American Nazi Party

Extremist Groups: Information for Students. Volume 1. Detroit: Gale, 2006.


The American Nazi Party, founded in 1958 as the Union of Free Enterprise National Socialists by the late George Lincoln Rockwell, sought domination of the world by white Christians. In imitation of its ancestor, the National Socialist Party of Germany headed by Adolf Hitler, the American Nazis were virulently anti-Semitic and racist. They chiefly worked for the extermination of Jews, but also supported the removal of African Americans from the United States and the end of the United Nations, as well as the supremacy of men over women.

When the group changed its primary focus from anti-Semitism to civil rights opposition, Rockwell changed its name to the National Socialist White People's Party. Never especially large, the Party effectively died with the assassination of Rockwell by another Nazi in 1967.


The American Nazis, a paramilitary organization, formed in 1958 as part of a right-wing reaction to the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Fearful of communist world domination, Rockwell and his supporters saw conservatism as only a weak reaction to communism. They believed that fascism was the opposite of communism and that the only way to defeat the "Red Menace" coming from the Soviet Union was to embrace fascism. As Rockwell stated, the American Nazis believed themselves to be the shock troops of Americanism and the vanguard of a right-wing revival.

The theme of patriotism runs through most of the utterances and publications of the American Nazis. Rockwell and his followers emphatically stated that they were not Germans and were not emulating the Germans. Although they wore swastikas, they strictly prohibited the wearing of German Nazi uniforms or insignia, did not "goose-step," and did not use German titles. They stressed that they were Americans and that many of the original members of the American Nazi Party had served in the United States Armed Forces. However, as noted in the Official Stormtrooper's Manual, Rockwell typically signed his name under the salutation, "Heil Hitler!," referred to his young male supporters as "storm troopers," and stated his admiration for the Germans and the principles of National Socialism.

The U.S. government regarded the Nazis with suspicion. In 1960, at about the same time that Rockwell was being drummed out of the Navy for his Nazi beliefs, the House Un-American Activities Committee placed the American Nazi Party on the "to be watched list" as a subversive organization. Rockwell did not have any better luck with foreign governments. He joined British Nazi Colin Jordan in forming the World Union of National Socialists (WUNS) in July 1962. Rockwell hoped to set up a system of Nazi parties in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Austria, France, Ireland, and Belgium. However, he was seized by Scotland Yard in August 1962 and expelled from Britain. (British villagers, showing a distinct lack of support for Nazi principles and alerted to the presence of Rockwell by the London newspapers, raided the camp where the Nazishad been staying in the hope of catching the American leader, but just missed him.) WUNS never became established.

More talk than action, the American Nazi Party never had more than 100-250 active members scattered across the country. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, the American Nazi home base consisted of a townhouse for the use of Rockwell and a handful of young men who slept in barracks within the home. Rockwell enjoyed the title of commander and his always-armed storm troopers spent much of their time participating in drills. In the early 1960s, the tiny Virginia group included New Yorker Daniel Burros, a rabid anti-Semite who fantasized about torturing Jews with piano wires attached to electric batteries. Burros turned out to be a troubled Jew who committed suicide in 1965 after exposure as a Nazi by the New York Times. The Nazis were never especially well-funded, partly because the troops had trouble finding employment and partly because the quick-tempered Rockwell had the habit of antagonizing financial backers with his sharp tongue.

In 1966, Rockwell shifted the primary focus of the Nazis away from anti-Semitism to anti-black activities. He changed the name of the group to the National Socialist White People's Party. The changes reflected pressure within the Nazi Party to embrace the new "White Power" movement that had risen in response to civil rights gains. The shift was not much of a stretch. The Nazis had always insisted that the various races differed in intelligence and creative ability. Firm believers in the separation of the races, they proposed that a new nation be established in Africa and that black migration be encouraged. Rockwell organized a "white guard" to oppose civil rights marches and led a counter-protest in Chicago that prompted his arrest for disorderly conduct.

With the shift in strategy, the American Nazi Party seemed poised to capitalize on the intense racial conflict of the 1960s. The white guard units attracted quite a bit of favorable notice from white supremacists. However, Rockwell's death in 1967 prevented the organization from becoming a major partner in the rising White Power movement. Matt Koehl assumed leadership of the Nazis after Rockwell's death. Koehl declared that the white supremacy movement could not be stopped by the bullets that killed Rockwell. However, Rockwell's group could not survive without him and collapsed within a year of his murder.

Philosophy and Tactics

Although notably anti-Semitic and racist, the American Nazi Party viewed itself primarily as an anti-communist organization. Rockwell, in the Official Stormtrooper's Manual, declared that the American Nazi Party was not any different, fundamentally, from the original concepts of the Republican and Democratic Parties in that it sought to create a wholesome social, economic, and political organization by lawful means. In an interview with a psychiatrist after an arrest for disorderly conduct, he declared that he was not against Jews, but communists, and that most Jews were communists and those that were not communists were active in covering them up. Claiming that most non-Jewish Americans hated communism, race-mixing, and moral subversion as much as the Nazis, he repeatedly tried to paint the organization as an all-American one.

Rockwell's definition of "wholesome" included genocide. Expecting the Nazis to come to power in the early 1970s, he proclaimed in 1962 that "Jews are already talking about smelling the gas," a reference to the Nazi-run gas chambers that killed millions of Jews during the Holocaust in World War II. An anonymous Nazi Party member further declared in the mid 1960s that "We are not going to stop the world's master crooks, the Jews, and their nigger-communist army by any fancy-pants education or prayers or anything else except legal force—trials and convictions and the gas chamber." The Nazis advocated the use of eugenics to guide the sterilization of lesser races, chiefly blacks, and to promote the reproduction of the "best human stock," that of the white race.

Despite Rockwell's grandiose proclamations, the American Nazi Party never resembled a well-oiled political machine. Too small to stage mass demonstrations, the Nazis generally selected targets with the aim of getting publicity. In their first act, they picketed the White House with anti-Semitic signs because such an event made a good photo opportunity for the press. In May 1961, to protest the Freedom Riders trying to integrate public transportation in the South, Rockwell organized a "Hate Bus." The Nazis painted the bus with anti-black and anti-Jewish slogans and took the same route as the Freedom Riders, until they were turned back in New Orleans. Whenever a play or movie on any controversial subject opened, the Nazi picketed the opening with their signs and uniforms with the objective of gaining press attention. For the opening of the Jewish-themed film Exodus in 1961, they became involved in a near riot. Some of Nazi tactics amounted to no more than petty vandalism, such as defacing the property of Jewish organizations with swastika stickers. Members were convicted of assault, disorderly conduct, and unlawful possession of weapons, among other charges.

Whenever Rockwell spoke, Nazi storm troopers would stand around in uniforms and swastika armbands in the hope of provoking a confrontation that would garner publicity. Rockwell had his troopers wear the swastika symbol to attract attention and because it was the symbol of the white race. He claimed that the Party had to organize along military lines to defend itself from persecution by political opponents. Before a talk, Rockwell would notify the local police to ensure protection as well as to draw crowds and the press. Often, he would call the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish defense group, so that the Jews would have time to prepare a protest. Rockwell knew that Jewish hecklers would mean more publicity.

Heavily dependent on Rockwell, the Nazis did not develop a new philosophy or new tactics after his death. Without their charismatic leader, the group could not function.

Other Perspectives

The American Nazi Party found no supporters in the mainstream media or in academia. Roger Raba, in his work on Nazi literature, reported that the Anti-Defamation League declared the Party to be "a political nonentity and certainly no meaningful menace," but nevertheless a symbol of evil that needed to be totally rejected. In response, Rockwell argued in the Official Stormtrooper's Manual that "because the American Nazi Party recognizes the vicious subversive and parasitic nature of many Jews and does not fear to tell the truth about this dangerous subject, the Party is brutally and unfairly persecuted by almost every social and governmental organization in America."


A product of the anti-communist hysteria of the mid-twentieth century, the American Nazi Party also formed part of the nascent White Power movement. Always a very small organization, the Nazis were too dependent upon Rockwell to survive the death of their leader. Within a year after Rockwell's 1967 assassination, the organization virtually ceased to exist. Its members drifted into other white supremacist groups, particularly Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan.