthonormal bases, and eigenspaces, etc. - but I will resist.
posted by Chuckles at 10:46 AM on January 18, 2006


That is only slightly more useful though.

Yeah, but that's a standard problem of reduction of dimension. How many features are really needed to characterize the political position of an individual? But, 2 is certainly better than one--at the very least, it illustrates the problem of the usual left vs. right splitting in a concrete way. I think another dimension of a metaphysical nature might be interesting...

I always think of this in terms of linear algebra - vector spaces, orthonormal bases, and eigenspaces, etc. - but I will resist.

Me too! One could very usefully cast the goal of "framing" as an attempt to change coordinates in the political feature space, in order to make "left" and "right" (which is, after all, just "us" and "them") lie along a different line.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:52 AM on January 18, 2006


A Comparison Of Three Wartime Leaders
Philip Greenspan
posted by hortense at 11:02 AM on January 18, 2006


Both AIDS and ebola are very scary diseases, but as an American I would do well to take the former much more seriously than the latter.

Absolutely, that is why the day-to-day language usage works, but it can also be an intellectual trap. This is made a lot worse by Orwellian language manipulation. I guess you already said all this, damned preview!

Do motives matter?

I don't know.

Motives definitely matter to the individual! If we aren't comfortable with each others motives we will have a very hard time communicating... I can't figure out how or if that applies at a historical scale though.
posted by Chuckles at 11:05 AM on January 18, 2006


And of course, for fictional military coups nothing beats Seven Days in May with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster and The Manchurian Candidate with Frank Sinatra.
As far as the possibility of current plutocrats taking over the country, I just don't feel we live in a representative democracy so much as a cronyistic plutocracy and have for some time now. There's no hope, there's no hope, there's no hope. . .
posted by mk1gti at 11:09 AM on January 18, 2006


kirkaracha - I love that movie.

“but if what we are facing (a subversion of the constitutional basis of our republic) were merely "corruption"” - I agree. I misused the term corruption. I meant corruption of ideals. Perhaps subversion or misrepresentation would be a better term.

“...in my day-to-day language 'the right' is synonymous with the corruption you speak of...”
Yeah. In operation vs. political theory becomes a problem. And conservative is often synonymous with “right”. It’s tough because both sides are so often sold a bill of goods.

We should probably use the exact terms “plutocrat” etc. - but then those folks so often conceal their motives or even honestly identify themselves with “the right” or whatever, when they are actually clueless about the philosophy.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:22 AM on January 18, 2006


Check out this short discussion from a George Orwell site: past and present - can somebody explain? The replies are why it is interesting, but you have to click them, there doesn't appear to be any way to view them inline.
posted by Chuckles at 11:29 AM on January 18, 2006


This is fascinating stuff, but we'll probably never know exactly what went down (just as with the Kennedy assassination). Cecil Adams (in TedW's link) concluded the most likely possibility was:

The plot never got further than a small cadre of screwballs. The simplest explanation in my book. Though MacGuire dropped lots of big names, Butler had contact with only three conspirators--MacGuire, Clark, and the other American Legion official who'd tagged along on the first couple visits. Clark had a reputation as an eccentric. MacGuire was well wired, predicting political developments with uncanny accuracy, but that proves little in itself. Maybe the plotters figured if they got Butler on board everybody else would fall into line. Who's to say they wouldn't have? Look at the bridge club's worth of geniuses who got us into Iraq.
posted by languagehat at 11:55 AM on January 18, 2006


American business is still pro-facism. Why is this a surprise?
posted by j-urb at 4:35 PM on January 18, 2006


I find it useful to describe myself as fiscally conservative, socially liberal.

I hate to see the government waste my money; at the same time, I hate to see people suffer due to no great fault of their own.

Thus, I support a progressive social network encompassing healthcare, counseling, education, and employment; and I support progressive taxation, tax simplification, closing of tax loopholes, and balanced budgets.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:43 PM on January 18, 2006


Well, the labels - left and right - just don't really correlate with how people actually are. In fact, they are practically useless, except that most people 'know what you mean'...

Thank you. finally somebody points out that spatial metaphors are utterly inadequate for the reality of politics.
posted by tranceformer at 3:01 PM on January 19, 2006


What do you mean "forced"? Did he use extra legal means? Gulags? What?

He made owning more than $100 worth of gold illegal, and punishable with a 10K fine, and up to 10 years in prison.
posted by thirteen at 5:20 PM on January 19, 2006


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