In Part 5 of our miniseries on Hitler's American Friends from author Bradley Hart, we learn about famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, one of America's biggest celebrities, and his political campaign of anti-Semitism.
On September 11, 1941, one of America’s most famous celebrities took to a stage before a raucous crowd in Des Moines, Iowa.
This was famed aviator Charles Lindbergh—nicknamed Lucky Lindy—addressing a crowd of America First supporters three months before Pearl Harbor. For months, Lindbergh had been traveling the country giving similar speeches opposing U.S. entry into the war in Europe. Tonight’s speech was different, though. There were, he told the crowd that evening, three groups that had conspired to draw the country into the conflict: “the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt Administration.” Together, he continued, these groups had executed a plan to draw the country into war gradually by building up its military and then manufacturing a series of “incidents” to “force us into the actual conflict.”
Lindbergh poured particular ire on the Jews. “Jewish groups in this country,” he told the crowd, should realize that in the event of war “they will be among the first to feel its consequences.” Individual Jews, he concluded, presented a unique danger to the United States because of their “large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our Government.” Despite the alleged machinations of these groups, Lindberg reserved hope that they might cease their efforts to push the U.S. toward war. If that could be managed, he said, “I believe there will be little danger of our involvement.”
Lindbergh’s address that night created a huge national controversy. It was covered on Page 2 of the New York Times and in most of the country’s major papers. Letters poured into newsrooms and America First headquarters both supporting and denouncing Lucky Lindy. Even Franklin Roosevelt’s press secretary weighed in and compared the remarks to recent statements coming from Berlin. In just a few minutes on stage, Lindbergh damaged his reputation to a degree from which it would never recover.
But what had taken a once-beloved American hero to these depths? Why did one of the country’s most popular celebrities endorse anti-Semitism and become one of Hitler’s key American friends? To understand Lindbergh’s remarks on that Iowa night, we have to look at who he truly was, and the company he kept in the critical years before 1941. The answers to those questions, as we will see, are troubling.