“America First” were the two most surprising words to come out of President Trump’s mouth in his inaugural speech Jan. 20, 2017. Only the Los Angeles Times that day noted that it was “a phrase with an anti-Semitic and isolationist history going back to the years before the U.S. entry into World War II,” but the Anti-Defamation League had already asked Trump to drop the phrase during the campaign.
In addition to being the infancy of modern U.S. liberalism, the 1930s and early 1940s were a notable time for racism and anti-Semitism. The Depression spurred many whites to engage in parades by the Ku Klux Klan and lynchings; like Germans, some Americans scapegoated Jews as well as Blacks for their misfortunes.
The America First Committee started in September 1940 to oppose U.S. entry into World War II. At its peak it had 800,000 members in 450 chapters. The group swept up youths who were later notables, including future President Gerald Ford and future conservative writer William Buckley. It was a false-flag “pacifist” movement whose real aims became transparent over time.
The group’s leading spokesman was aviator Charles Lindbergh, known for his sympathies toward the Nazi regime. In a 1939 article in the Reader's Digest, Lindbergh wrote, “We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races.” Later, in a Des Moines speech delivered on Sept. 11, 1941, he declared, “Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences.”
The group was funded by Robert E. Wood of Sears-Roebuck and Robert R. McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, but included the notoriously anti-Semitic Henry Ford and Avery Brundage, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, who reportedly blocked two Jewish runners from participating in the U.S. track team at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.
More direct evidence of a Nazi connection emerged at the trial of the aviator and orator Laura Houghtaling Ingalls (a distant cousin of Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder). It was shown that she was a paid Nazi agent, had been receiving about $300 a month (equivalent to about $5,250 in 2017 dollars) from Baron Ulrich von Gienanth, a spymaster while officially second secretary at the German Embassy in Washington. Von Gienanth, testimony showed, encouraged Ingalls to participate in the America First Committee.
The Committee dissolved on Dec. 10, 1941, three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.