Shortly before noon on Aug. 25, 1967, a pale â€™58 Chevy pulled into a shopping center in Arlington. Out stepped one of the most hated men in America.
As the founder of the American Nazi Party, George Lincoln Rockwell had hung swastikas on the Mall and picketed the marches of Martin Luther King Jr. He had called for shipping blacks to Africa and sending millions of â€œCommunist Jewsâ€ to the gas chambers â€” all at a time when memories of World War II were still fresh.
Now, dressed not in his Nazi uniform but a simple white shirt and dark slacks, Rockwell grabbed his dirty laundry and headed into the Econ-o-wash, only to realize he had forgotten the bleach. As he climbed back into his car to return to Nazi headquarters â€” a large house a block away dubbed â€œHatemongers Hillâ€ â€” two shots rang out.
Rockwell died amid a flurry of Ivory Snow soap flakes.
For years, he had claimed his enemies were stalking him. But when police arrested the gunman minutes later, they identified him as 29-year-old John Patler: Rockwellâ€™s neo-Nazi protege.
The killing made international headlines and led to a bizarre standoff over the Naziâ€™s body. It also crippled his party, which soon sank back into obscurity.
But Rockwellâ€™s death did not dispel his ideas.
Half a century later, they were on display last weekend when hundreds of torch-carryingÂ neo-Nazis and white nationalists marched in Charlottesville.
Among todayâ€™s white supremacists, Rockwellâ€™s hate-filled books remain widely circulated. Even Rockwellâ€™s assassin, now an old man, still struggles to shake off his influence. And â€œWhite Power,â€ the term Rockwell coined months before his death, lives on in the movements of David Duke and the alt-right, which advocates for a whites-only state.
The Charlottesville rally was â€œinfused with Rockwellâ€™s ideology,â€ said Martin Kerr of New Order, the successor to the American Nazi Party.
â€œHe is the grandfather of the white racialist movement as it exists today,â€ he said of Rockwell. â€œTo see these many hundreds of racially conscious white men on the streets of Charlottesville, Iâ€™m sure he would have been very pleased.â€
After serving in World War II and rising to the rank of commander, Rockwell stumbled upon a copy of Hitlerâ€™sÂ Mein KampfÂ in a used bookstore and became obsessed with the racist manifesto. Rockwell, who once had fought against fascism, became convinced only it could save America. He moved to Arlington in 1955 and launched his party a few years later.
He initially ran his party out of a ramshackle house on Randolph Street in downtown Arlington. When police raided the swastika-draped den in April of 1959, they walked in on Commander Rockwell â€” as he liked to be called â€” and his followers celebrating Hitlerâ€™s 70th birthday with a cake.
When â€œExodus,â€ a movie about the founding of Israel, opened in Boston in 1960, Rockwell stood outside the theater in his Nazi uniform â€” earning him mention inÂ a Bob Dylan song. He and his troopers followed the Freedom Riders around the country in a â€œhate busâ€ covered in swastikas and picketed clubs that booked Sammy Davis Jr., whose wife was white. Rockwellâ€™s parents had been successful vaudeville performers and he had inherited their showmanship, earning himself the nickname â€œBarnum of the Bigots.â€
But those tactics gained him few followers. When Rockwell ran for governor of Virginia in 1965, he got one percent of the vote.
He saw the rapid rise of Black Power and decided to emulate it. At the urging of Patler â€” a short, dark-haired Greek American who had changed his name from Patsalos to Patler to sound more like Hitler â€” Rockwell began pitching his party to all whites, including southern and eastern Europeans it had previously shunned. Rockwell would eventually change its name to the National Socialist White Peopleâ€™s Party and even eschewed the swastika, according to the biography â€œAmerican Fuehrer.â€
â€œWe will make White Unity the biggest thing in history,â€ Rockwell wrote to Patler, a Marine marksman who had been discharged for wearing his uniform to Nazi rallies.
Rockwell believed White Power would carry him to the White House.
In aÂ 1966 Playboy interview, which began with Rockwell pulling out a pearl-handled revolver, Rockwell told black journalist Alex Haley that he planned on being elected Americaâ€™s first National Socialist president in 1972. â€œThe people will welcome a man who stands unequivocally for the white Christian majority,â€ he said.
Behind the scenes, however, his party was in turmoil. Some did not like the denazification. Rockwell and Patler, once like father and son, had a personal falling out that ended with Patlerâ€™s expulsion from the party in the spring of 1967. A few months later, two men â€” one of whom reportedly looked like Patler â€” shot at Rockwell as he returned to Nazi headquarters, then escaped.
TheÂ Arlington parking lot where George Lincoln Rockwell was killed on August 25, 1967. Rockwellâ€™s car is the white sedan at center. (AP)
On the morning of his death, Rockwell worked on his magnum opus â€” posthumously published as â€œWhite Powerâ€ â€” before heading to the Dominion Hills shopping center. Seconds before gunshots broke the midday humdrum, bystanders heard what sounded like footsteps on the roof.
The first bullet nicked Rockwellâ€™s shirt. But as he peered up through the shattered windshield at a figure perched atop the shopping mallâ€™s roof, a second bullet tore through his chest.
Rockwellâ€™s pipe fell from his mouth to the car seat. As the Chevy rolled backward, Rockwell crawled toward the passenger door and tumbled onto the asphalt.Â Witnesses said the fleeing gunman wore a yellow shirt, hat and a trench coat.
Fifteen minutes later, Arlington police officers spotted Patler, wearing a yellow shirt, his pants wet at the ankles, standing at a bus stop 1.5 miles away. They found a hat and trench coat hidden nearby. And the next day, they fished a German Mauser pistol out of Four Mile Run in Bon Air Park, between the bus stop and the crime scene.
The story stayed on The Washington Postâ€™s front page for more than a week as it took one strange twist after another. Before Rockwellâ€™s family could organize a burial, his Nazi followers attempted to inter him at Culpeper National Cemetery in Virginia â€” in a Nazi ceremony, complete with a swastika-draped casket.
Soldiers blocked their entrance. The American Civil Liberties Union backed the Nazis, but before a lawsuit could be settled, the Nazis smuggled the body out of an Arlington funeral home and secretly cremated it.
â€œYou donâ€™t mean they actually stuck the â€¦ in an oven?â€ Hank Burchard, a Post reporter who had infiltrated Rockwellâ€™s group while in college, asked Rockwellâ€™s second-in-command. Burchard was, he wrote, â€œstruck by the irony of the end of a man who had dreamed of sending â€˜the Jews that Hitler missedâ€™ to the ovens.â€
At trial, Patler denied killing his mentor. His attorney suggested it could have been another Nazi, upset with the direction Rockwell was taking the party. But the jury found Patler guilty. He was sentenced to 20 years.
â€˜Becoming poisoned againâ€™
The script in Charlottesville could have been cribbed from Rockwellâ€™s speeches.
â€œWhite lives matter! You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!â€ the men chanted as they carried tiki torches around the University of Virginia.
â€œWhite power!â€ they shouted at counterprotesters the next morning.
If white nationalism is now resurgent in America, it is partly due to Rockwell.
Rockwell paved the way for white nationalists like David Duke and Richard Spencer, according to Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Centerâ€™s Intelligence Project, which tracks hate groups.
â€œI donâ€™t know if weâ€™d have this type of activism or even this kind of president if there hadnâ€™t been a figure like that,â€ she said.
â€œHe had a very big influence on the resistance movement in this country to the destruction of European Americans,â€ agreed Duke. â€œHe brought attention to a lot of issues.â€
In Charlottesville, Duke echoed Rockwell, telling a crowd in Emancipation Park that â€œEuropean Americans face massive discriminationâ€ and were being â€œethnically cleansed in our own nation.â€
Spencer said Rockwellâ€™s Nazi uniform was â€œunproductiveâ€ but admired some of his tactics.
â€œThere was a trolling aspect to what he was doing, so you could connect him to some of the trolls on Twitter,â€ he told The Post. â€œShock can be a positive means to an end.â€
Among the millions of Americans dismayed by the violence in Charlottesville was an adjunct professor of African American history at West Virginia State University.
Sitting in a McDonaldâ€™s in Mississippi, where he is doing research for a book on black leaders during Reconstruction, Nicholas Patler saw the hatred on a television screen and couldnâ€™t help but think of his father.
John Patsalos, as he is again called, served a decade in prison before being released in the early 1980s. He is now 79 and lives in New York City. The man who once illustrated hate magazines for Rockwell now ekes out a living as a freelance cartoonist.
His fatherâ€™s hatred â€œinspired me to explore different things,â€ he said of his decision to study African American history. His students donâ€™t know about his father, he said. But in 2013, Patler penned an afterword to another Rockwell biography, â€œFor Race and Nation,â€ in which he said his father had been traumatized as a child. Patsalosâ€™s father had killed his mother, and Patsalos was now ashamed of his time as a Nazi. â€œToday he describes that time as a period of â€˜temporary insanity,â€™ â€ his son wrote.
Over the past two years, however, Patler has seen his father change again.
â€œI donâ€™t know what the climate is doing to him,â€ he said. â€œNow it seems like, little by little, heâ€™s becoming poisoned again.â€
Two days after Charlottesvilleâ€™s â€œUnite the Rightâ€ rally left a 32-year-old counterprotester dead and many others injured, Patsalos praised the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who descended on the college town.
The remains of the man he killed are kept in an ivory urn with a photo of Rockwell on one side and a swastika on the other, said Kerr, who helps run New Order, the successor to Rockwellâ€™s American Nazi Party. Kerr refused to reveal more about Rockwellâ€™s ashes.
â€œWe want to keep them in a secure location until a time when we can inter them properly,â€ he said.
â€œWeâ€™re not at the end of the Rockwell wave,â€ Kerr added. â€œWeâ€™re at the beginning.â€
……Outstanding video by “the Lindgren” on Hitler
…… For my own extensive involvement with Rockwell’s NSWPP:
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Part 1 of 2 .https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBfrG5aMWj0
Part 2 of 2 .https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o3AwvcsDEA
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