The Fascist and the Preacher: Gerald L. K. Smith and Francis Parker Yockey in Cold War–Era Los Angeles




FASCISM NEVER DIED. Reports of neo-Nazi and far-right activity crop up regularly, both in the United States and in Europe, in small towns and in cities from Copenhagen to Moscow. Until recently, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries seemed a thing of the past: the European past, that is. Some might suspect a resurgence of Hitlerism.

But if you dig through enough far-right websites today, you will find that, for many of those on the fringe, the Bible is no longer Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf but a book written by an American and published after World War II, a book that called for a “new” fascism. Predictably, perhaps, it was also one of the first books on record to assert that the Holocaust never happened. First published in 1948, the book was Imperium, written by an Illinois-born lawyer named Francis Parker Yockey.

From 1946 until his death in a San Francisco jail cell in 1960, Yockey was tracked across three continents by the US Government, which suspected (correctly) that he had been spreading anti-American propaganda in Occupied Germany and encouraging ex-Nazis to “stand up” to US authorities.

Yockey’s declassified FBI files show that during the 1950s he collaborated with ultra-right activists in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, while constantly on the run from FBI agents who wanted to question him. He successfully eluded them for over a decade. US Intelligence began tailing Yockey while he was residing in Germany back in 1946-’47. Incredibly, he had earlier been hired as a review attorney at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, where he worked surreptitiously to help some of the very Nazi war criminals he had been hired to prosecute.

In 1947, Yockey wrote Imperium, a 600-page book often described as “a modern-day Mein Kampf for neo-Nazis.” The book called for a “Resurgence of Faith and Authority” and declared fascism to be “the Spirit of the Age,” an amazingly wrongheaded reading of the world’s mood after the end of the war (Yockey had been declared delusional by the US Army and discharged in 1943).

Imperium is explicitly anti-American, expressing its author’s contempt for the United States as an irrelevant, mongrelized colony of Europe, with no future in what the author calls the coming “Age of Absolute Politics.” The United States, according to Yockey, was hopeless because it lacked what he called a “Culture-Bearing Stratum.” Remarkably, Imperium continues to attract readers and admirers on the American far-right to this day; since first being reprinted back in the early 1960s (by Noontide Press of California), it has never gone out of print.

If Imperium was a master’s thesis of fascist strategy, Yockey’s life was an attempt to carry it out. But the abrasive young man was not good at convincing others to do his bidding. “On a personal level, Mr. Yockey is unusually intelligent but tends to make enemies rather than friends,” one associate told FBI agents in 1955. Still, Yockey had collaborators all over the world. (“I am back on the wrong continent again,” Yockey wrote to one neo-Nazi comrade in 1951. He was referring to his native North America.)

For years, the author of Imperium crisscrossed the globe, spreading his message like some shadowy fascist James Bond. His intercepted letters, written to fellow fascists during the ’50s, were often signed “Torquemada,” after the infamous torturer of the Spanish Inquisition. He was, in other words, a bit nuts (or perhaps “brilliantly mad,” to quote one of his biographers).

Possibly the strangest incident in Yockey’s strange life was his brief alliance in Los Angeles with an infamous race-baiting “preacher” from Louisiana named Gerald L. K. Smith, whose fan base in the city during the 1940s and ’50s was surprisingly big. “He has been […] anti-Semite, anti-Negro, anti-Catholic and this list probably is incomplete,” wrote the Los Angeles Times in 1950. Even right-wing darlings of the time, such as the young Richard Nixon and Senator Joseph McCarthy, denounced Smith. In fact the “reverend” was far to the right of virtually everyone but full-on Klansmen and Nazis.

In 1950, Smith’s so-called Christian Nationalist Party held their annual three-day conference in downtown Los Angeles at the old Trinity Auditorium (which still stands today). Using a pseudonym, international fugitive Francis Parker Yockey was one of the featured speakers at the conference.

From the podium, Yockey delivered what he would later describe as “a tremendous speech” to the 3,000-plus attendees. The substance of his oration was that the Nuremberg Trials in Germany were a “sham,” that thousands of “white Christian Germans” had been convicted “without trial,” that “Jews control the world today,” and that “we will have a Nuremberg trial in this country someday.” The speech and the convention itself went unreported, save for a paid display ad in the Times. Generally, the Los Angeles press had long decided to “quarantine” the fire-breathing bigot Smith and his comrades from any news coverage.

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Who else was helping Smith stir up race-hatred in early 1950s Los Angeles? The surviving convention programs (now housed at UCLA Special Collections) reveal a motley assortment of long-forgotten Southern and Republican politicians, garden-variety hate pamphleteers, and some strange, racially motivated “activist” housewives:

John W. Hamilton, candidate for senator from Missouri, a former Communist Party member-turned-right-wing nationalist. (Another speaker named Kenneth Goff, “National Director, Christian Youth for America,” was also a former communist.)

Opal Tanner, a loyal Smith lieutenant and editor of his magazine The Cross and the Flag. She spoke against “mongrelization” of the white race in the United States, which seems to have been the main theme of the conference. (The Cross and the Flag regularly ran articles with titles like “The Satanic Will to Mongrelize,” “The Tolerance Racket,” “The Black Devil of Race Destruction,” and “The Brotherhood Bunk.”)

Don Lohbeck, another Smith operative, who gave a speech at the conference in which he said: “Only a pure race can be awakened and organized to fight for its liberty; a mongrelized people cannot withstand the vicious onslaught of the Jewish-Communist vanguard […] mongrelization will be the law under Communism.”

Congressman John Rankin of Mississippi, a leading segregationist who opposed anti-lynching laws and was fond of using the word “nigger” on the floor of the House. Smith’s magazine once carried a blood-red headline: “Congressman John Rankin Lists Jew Spies.”

M. W. Howard of Oklahoma, “important leader in the pro-segregation movement and the campaign against Communism in schools.”

So, a charming bunch. The image of a hall in Los Angeles erupting with applause to such orations beggars belief. We must conclude that this audience, at least in part, was made up of the tail-end of “the folks,” those aging Midwestern transplants who had settled in Los Angeles early in the 20th century and were now growing old, still resentful of Jewish Hollywood and wishing the Roaring ’20s had never happened.

When the conclave was over, Yockey hopped on the convention bus bound for St. Louis. During the trip, he revealed to Don Lohbeck that he cared nothing at all about Christianity or the United States, and the man told him to beat it. Yockey later confided to his brother-in-law that he had only contacted G. L. K. Smith in hopes that he would sell copies of Imperium through his Klan-flavored magazine.

Smith loved the reception he got in Los Angeles. “Tulsa is more naïve,” he wrote to a friend in 1951. “There isn’t the live, tense cheering and emotional demonstrations we get in Los Angeles.” Eventually, Smith would move to Glendale. According to his biographer Glen Jeansonne, Smith’s constant fundraising for the “cause” got good results out west: “California contributors, many from the Los Angeles area, supplied the largest number of big gifts.”

As for Yockey, the FBI files reveal that “Torquemada” spent time in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1950, 1955, and again from 1957 to ’59. The Bavarian-styled apartment building where he lived west of downtown Los Angeles still stands at 457 S. Witmer Street, in a neighborhood that has long ago become Central American.

In 1957, Bureau agents believed Yockey was “living in Los Angeles as a pimp or a gigolo.” The erudite fascist was also writing porn for quick cash, including a hardcore S&M booklet (later found in his suitcase) called Arduous Figure Training at Bondhaven. By this time, Imperium and Yockey were largely forgotten and ignored, at least for the moment.

And Gerald L. K. Smith and his ilk were becoming less and less acceptable, an embarrassing reminder of the United States’s capacity for turning out “Christian” racists and blowhard hate-hucksters. Smith was a relic languishing in Glendale, where he no doubt approved of that city’s then-unwritten law that blacks should stay inside after dark.

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“EX-U.S. AIDE ACCUSED IN MYSTERY PASSPORT CASE,” the L.A. Times reported on June 10, 1960. Four days earlier, according to the story, Francis Parker Yockey had flown from New Orleans to San Francisco, but his suitcase had gone astray. When opened by the authorities, it was found to contain three passports, all with different names but the same photograph. When Yockey came to retrieve it, he was arrested for passport fraud.

The FBI, cautious in its public statements about the “mystery man” would only say, “This is not a small fish. This is a man we are very, very interested in.”

Booked in the Oakland jail, Yockey immediately began threatening suicide, telling a cellmate he feared being placed “under a Jewish psychiatrist.” His paranoia now at full boil, Yockey swallowed poison in his cell on June 17, 1960. Torquemada was dead. According to one source, he was found in the cell in his underwear and wearing a pair of “SS-style boots.”

G. L. K. Smith (who had no comment about Yockey’s death) continued to preach hatred against blacks and Jews on the radio and in his magazine well into the 1970s. Needless to say, his aging audience, which included hardliners from the old anti-Roosevelt “America First” party, was shrinking. Toward the end, no one in California really knew he was there.

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Why had the US Government cared so much about Francis Parker Yockey?

Throughout the Cold War, Yockey the authoritarian was earnestly trying to convince former Nazis and others that the Russian occupation of Eastern Europe was a good thing, that “American-Jewish” consumerism was the “real” danger to the soul of Europe. In 1952, when Stalin himself suddenly initiated show trials against Jewish government apparatchiks in Czechoslovakia, Yockey (who was in Germany at the time) was cold-bloodedly ecstatic. In an essay that would appear in his Frontfighter newsletter and titled “What Is Behind the Hanging of the Eleven Jews in Prague?” Yockey announced that “the Prague Trials have gone off with an explosive roar to waken this European fascist elite to active resistance against the death plans being hatched for European Culture in Washington by American Jewry.” Urging that neo-Nazis play the Russian card, Yockey wrote, “by thus playing off Russia against the leadership of American Jewry, Europe can bring about its own liberation from the perils of Jewish Democracy imposed by American bayonets.”

Both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations knew what Yockey was up to; even G. L. K. Smith and his followers ended up judging him to be “a Communist.” A product of the Cold War, Yockey was so far right he could be considered, in a true sense, far left.

As for the legacy of Imperium and its author in the age of Brexit, rising Islamophobia, and a resurgent European right, Yockeyism exists today as a small but persistent underground ideology on the far-right fringe, with many white nationalists invoking the call for a united, race-based, fascist Europe, including Russia. To quote from the last page of Imperium:

The soil of Europe […] will once again stream with blood until the barbarians and distorters have been driven out and the Western banner waves on its home soil from Gibraltar to North Cape, and from the rocky promontories of Galway to the Urals.

In other words: From Ireland to all of Russia.

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Anthony Mostrom, a former Los Angeles Times columnist, is currently a book reviewer and travel writer for the L. A. Weekly.


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