By Kalkidan Ausink and Elaine Simmons
The establishment of the American Nazi Party in Arlington in 1958 raised the same questions we face today about the right of free speech vs. an intolerance of offensive, hate speech. Also at issue is how aggressive local and state government should be in trying to banish a group engaging in a range of loathsome and illegal activities, such as trailing and heckling civil rights Freedom Fighters, making a bomb threat where Jews congregated, and assaulting a 13-year-old boy.
The founder of the Nazi party, George Lincoln Rockwell, was the son of vaudeville comedians who knew Jack Benny and Groucho Marx. He served in World War II and the Korean War before stumbling across Hitler’s Mein Kampf, after which he became obsessed with Aryanism and the threat of communism. Rockwell had once fought against fascism only to convince others that it would save America.
Rockwell’s Nazi Party operated from several swastika-bedecked locations in Arlington, including what is now Upton Hill Park (then nicknamed “Hatemonger Hill”), 928 N. Randolph St in Ballston, and 2507 North Franklin Rd in Clarendon, which is now Sweet Science coffee house.
Rockwell’s party attracted few members, and he relied on financial support from his mother all his life, but he found enough benefactors to support his activities–at least minimally, since there were reports of many unpaid bills. He received over 6,000 votes for Virginia governor in 1965.
However, governments and citizens did push back. Rockwell and his supporters were arrested 36 times in a 3-year period in the 1960s. In 1961, residents formed a group called Citizens Concerned and lobbied the state to revoke the Nazi Party’s charter. In 1962, the Virginia General Assembly declared Rockwell’s group an enemy of the state. In 1964, the IRS denied access to the Randolph St. headquarters after Rockwell failed to pay $7,000 in taxes.
The 49-year-old Rockwell was assassinated by a former deputy in 1967 while at a laundromat on Wilson Boulevard. He was found dead in the parking lot – ironically, with his box of Ivory Snow laundry detergent. Though weakened, the party carried on in Arlington, marching with a swastika-adorned drum corps in Arlington’s Bicentennial parade in 1976. It also celebrated “White Pride Day” with members of the Maryland Ku Klux Klan at Yorktown High School in 1983, where the only arrests made were of anti-Nazi protestors who were booked for trespassing. Shortly before the 1983 event the party announced it was moving to Wisconsin, citing a lack of local support for its mission.
NOTE: This article draws heavily from The Assassination of an American Nazi by Charles S. Clark, ArlingtonHistoricalSociety.org. We highly recommend reading this fascinating article.