North East Nazis and Anti-Fascist doo-wop

A few weeks ago I wrote about the way that the 1930s has become a ubiquitous metaphor for people who want to make a point about modern politics.  Not just any 1930s but the Hitler/Mussolini version.   Simon Sharma, who knows better, referred to Trump as a “Yankee Duce” in this weekends FT.

Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1939?

I made the off hand remark that Newcastle was a more fertile ground for Fascism in the 30s than Wearside.  I’ll admit that this was based partly on historical fact – the BUF offices were in Newcastle, and lasted a lot longer than they did in Durham.  It’s also based partly on my own recollections of the NF skins who followed Newcastle United in the 1970s.

I decided to test how accurate my views on Newcastle fascists were, and came up with the story of George Johnson Armstrong, a marine engineer from Newcastle, which was too good not to write about.

Armstrong had become radicalised by the BUF in the 1930s, and had strong Nazi sympathies.  He was probably recruited by a German agent Dr Carl Klein some time before the outbreak of war.

Armstrong travelled to the still neutral USA during 1940.  Here he approached the German consul in Boston and offered his services as a spy.   His mission seems to have been to betray shipping movements between the US and the UK to the Germans, and also to try and support US neutrality.

He was arrested by the US Immigration Service and held pending deportation. Apparently British authorities were tipped off by their American counterparts, because Armstrong was arrested on his return to Britain on the 23rd of February 1941.

Armstrong was tried on 8th of May 1941, before Mr. Justice Lewis, at the Old Bailey. The proceedings were held “in camera”.  He was charged with the following offence under the newly enacted Treachery Act 1940:

“On or about 19 November 1940, being a British subject in the U.S.A, with intent to help the enemy, did an act designed or likely to give assistance to the Naval, Military or Air operations of the enemy or to endanger life, to wit did write and endeavour to send a letter to Dr. Herbert Scholz, German Consul at Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A, offering his services, information and assistance to the said Dr. Herbert Scholz.”

Armstrong was found guilty.

He appealed his conviction  at the Court of Criminal Appeal 23rd of June 1941 and lost.

The story of what happens next is pretty grim, but given that today’s Sunday Express includes a call to bring back the death penalty it seems appropriate to give the details, so we are under no illusions what the death penalty means.

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He was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint, who kept meticulous records of everyone he executed.  Pierrepoints’ records show that Armstrong weighed 154 lbs and was thus given a drop of 7’ 3”.   British bureaucracy has a form for every eventuality, and form LPC4 was used to authorise and record executions.

Armstrong’s LPC4 records:

“Separation of the medulla from spinal cord. Fracture of hyoid and thyroid. Extensive injury to the medulla and brain stem. Spine dislocated between 5th and 6th vertebrae.”

He was the first traitor to be executed in World War 2.

If this is too bleak and ending for a Sunday morning cheer yourself up with this great bit of Anti-fascist doo-wop.

 

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C10887416

https://www.ft.com/content/0b189030-ddd1-11e8-9f04-38d397e6661c

Post script:

In the previous blog I made some jokes about daft Hitler documentaries on the History Channel.  This of course, is a real documentary broadcast last week:

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Kids in America

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I love America.

It’s one of my favourite places in the world. I have lost count of the number of times I have visited, and I still love it just as much.

Admittedly I only really go to the East and West Coast, and hardly ever to the bits in the middle, but I am not unusual in that.  Lots of Americans don’t go there either.

This isn’t a universally popular opinion among my middle class leftie friends, some of whom view the US as a wicked global imperialist power hell bent on taking over the world.  I don’t share that view at all.

I did claim rashly that I wouldn’t visit the US while Trump was in office, but my principles weren’t as strong as the allure of driving a Dodge Charger around Illinois.

This Dodge Charger in fact:

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Ladbrokes don’t think much of Trump’s chance in 2020, which means that this might be my only visit to America during Trump’s term in office.

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The big shock is that Trump is much less visible in Chicago than he is in the UK.   He was less talked about and less in the news that he is among my left wing friends in the UK.  Trump’s great talent it seems is to use social media to make himself the centre of attention.  Across Chicago people seemed just disinterested.  It was refreshing not to have to the constant Trump noise buzzing around. 

The only spontaneous conversation about Trump I had in the Chicago was with a cab driver. I asked if the Megan Markle story was still big in the US news:

“Oh yes” he said “Megan – that’s some story. She married a Prince”

He then added

“And Ivanka – that’s some story too. She married a frog. Shee-it that Trump’s ugly”

Apparently if he had caught a cat fish as ugly as Trump he would throw it back.

There wasn’t much sign of Trumps policies having an impact either.  His 2 key commitments  – to repeal Obamacare and build a wall – haven’t happened, and the economy isn’t much different to how it was when Obama left power.

This lack of impact is puzzling because so far he has controlled both Houses, and soon the Supreme Court too.  This lack of impact is either because:

  1. He came to power hopelessly unprepared, and it took him a long time to work out what his agenda was beyond some slogans about walls
  2. Cities like Chicago with Democrat Mayors, and Democrat controlled state legislatures have been successful in resisting his policies – for example Sanctuary cities
  3. Trump’s administration is even more chaotic and ineffectual in real life than we have heard, and they have struggled to progress any of their key policies (build a wall, repeal Obamacare) despite controlling both Houses.

I bought Bob Woodward’s book on the Trump White House while I was over there, which seems to re-inforce the idea of a shambolic mess.

With regard to point 2 there does seem to be a lot of passive resistance quietly behind the scenes often by the old Democrat establishment, with some success.  The problem is that this probably isn’t enough for some of the anti-Trump groups, and this passive resistance hasn’t produced an obvious candidate that the different factions can rally round. There are some talented and interesting politicians emerging from the younger generation of Democrats, but 2020 is probably too soon for them. 

When we got to Detroit the indifference to Trump was just as noticeable.   Detroit has a Democrat Mayor too, but unlike Illinois the state legislature is held by the Republicans,

Things changed markedly the day before we left.   Luke Bryan was playing a gig in town.  Bryan is a big thing in country and western music, which means that no-one in the UK knows who he is.   Bryan’s fanbase were white, and from rural Michigan and surrounding areas.   This was a constituency much more favourable towards Trump.

I saw the only actual incidence of racism that I had seen in a very long time, with white concert goers closing lift doors to avoid sharing with a black woman.   I also saw my first MAGA hat.  It’s hard to tell whether Trump has encouraged these behaviours, or whether Trump has brought attention to behaviours which were always there.

My overall impression is that the vast majority of Americans aren’t interested in the current culture wars, sometimes to the extent of being actively turned off by them.   They are more interested in changes to healthcare provision, and the overall state of the economy.

That’s not to say that all Americans don’t like cultural warfare.  It is still a significant motivator for a noisy group of Republican voters, and also for a smaller (but equally noisy) group of left wing political activists.

Despite the country fans with the MAGA hats I came away reassured about the future of the US from my admittedly brief holiday.

The USA is a lot bigger and tougher than Donald Trump.   And it will take more than some tweeting to change it.