The term “alt-right” was a hot-button word in the American media landscape during last year’s presidential campaign and election. To some people, the far-right wing ideology of the alt-right might have seemed like it appeared out of nowhere, but belief systems of this nature have been present in America, some more in the public eye than others, for many years.
In fact, during the 1960s, the American Nazi Party grabbed headlines and created controversy, all under the leadership of a man named George Lincoln Rockwell. The man who eventually founded and led the American Nazi Party was a decorated World War II and Korean War veteran born in Bloomington, Illinois in 1918. Rockwell’s parents were both vaudeville comedians, and his father’s friends included Groucho Marx and Jack Benny. He grew up traveling with his entertainer parents, and when they divorced, he split time New Jersey and Maine being raised by both parents.
Rockwell enlisted in the Navy in 1941, and eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, serving in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters in a number of capacities, mostly in reconnaissance and training. During the late 1940s and until the Korean War started, Rockwell worked as an illustrator and began his own advertising and publishing businesses. He also married and started a family.
Rockwell was called back into active duty in 1950 as a Lieutenant Commander to train pilots in San Diego. It was during this period in California in the early 1950s that Rockwell began to embrace anti-Semitic and anti-Communist ideology. He was influenced by the writings of Adolf Hitler, as well as the Communist witch hunts conducted by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. In 1952, the Navy assigned Rockwell to Iceland. Family members were not permitted to accompany Navy members to Iceland, so Rockwell was separated from his wife and children. The distance became too much, and Rockwell and his wife divorced.
During his time in Iceland, the Naval Commander became further radicalized. He read Hitler’s Mein Kampf at least a dozen times, and began to believe in the need for an American Nazi Party. Rockwell remarried an Icelandic woman in 1953. The couple honeymooned in Germany, near Hitler’s mountain retreat of Berchtesgaden. Rockwell began a new family with his Icelandic bride. In 1954, the Navy assigned George Lincoln Rockwell back to the United States, this time in Maine.
The next year, Rockwell and his family relocated to the Washington, D.C. area. He went back to his publishing roots, and started a magazine entitled U.S. Lady that catered to the wives of U.S. military personnel. The magazine was short-lived, and over the next few years, Rockwell flirted with right-wing groups and publications, moving his family to different cities, before ending up back in the Washington, D.C. area.