American Radicals, Left and Right

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June 29, 2015 5:58 p.m.

In 1939, a pair of mass rallies revealed the breadth of the American political spectrum on the eve of the Second World War. In February, the German-American Bund staged a pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden (top); in September, the Communist Party USA gathered in Chicago (bottom).

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Despite their apparent foreign allegiances, these extremist organizations from the far right and far left sought to depict themselves as wholly American. The “Star-Spangled Banner” was sung at each event, with attendees engaging in other patriotic displays. Each group appropriated an iconic president, too. The Bund claimed their vision of an America that was “patriotic, free from class hatred and political discrimination” originated with George Washington; the CPUSA, meanwhile, embraced Abraham Lincoln, whose fame as both the Great Emancipator and the Great Commoner fit their needs.

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