It Can Happen Here

Dorothy Thompson

Brattleboro Reformer/March 28, 1936

“I am very remorseful. It’s a funny thing, but I never had a feeling that I wanted to kill anybody that I can remember. I was under an illusion. I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into when I joined up two years ago.”

The speaker was Dayton Dean, a city employee of Detroit, who was admitting to the peculiarly horrible murder of Charles A. Poole, a W. P. A. worker of the same town, on the date of May 13.

“We wanted it to be a necktie party with ropes and regalia.” said Dean. “That would make it more impressive. But some of the cars got lost. We got tired of waiting, and so I shot him. I thought it was my job.”

And with the death of Poole the Michigan police authorities began an investigation which in the last few days has uncovered a fantastic organization running across state lines, of yet undiscovered ramifications, of “white male Protestants,” pledged to “defend the United States and the Constitution”; to dominate politics in city and county and state; to exterminate anarchists, Communists, Catholics, Negroes and Jews; to restrict immigration and deport all undesirable aliens; to support and participate in lynch law; to arm its members for civil war, while pledging them by a blood oath to absolute secrecy and absolute obedience to their superiors, and eventually to establish a dictatorship in America.

See in your imaginations these men, gathered together at night, in some remote place. They wear black or white hoods to conceal their faces. They wear black or white robes—purchased from the organization; worth $1.25, price $7. Guards with pointed revolvers cover them. They are addressed by a chaplain, the servant of “white Protestantism.”

“Remember,” he whispers, “Our purpose is to tear down, lay waste, despoil and kill our enemies. Mercy . . . has no place in the fighter’s outfit. We recognize but one power (death) to separate us in the hour of peril . . . we are bound by ties stronger than honor.”

“They are questioned by the commanding officer: Do you believe in a Supreme Being? A future reward, and punishment? Can you ride a horse, drive a car, shoot a rifle? Do you believe in White supremacy? Would you lie if ordered by your superior? You may be required to do some service on a higher plane than ordinary night riding. And for that you must take an oath in blood.”

They scratch their arms and swear the Black Oath, the Blood Oath. They accept for themselves “for roof the sky, bed the earth, and for reward death.” And in the name of God and the Devil they swear to exterminate the minorities of this country: the radical political minorities, the religious and racial minorities. By blood and fire and murder. By arson and mayhem. “I will show no mercy, but strike an avenging arm.”

Who are these men, standing in the darkness, swearing such oaths, later to be translated into action? “Good people from all walks of life who were brought to their senses when Communism and other isms invaded the United States from other countries,” their leader, a Michigan milk inspector, Arthur Lupp, testified. Who are these men? Poor folk. Hillbillies from the mountains of the South invading Detroit looking for work. “One purpose was to get jobs for members.” None of those questioned were unemployed. Several said they had got jobs through other members. Whom do they hate? Life, which has treated them badly. Who is to blame? Some scapegoat is to blame. The niggers, working in the fields that should be theirs. Or the Jews. Do they not keep the prosperous shops? Or the Communists . . . aren’t some of the papers full of the Communist peril? Or the trade unionists, who enlist the skilled and leave the unskilled. Or the Catholics, who have a Pope in Rome. Or the foreigners who take the jobs. These are to blame. Therefore exterminate them! We are poor and dispossessed. But we are white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. Our fathers founded this country. It belongs to us.

They are the poor, the credulous, the violent; little men, full of confused hatred. They are the gullible. The organization, they are told, dates back to Revolutionary days. It has thirteen officers, representing the thirteen original colonies. They have a direct link with the Ku-Klux Klan and its old night riders. “It came up again during the depression,” one leader testified. “In the North there is our true leader, who is descended from the man Quantrell, who originated the first Black Oath under General Forrest’s old night riders.”

They come into the organization unaware of its true purpose. They sign a simple pledge, joining an order to uphold the Constitution. They are lured into it by appeal to their basic racial prejudices, and with promises of recreational activities and business help. The rest is forced upon them. Betrayal of secrets is death. They are now members of a gang.

“It’s a funny thing. I never had a feeling that I wanted to kill anybody.”

The organization is not confined to Michigan. There was that affair a short time ago in Florida. “The Toledo Blade” reports the existence of the movement in Ohio. Echoes of it are everywhere. They are on my desk in the Herald Tribune. Here is Mr. Robert Edward Edmondson, of Washington, who invites me to join the “Christian Vigilantes.” He writes:

“Dear Madam: These two pamphlets are sent you by Post 22 of the Christian Vigilantes, in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who was foully murdered by the Jew Kikes. Over 170,000 copies of these two pamphlets have been distributed in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. Death to the Jew Infested league of Nations! Heil Hitler!”

Motto (says Mr. Edmondson) Please Learn by Heart Christian Nordic White America will, in the spirit of Hitler, keep the Jews and niggers in their place of Jim Crow Inferiority.

And he invites me to enlist in a war “against Jews, niggers, Japs, Chinese, all other colored un-Aryan swine, Communists, pacifists, strikers, internationalists, under the Radiant Cross of Jesus.”

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.

Or here is another correspondent, who informs me that I am only one of many thousands who have been circularized with the information that the murder of the Lindbergh baby was performed as an act of ritual by Jews in revenge against the Gentile world!

What can be done about it?

Mr. J. Edgar Hoover says the federal government can do nothing. The federal police can participate in action to apprehend kidnappers who have taken a person across state lines to hold him for ransom. But the Lindbergh law, it is argued, does not permit the federal government to track down those who kidnap and kill, not for gain, but because the superior has ordered it; because the victim is a Catholic or a Jew! It is forbidden to send obscene postal cards in the mails, but not literature enlisting my co-operation against a whole class of American citizens, and suggesting civil war. States reserve to themselves, under the Constitution, the right to lynch their own minorities. What the federal government can do, however, under the law is to investigate! Let us at least find out how widespread, how numerous are these murder bands!

Who is to blame? You and I are to blame. All of us who listen tolerantly to intolerant expressions of racial and religious prejudice, without registering our own indignation against such un-American ideas. All of us who tolerate without protest the theory that any man who strikes for better wages is a dangerous radical. All of us who accept lies which we are able to contradict. All of us who sit smugly by and think that It Can’t Happen Here!

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