Judge rejects revised Texas voter ID law

A Dallas polling station is pictured. | AP

Voters walk through a polling station in Dallas on Nov. 8. | LM Otero/AP

An appeal is promised after a court rules that the state’s process still discriminates against minorities.

A federal judge has ruled that changes Texas made to its voter identification law earlier this year did not go far enough to render the state’s policy constitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos said the new legislation, passed in May and signed in August by Gov. Greg Abbott, failed to address all the aspects of the 2011 law that the judge found intentionally discriminated against African Americans and Latinos.

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Ramos blocked both the new measure known as Senate Bill 5 and the old one referred to as Senate Bill 14.

“SB 5 does not meaningfully expand the types of photo IDs that can qualify, even though the Court was clearly critical of Texas having the most restrictive list in the country,” Ramos wrote in a 27-page order issued Wednesday.

“For instance, Texas still does not permit federal or Texas state government photo IDs — even those it issues to its own employees. SB 5 permits the use of the free voter registration card mailed to each registered voter and other forms of non-photo ID, but only through the use of a Declaration of Reasonable Impediment,” the judge added. “Because those who lack SB 14 photo ID are subjected to separate voting obstacles and procedures, SB 5’s methodology remains discriminatory because it imposes burdens disproportionately on Blacks and Latinos.”

Ramos said the main beneficiaries of the changes the Texas legislature made were elderly people whose IDs are expired, but “according to the evidence at trial, that class of voters is disproportionately white.”

The judge, an Obama appointee, also rejected a work-around in the new law that allows prospective voters who lack acceptable ID to sign a statement choosing from six listed reasons why they couldn’t get ID. The form also warns voters they could be prosecuted for perjury if they lie in the statement. A similar system was used on an interim basis during the November 2016 election.

“Requiring a voter to address more issues than necessary under penalty of perjury and enhancing that threat by making the crime a state jail felony appear to be efforts at voter intimidation,” Ramos wrote. “The record reflects historical evidence of the use of many kinds of threats and intimidation against minorities at the polls — particularly having to do with threats of law enforcement and criminal penalties.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed to appeal the decision.

“Today’s ruling is outrageous. Senate Bill 5 was passed by the people’s representatives and includes all the changes to the Texas voter ID law requested by the 5th Circuit,” Paxton said. “The U.S. Department of Justice is satisfied that the amended voter ID law has no discriminatory purpose or effect. Safeguarding the integrity of elections in Texas is essential to preserving our democracy. The 5th Circuit should reverse the entirety of the district court’s ruling.”

Spokespeople for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision, but civil rights groups hailed the ruling.

“Once again, a federal court has shut down a discriminatory voter ID law in Texas. Judge Ramos’s decision recognizes that a State cannot escape the consequences of its pernicious conduct without completely eliminating all vestiges of discrimination,” Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“African-American and Latino voters will now be able to vote in Texas without any of the suppressive effects of Texas’s ill-conceived and unnecessary photo ID law.”


How the Burden of Afghanistan Could Fall on Trump’s Supporters

In his Afghanistan speech this week, President Donald Trump announced that while his “original instinct was to pull out,” he will nonetheless be sending more American troops—it wasn’t clear how many—into the country. “Since the founding of our republic,” Trump said, “American patriots from every generation have given their last breath on the battlefield for our nation and for our freedom.”

But, for all his lofty rhetoric, Trump might come to regret this decision. In a recently released research paper, we examined the relationship between states’ and counties’ casualty rates in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their electoral support for Trump. What we found was a significant correlation between war casualty rates and Trump votes. In fact, we think three states key to Trump’s victory—Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—might have swung the other way if they’d had even modestly lower casualty rates.

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Our findings suggest that Trump drew support from American communities that have seen first-hand the human costs of war—and could pay those costs again with coming escalation in Afghanistan. Trump’s Afghan gambit, in other words, risks retribution at the ballot box in 2020.

Trump’s iconoclastic campaign for the presidency was often short on clear policy proposals. But one area in which he distinguished himself from his opponents, in both the primaries and the general election, was foreign policy. While he sounded traditional Republican notes demanding increased military spending, he also starkly denounced America’s military misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan: He routinely called both conflicts “total disasters” and “wastes of money,” and pledged that his administration would put “America first” and avoid the “stupid wars” of its predecessors.

Trump didn’t directly address the class and cultural gaps in military sacrifice in America, but his rhetoric likely resonated with the small slice of the country hardest hit by recent wars. Today, less than 1 percent of the nation’s population has served in theater in Iraq or Afghanistan, while those who have died or were wounded in battle in those wars comprise less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the nation’s population. And these people are disproportionately drawn from communities that are more rural, less wealthy and less educated—communities that are often labeled a key part of the Trump base.

Might these Americans’ anger, frustration and sadness over these wars have propelled Trump to victory? We set out to answer this question by looking at the relationship between state-level U.S. casualty rates (per million residents) in Iraq and Afghanistan, as tracked by the Defense Department, and Trump’s vote share in each state, relative to GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s in 2012. (This allowed us to control for the fact that Republicans generally might do better in high-casualty constituencies.)

We found that Trump significantly outperformed Romney in places that shouldered a disproportionate share of the war burden in Iraq and Afghanistan. True, Trump surpassed Romney’s share of the two-party vote in 40 of 50 states. But, as the figure below shows, Trump was particularly successful in states that had suffered higher casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We then examined data from each of the nation’s more than 3,000 counties, where the disparities in wartime sacrifice are even more extreme. At the county level, we were able to control for a range of other variables—including each county’s median income, educational level, racial demographics, urban-rural balance and military veteran population. Again, we found strong evidence that Trump was particularly successful in high-casualty constituencies.

Trump’s inroads in these communities, where many voters had abandoned Republican candidates in the 2000s, may have been pivotal. Our state-level regressions suggest that if three states key to Trump’s victory—Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—had suffered even a modestly lower casualty rate, all three could have flipped from red to blue and sent Hillary Clinton to the White House.

Americans who lost friends, family members and neighbors in the war in Afghanistan may have seen Clinton, who backed President Barack Obama’s decision to send more troops there, as supportive of those efforts; Trump’s isolationist rhetoric, on the other hand, likely seemed refreshing. But what now? Trump, persuaded by the foreign policy establishment and brushing off the advice of his now-ousted strategist Steve Bannon, is expanding the very war he once so strongly criticized. In doing so, he joins George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and virtually every other mainstream politician in overlooking the inequality of military sacrifice today in America.

Can Trump get away with it? We don’t think so. Already, important elements of the Trump base—led by Bannon and the Breitbart News machine—are pushing back against the president’s reversal. And our research suggests that if Trump wants to win again in 2020, he should be wary of amassing more casualties from overseas wars. As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently observed, casualties always pose risks to political leaders. But these risks are particularly acute for Trump, as they would fall heavily on his political base.

The foreign policy establishment might be cheering Trump’s decision. But his strongest supporters aren’t rooting for the establishment. And they won’t be rooting for Trump if their family members and neighbors return
from Afghanistan’s war zone dead and wounded. Trump finally listened to the experts in the room. But, unfortunately for the nation and for his electoral fortunes, this is one time he should have stuck with his instincts.


Trump clashed with multiple GOP senators over Russia

Donald Trump privately vented his frustration over Russia-related matters with at least two other Republican senators this month, according to people familiar with the conversations — in addition to the president’s public admonishments of Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and Jeff Flake.

Trump expressed frustration over a bipartisan bill sanctioning Russia and tried to convince Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that it wasn’t good policy, according to three people familiar with the call. Trump argued that the legislation was unconstitutional and said it would damage his presidency. Corker was unrelenting, these people said, and told Trump the bill was going to pass both houses with bipartisan support.

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“He was clearly frustrated,” one person said of Trump’s call with Corker earlier this month. The bill cleared Congress overwhelmingly last month and Trump grudgingly signed it on Aug. 2.

Trump dialed up Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on Aug. 7, two days before a blunt call with the Senate majority leader that spilled over into a public feud. Tillis is working with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) on a bill designed to protect Robert Mueller, the independent counsel investigating the president’s Russia connections, from any attempt by Trump to fire him.

The Mueller bill came up during the Tillis-Trump conversation, according to a source briefed on the call — the latest signal of the president’s impatience with GOP senators’ increasing declarations of independence from his White House. Trump was unhappy with the legislation and didn’t want it to pass, one person familiar with the call said.

A Tillis spokesman confirmed the date of the senator’s call with the president but declined to comment on the substance or tone of the conversation. A Corker spokeswoman described the late July conversation as a “productive conversation about the congressional review portion of the Russia sanctions bill.”

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said, “We do not comment on private conversations the President has with members of Congress. We are committed to working together on tax relief, border security, strengthening the military, and other important issues.” A separate statement from the White House press secretary Wednesday said that Trump and McConnell “will hold previously scheduled meetings following the August recess to discuss these critical items with members of the congressional leadership and the President’s Cabinet. White House and leadership staff are coordinating regarding the details of those meetings.”

The earlier, private calls offer more evidence of Trump’s uneasy relationship with congressional Republicans. Trump has angered McConnell with a damning critique of the Kentucky Republican’s performance on repealing Obamacare and threats to try to take out Flake (R-Ariz.) — a vocal Trump critic — in a Republican primary next year.

Trump’s chewing out of GOP senators, according to people briefed on the calls, reflected the president’s frustration that fellow Republicans would make moves that could damage him, particularly on an investigation that he detests. Trump also complained about the Russian sanctions measure in a call with McConnell earlier this month that devolved into shouting. The New York Times first reported that Trump discussed the Russia probe with McConnell.

“It seems he is just always focused on Russia,” one senior GOP aide said.

Since coming into the West Wing, chief of staff John Kelly has tried to curb Trump’s unscheduled interactions with legislators, senior administration officials say. Trump has been known to see a senator on TV or think about an issue and immediately ask White House assistant Madeleine Westerhout to dial the senator.

But Kelly has asked that senior White House aides, such as legislative affairs head Marc Short, be present for the calls‚ and for Trump to be briefed in advance on the topic.

No matter what Kelly does, Trump and the Senate GOP are in for a rough September, a month that’s shaping up as pivotal for his presidency. Along with his attacks on various Republican senators, Trump’s aides and advisers are touting polls that show Congress is more unpopular than Trump — and that they’re prepared to run against the quintessential Washington institution.

Trump’s insistence on funding his long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall promises to further strain relations with Senate Republicans, who must secure at least eight Democratic votes in order to keep the government funded past Sept. 30. But the president appears unconcerned with helping McConnell navigate that challenge, declaring Tuesday night in Phoenix: “If we have to close down the government, we are going to build that wall.”

Any wall funding will almost certainly be a deal-breaker for Senate Democrats. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) underscored that with tweets Tuesday rejecting reports of a potential White House-initiated immigration deal involving border wall money.

Democrats, aware of their leverage heading into next month’s talks on government funding, are urging McConnell and his GOP to ignore the president’s threat.

“There’s a big task in front of us that requires bipartisanship, and may require bucking the president, and that’s keeping the government funded,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said. “We saw back in April, when the White House was making threats on the wall, that Republicans ignored those threat. We need to have that happen again to avoid a disaster at the end of September.”

Several senior Senate Republicans gave a cold shoulder Trump’s wall plans before leaving Washington for this month’s recess. They floated a $15 billion border security bill that emphasizes “smart, multi-layered infrastructure” — but not the president’s proposed physical barrier.

Still, Trump’s team is keeping up the pressure on the chamber that failed him on Obamacare repeal. His campaign’s joint fundraising arm with the Republican National Committee launched an online appeal this week urging supporters to directly lobby the GOP Senate for a “down payment” on the wall.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pushed back Wednesday during an appearance in Oregon, declaring that “I don’t think anyone’s interested in having a shutdown. I don’t think it’s in our interest to do so.”

Trump and McConnell are expected to meet for the first time following the president’s jabs at the senator after this month’s recess.

“We have regular meetings, and the White House and members of the congressional leadership have been working on the next meetings after recess,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said by email. “But any scheduling announcements will come from the White House.”

McConnell’s office later released a statement that sidestepped Trump’s shutdown threat but declared their mutual commitment “to fund the government so we can advance our priorities in the short and long terms,” alongside tax reform, infrastructure funding, and other top priorities.

“The President and I, and our teams, have been and continue to be in regular contact about our shared goals,” McConnell said, before outlining the party’s agenda. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we are committed to advancing our shared agenda together and anyone who suggests otherwise is clearly not part of the conversation.”


When Nazis Filled Madison Square Garden

Anxious to find precedents for the frightening and ultimately deadly white nationalist, “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, some media outlets have likened the images of the recent mayhem in Virginia, with the chilling ones of the German-American Bund rally that filled Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939 with 22,000 hate-spewing American Nazis.

That rally, the largest such conclave in U.S. history, shocked Americans at the time. They had seen the press accounts and newsreel footage of the Nazis’ massive Nuremburg rallies; they had read about Kristallnacht, the murderous, two-day anti-Semitic pogrom of November 1938, which the Bund—the fast-growing, American version of the German Nazi party, which trumpeted the Nazi philosophy, but with a stars-and-stripes twist—had unabashedly endorsed.

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But that was in Europe. This was America. New York City. For Americans wondering if it could happen here, the Bund rally provided the awful answer.

“22,000 Nazis Hold Rally In Garden,” blared a front-page headline in The New York Times. Inside, photos captured the restless throng of counter-protesters outside the arena and the Bund’s smiling uniformed leaders. “We need be in no doubt as to what the Bund would do to and in this country if it had the opportunity,” the Times opined in an editorial later that week. “It would set up an American Hitler.”

Some 78 years after the Bund rally at Madison Square Garden, a new generation of hectoring troglodytes descended on Charlottesville, Virginia. In 1939, Brown Shirts at Madison Square Garden felt emboldened to seize a Jewish protester who had rushed the podium where the Bund’s German-born leader, Fritz Kuhn, was speaking, and beat him near-senseless. In 2017, members of the so-called “alt-right” held a torchlight rally in Charlottesville, and the next day, one of those white nationalists went even further and allegedly used his car to mow down anti-Nazi protesters, killing a young woman, Heather Heyer.

Those who have studied the Bund’s rise and fall are alarmed at the historical parallels. “When a large group of young men march through the streets of Charlottesville chanting, ‘Jews will not replace us,’ it’s only steps removed from chanting ‘death to the Jews’ in New York or anywhere else in the 1930s,” says David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “When those young men chant ‘blood and soil,’ it conveys the same meaning as those decades before who chanted ‘blut and boden,’ referring to the Nazi glorification of and link between race and land.”

“I don’t see much of a difference, quite frankly, between the Bund and these groups, in their public presence,” says Arnie Bernstein, the author of Swastika Nation, a history of the German American Bund. “The Bund had its storefronts in New York, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles—today’s groups are also hanging out in the public space, but in this case, they’re on the internet and anyone can access their ‘storefronts,’ or websites, and their philosophy, if you can call it that, is essentially the same.”

For the Bund, the unnerving 1939 Madison Square Garden rally was at once the organization’s high point and—as a result of the shock and revulsion it caused—its death knell. It’s too soon to know exactly what effect Charlottesville—which was smaller, but more violent than the Bund’s 1939 demonstration—will have on white nationalists or how the American public, which is still processing the horrific event, will ultimately respond to it. Will Charlottesville be the beginning of the end of this reborn generation of American Nazis? To foretell where we could be headed, you need to know how the Bund’s version of it all played out 78 years ago—and how this time is different.


The rise and fall of the German-American Bund in the late 1930s is essentially the story of the man behind it: Fritz Julius Kuhn.

A German-born veteran of the Bavarian infantry during World War I, Kuhn was an early devotee of Adolf Hitler who emigrated to the United States for economic reasons in 1928 and got a job as a factory worker for Ford. After a few years in the U.S., Kuhn began his political career by becoming an officer with the Friends of New Germany, a Chicago-based, nationwide pro-Nazi group founded in 1933 with the explicit blessing of German deputy führer Rudolf Hess.

At the time, imitation Nazi parties were sprouting up throughout the world, and, at least initially, Hess and Hitler hoped to use them to incorporate new areas, particularly in Europe, into the Greater Reich. But soon, FONG’s low-grade thuggery—coercing American German-language newspapers into running Nazi-sympathetic articles, infiltrating patriotic German-American organizations, and the like—became a nuisance to Berlin, which was still trying to maintain good relations with Washington. In 1935, Hess ordered all German citizens to resign from FONG, and recalled its leaders to Germany, effectively putting the kibosh to it.

Kuhn, who had just become a U.S. citizen, saw this as his chance to create a more Americanized version of FONG, and he seized it. With his new GermanAmerican Bund, Kuhn had a vision of a homegrown Nazi Party that was more than simply a political group, but a way of life—a “Swastika Nation,” as Bernstein calls it.

Although Kuhn dressed his vision in American phraseology and icons—he approvingly called George Washington “the first American fascist”—the Bund was, in fact, a clone of its Teutonic forebear, transposed to U.S. soil. In deference to his Berlin Kamerad, Kuhn gave himself the title of Bundesführer, the national leader. Just as Hitler had his own elite guard, the SS, Kuhn had his, the Ordnungsdienst or OD, who were charged with both protecting him and keeping order at Bund events. Although the OD were forbidden to carry firearms, they did carry blackjacks and truncheons, which they had no compunctions about using on non-fascist heads, as they did at an April 1938 Bund meeting in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan, when seven protesters were injured by members of the OD.

Like the German Nazi Party, the Bund was divided into different districts for the eastern, western and midwestern sections of the country. The Bund also had its own propaganda branch, which published a newspaper as well as the copies of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s testament, which all Bund members were required to buy. Kuhn also oversaw the establishment of a score of gated training and summer camps with Teutonic-sounding names like Camp Siegfried and Camp Nordland in rural areas around the northeast, where his card-carrying volk could be indoctrinated in the American Nazi way, while their dutiful fraulein polished their German cooking skills and their brassard-wearing kinder could engage in singalongs while practicing their fraternal Seig Heils. Every so often, Kuhn would pull up in his motorcade, bless the proceedings and deliver himself of a sulfurous Hitler-style harangue—in English.

In effect, the Bund was its own ethnostate, as today’s neo-Nazis would call it. And it worked: By 1938, two years after its “rebirth,” the group had become a political force to be reckoned with. Its meetings each drew up to several thousand visitors, and its activities were closely followed by the FBI. With the anti-Semitic radio broadcaster Rev. Charles Coughlin having faded from the national scene following FDR’s landslide second-term win, Kuhn was now the country’s most vocal and best-known ultra-right leader and anti-Semite.

It was just as the führer would have wished. Except that the führer didn’t wish.

One year ahead of the outbreak of World War II, Berlin still hoped for good relations with Washington. The Reich refused to give Kuhn’s organization either financial or verbal support, lest it further alienate the Roosevelt administration, which had already made clear its extreme distaste for the Nazi ideology. Berlin went so far as to forbid German nationals in the United States from joining the German American Bund.

The führer’s brush-off didn’t deter Kuhn and his volk, who continued to sing the Reich’s praises.

Nor did they mind the Kristallnacht of November 1938, the nationwide German pogrom set off by the assassination of a German diplomat by a Jew in Paris, which led to nearly 100 deaths, scores more injuries and the decimation of what remained of German-Jewish life. Comparing the assassination to the attacks on Bund meetings by anti-Nazis—the spiritual predecessors of today’s so-called antifa—its propagandists claimed the Kristallnacht massacre was a justifiable act of retribution. The Bund’s endorsement of the horrific event increased the American public’s hostility toward it, while causing the most prestigious German-American organization, the Steuben Society, to repudiate it.

That didn’t discourage Kuhn either. Now, he decided, as the sea of opprobrium rose around him, was the moment to step into the spotlight and show just how strong the Bund was.

That’s what the Madison Square Garden rally was about. On the surface, the conclave, billed as a “Mass Demonstration for True Americanism” was supposed to honor George Washington on the occasion of his 207th birthday. But the unprecedented event was really intended to be the German-American Bund’s apotheosis, proof positive to America and the world—as well as Berlin—that the American Nazis were here to stay. “The rally was to be Kuhn’s shining moment, an elaborate pageant and vivid showcase of all he had built in three years,” Bernstein wrote in his 2013 book. “Kuhn’s dream of a Swastika Nation would be on display for the whole world, right in the heart of what the Berlin press called the ‘Semitized metropolis of New York.’”

Although the mass demonstration was intended for Bund members, walk-ins from sympathetic Nazi-minded American citizens also were welcome. Kuhn had big dreams: One of the posters that adorned the hall optimistically declared, “ONE MILLION BUND MEMBERS BY 1940.”

Skeptics wondered whether the bundesführer would be able to fill the massive arena. Any doubts on that score were quickly allayed, as the 20,000 Nazi faithful who had driven or flown in from every corner of Swastika Nation filed into the great hall. Meanwhile, an even larger crowd of counter-demonstrators, eventually estimated at close to 100,000, filled the surrounding Midtown Manhattan streets.

New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and Police Commissioner Lewis Valentine were prepared for both the Nazis and their adversaries, wrapping the Garden with a security cordon of 1,700 policemen—the largest police presence in the city’s history—including a large contingent of mounted officers to keep the two sides apart. LaGuardia, an Episcopalian whose mother was a Jew, loathed the Bund, but he was determined to see to it that the Bundists’ right to freedom of speech would be respected. Americans could judge the poisonous result for themselves.

Inside the Garden, things went pretty much according to Kuhn’s faux-Nuremberg script. As drums rolled, an honor guard of young American Nazis marched in bearing the flags of the U.S. and the Bund, as well as the two fascist powers, Nazi Germany and Italy. One by one, the various officers of the Bund stepped forth to extol America (or their version of it) and condemn the “racial amalgamation” that had putatively taken place since the good old unmongrelized days of George Washington. Anti-Semitism, naturally, was a major theme of the venomous rhetoric that issued forth as the newsreel cameras rolled.

Finally, after being introduced as “the man we love for the enemies he has made,” the jackbooted bundesführer himself stepped up to the microphone to deliver one of his trademark jeremiads, scoring the “slimy conspirators who would change this glorious republic into the inferno of a Bolshevik Paradise” and “the grip of the palsied hand of Communism in our schools, our universities, our very homes.” When he paused, he would be greeted with shouts of “Free America!” the new Bund greeting that had replaced, Seig Heil!, but with the same intonation and raised arm salute.

According to Kuhn, both the federal government and New York City government were Jewish agents. Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose antipathy for Nazism was a matter of record—“Nazism is a cancer,” he said—was actually “Frank D. Rosenfeld.” Free America! District Attorney Thomas Dewey was “Thomas Jewey.” Free America! Mayor LaGuardia was “Fiorello Lumpen LaGuardia.” Free America! And so on.

Of course, Kuhn’s followers had heard it all before. Now it was time for the world to listen. The people would rise up, and as Kuhn’s role model, Joseph Goebbels, the Third Reich’s minister of propaganda put it, the storm would break loose.

The storm was certainly rising, both inside and outside the Garden.

The only alteration to the script took place when, halfway through Kuhn’s speech, a young Jewish counter-protester by the name of Isadore Greenbaum decided that he couldn’t bear Kuhn’s diatribe anymore and spontaneously rushed the podium and attempted to tackle him.

He almost made it. On the newsreel footage of the rally shown in movie theaters throughout the country the following weekend, viewers could see Kuhn’s shocked visage as the Jewish kamikaze shakes the podium. Next, they saw the hapless Greenbaum set upon by a gaggle of furious OD men, who covered him with blows before he was finally rescued by a squadron of New York policemen. It was all over in a moment—but it was a moment that horrified America: a bunch of Nazis beating up a Jew in the middle of Madison Square Garden.

The bundesführer took the interruption in stride. Kuhn proceeded with his speech.

And then it was over, and the thousands of Nazi faithful dutifully exited the arena. As far as the Bund was concerned, the rally was a success—a shining moment for America’s most prominent fascist. But the rally further angered Berlin, which was then preparing to go to war with the Allies—a war Germany still desperately hoped the U.S. would steer clear of.

LaGuardia was proud of the way his city and his police force had handled the Bund’s rally. At the same time, the orgy of hatred at the Garden sealed his determination, along with that of Thomas Dewey, to take down Kuhn, and the Bund along with him, by investigating his suspicious finances (the married Kuhn liked to party and kept a number of mistresses, evidently, at the Bund’s expense).

A subsequent inquiry determined that the free-spending Kuhn had embezzled $14,000 from the organization. The Bund did not wish to have Kuhn prosecuted, because of Führerprinzip, the principle that the leader had absolute power. Nevertheless, with the implicit blessing of the White House, Dewey decided to go ahead and prosecute.

On December 5, 1939, Kuhn was sentenced to two-and-a-half to five years in jail for tax evasion. On December 11, 1941, while he was locked away in Sing Sing prison, Germany declared war on the U.S. Kuhn’s support for a government now actively hostile to America gave the federal government the pretext to revoke his citizenship, which it did on June 1, 1943. Upon Kuhn’s release from prison three weeks later, he was immediately re-arrested as a dangerous enemy agent. While Kuhn was in U.S. custody in Texas, Nazi Germany was destroyed, its quest for global domination permanently halted, and Hitler was dead. Four months after V-E Day, the U.S. deported Kuhn to war-ravaged West Germany. His dreams of a Swastika Nation had been smashed to pieces. He died in Munich in 1951, a broken man, in exile from the country he had sought to “liberate.”


To be sure, historical comparisons are, to an extent, folly. For all the similarities between the Bund’s 1939 rally and the white nationalists’ Charlottesville demonstration, there are substantial differences.

Fortunately, no one with Fritz Kuhn’s particular demagogic skill set has emerged to lead his neo-Nazi descendants, though there are those attempting to play the part. “I am worried that a Kuhn figure could marshal the disparate alt-right groups,” says Arnie Bernstein, “be it a Richard Spencer, David Duke or someone of that ilk.”

Another difference is while the Bund’s rally and the violence that spilled from it was denounced forcefully by America’s top political leaders, President Donald Trump’s half-hearted condemnation and shocking defense of the Charlottesville mob as including “very fine people” has no antecedent at least in modern American history. “We have a president blowing dog whistles loud and clear,” says Bernstein. “You never saw that with FDR.”

The Bund’s rally was at once the group’s apex and its death rattle. But it’s only in retrospect that one can make such pronouncements; nobody yet knows exactly what Charlottesville—and Trump’s response to it—will mean for the alt-right. “The striking ambivalence coming out of the White House” could help to galvanize Nazi sympathizers, says David Harris of the American Jewish Committee.

But much as the Bundgenerated images of Nazi barbarism and violence drove everyday Americans from apathy 78 years ago, “Charlottesville will also mobilize anti-Nazis to stand up and be counted,” Harris says. Much as the Madison Square Garden rally did on the eve of World War Two, says Harris, “I choose to believe the net effect will be to marginalize the ‘blut and boden’ fan base.”

Gordon F. Sander is a journalist and historian, and the son of two German-Jewish emigres. He is the author of The Frank Family That Survived and numerous other books.


New York PR maven Risa Heller drops Kushner Cos.

Jared Kushner is pictured. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo.

The move to drop Kushner companies, the family real estate company of Jared Kushner (pictured), came amid widespread outrage over Trump’s response to neo-Nazi and white nationalist protests in Charlottesville. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo.

Crisis management consultant Risa Heller has dropped Kushner Companies, the family real estate company of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, as a client, according to two sources familiar with the arrangement.

Heller dropped the client earlier this week after representing the company for just over a year and a half — longer than many of her predecessors working in media relations with Charlie Kushner, a famously acerbic boss and convicted felon, have lasted in the job.

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The move came amid widespread outrage over Trump’s response to neo-Nazi and white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Heller’s work with a real estate client was not political — but it bled into that realm after the election, when she served as a spokeswoman for Jared Kushner, before he joined the White House, and then for his wife, Ivanka Trump.

Heller was hired by the president’s daughter last Christmas, before she expected to take an official role in the administration. Heller helped oversee the rollout of Ivanka Trump’s self-help book, “Women Who Work,” earlier this year, and helped handle her ethics disclosures, but wrapped up her work with her client in July.

Heller’s involvement with two of the most prominent members of the Trump family and administration has roiled New York City political circles, where the one-woman crisis management machine has long been known as a straight-talking Democratic operative, known best as a former spokeswoman for New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, and as a close friend and adviser to former New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner. She now heads up her own firm, Risa Heller Communications.

“Risa is incredibly talented, driven and passionate,” Ivanka Trump told Buzzfeed last April. “She is a formidable advocate and respected by all as a trustworthy and honest broker of facts.”

Heller, a source familiar with the arrangement said, is leaving on good terms with the Trump kids.

Heller declined to comment.