Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 21
This is Part 21 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary that
can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on information, concepts, and commentary
introduced in earlier entries in the series, and thus it is most effective to
read the material sequentially from the beginning.
Click here to go to the first entry in the series, Part 1
All of us sophisticated movie-goers of the early 21st century have a hard time keeping a straight face when looking at movie dramas of the early Silent Film Era. No matter how serious the topic, it’s hard to get past what we perceive as highly exaggerated, and ultimately corny, “melodrama.”
If you know enough about movie history, you understand why they were “that way,” of course. Silent films grew directly from stage acting, and before microphones and booming speakers, those acting on a stage before a large audience had to belt out their lines with gusto, and greatly exaggerate their gestures just in order to be seen and heard at the back of the theater. Most of the earliest film actors had originally performed in that setting, and were used to projecting that way.
The camera, of course, was much more “intimate,” and could show close-ups of facial expressions, and focus in on hand gestures. But it was hard to break old habits… and besides, with no sound to express emotion, it was still necessary to overdo almost everything so that silent film audiences would get the point of just how sad, how happy, how frightened, or how passionate someone was feeling. It’s hard for us to mentally and emotionally put ourselves back in that era when watching such films, and “suspend disbelief” in the way viewers would have at the time. So we may well have a hard time being persuaded by the acting to accept the premises of the films.
But in 1915, the audiences were not jaded by a lifetime of watching “sophisticated” film making. Most quickly bought into what they saw on the screen, looking past the exaggerated gestures and facial mugging and just “getting into” the plot.
And thus the white audiences who were exposed to the three-hour-plus experience of watching DW Griffith’s thundering 1915 screen masterpiece, Birth of a Nation, were indeed swept up into the “message” of the film. As explained in the previous entry in this series, that was a message that so glorified the Ku Klux Klan of the 1860s and 70s, and so vilified the “Negroes” of that time, that it spawned the resurrection of the Klan later that year, and spawned and/or justified racial prejudice all across America…not just in the South. It was so effective at this that the young NAACP (founded in 1909) and other black groups vehemently protested the showing of the film.
The previous entry in this series covered the 1914 story of William Monroe Trotter, a prominent black leader of that time who led a delegation that visited President Woodrow Wilson in the Oval Office, urging him to roll back the segregation that Wilson had introduced into federal agencies after his election in 1912.
Wilson rebuffed Trotter’s efforts. Although disheartened by Wilson’s rebuff, Trotter did not abandon his efforts for the cause of Civil Rights and justice for African Americans. In 1915 he led a protest in Boston against the showing of Birth of a Nation. A PBS documentary about Trotter gave some details:
Thousands risked their jobs and lives to march on downtown Boston and to get arrested and to challenge the release of that film…
[Trotter’s] parents were both the offspring of southern slave masters and black women slaves. They moved to abolitionist Boston, and the young Trotter grew up privileged in Hyde Park. He went on to become the first man of color to earn Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard, where he was a classmate of W.E.B. Du Bois.
Trotter went on to found and edit the Boston Guardian, an independent African-American newspaper.
And he helped create the Niagara Movement, which was the precursor to the NAACP. In 1914, Trotter challenged President Woodrow Wilson at the White House for supporting segregation. A year later, Trotter would be waging a hometown battle against “Birth of a Nation.”
But his 1915 protest was not Trotter’s first attempt to keep the story in Griffith’s film out of Boston. The source material for “Birth of a Nation” was a novel by Thomas Dixon, titled “The Clansman.” The author adapted it into a play, and documentary co-director Susan Gray says Trotter was successful in convincing then Mayor Michael Curley to force the offensive work from the stage in Boston.
“Mayor Curley banned [the play], and then 10 years later the film comes out there was this huge industry behind it, a lot of money, the president,” she recalled. “And even though it’s the same person being asked to ban it for all the same reasons, he didn’t the second time because now he was dealing with something that was economically too large and too important.”
In the end Trotter lost that fight against “Birth of a Nation.” It opened at the Tremont Theatre, which stood where the AMC Boston Common is now. In response, Trotter and a crowd of African-Americans amassed outside the cinema.
They tried to get tickets, but black patrons were not allowed.
“Trotter demands a ticket,” Lehr narrates in the documentary. “One of the officers in plain clothes sucker punches Trotter. Trotter is placed under arrest and dragged out of the lobby.”
Protests continued for months, but ultimately the country embraced “Birth of a Nation.”
Documentary co-director Bestor Cram says Trotter was right in predicting that film’s potential to influence popular opinion. “Birth of a Nation” fueled a resurgence of the white supremacy movement in the years after it premiered.
“You had basically a non-existent KKK organization that grew enormously,” Cram said.
…Trotter did not give up his fight. In 1921 he and the NAACP won their lobby to get a revival screening of “Birth of a Nation” banned in Boston.
Yes, black Americans understood the power of film to sway audiences. Here’s how the New York Evening Journal put it in a review in 1915:
“ ‘The Birth of a Nation’ will thrill you, startle you, make you hold onto your seats. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you angry. It will make you glad. It will make you hate. It will make you love…” [Source]
Dorothy Dix, famous syndicated columnist of the time, wrote this:
“I never had the slightest conception of what could be done with the moving picture as an art until I saw ‘The Birth of a Nation.’ ”
But not everyone agreed. An author for the New York Globe wrote under the headline, “Capitalizing Race Hatred”:
“To make a few dirty dollars men are willing to pander to depraved tastes and to foment a race antipathy that is the most sinister and dangerous feature of American life.”
But the Globe writer was in the minority.
In most cases, the efforts of blacks, and sympathetic whites, were spurned, and the movie broke box office records for years. In fact, as late as 1931, long after “talkies” had replaced silent films, revivals of Birth of a Nation still sprang up in some parts of the nation, often used as a “recruiting film” for the resurrected Klan! Here’s a poster for the film from 1931, when a musical and sound effects sound track was added to it.
And here’s a revival showing in 1947 in Los Angeles.
Blacks were still opposing its screening, as being likely to stir up racist persecution. (Which it always did among some of the US population…)
With such great success in moving crowds to accept the premise of Thomas Dixon’s book The Clansman, as brought to the screen in 1915 as Birth of a Nation, another movie director and studio decided to appropriate the premise of another of Dixon’s books for a 1919 film to get across a totally different message, about the hottest topic of that year.
Bolshevism on Trial is a 1919 American silent drama film made by the Mayflower Photoplay Company and distributed through Lewis J. Selznick’s Select Pictures Corporation.
… it is based on the 1909 novel Comrades: A Story of Social Adventure in California by Thomas Dixon, author of another novel that served as the basis for The Birth of a Nation. It premiered in April 1919.
Barbara, a wealthy female socialite intent on reforming capitalism is lured into the Socialist cause by Herman, a Socialist agitator. Her concerned boyfriend Norman hears her lecture on the virtues of international socialism…
… and is converted to her views.
Prompted by Herman, she raises money among her wealthy friends to buy Paradise Island off the Florida coast to establish a collective colony, a society of “happiness and plenty.” Norman tries to raise money from his father and is rebuffed. His father expects Norman will benefit from the experience: “He’ll get his island and a lesson along with it.”
The experimental Socialists arrive on “Paradise Island”…
which “in real life” was the palatial grounds of the mammoth
Royal Poinciana Hotel near Palm Beach in Florida.
When the wealthy colonists settled on their island, they elect Norman their “Chief Comrade.” They quickly discover that none of them has any worthwhile skills. Most identify themselves as “assistant managers.” Faced with disorganization, the colonists replace Norman with Herman, as the activist had long intended. He establishes a police force, abolishes marriage, and has the state assume ownership of the women and children.
He imprisons Norman, which prompts Barbara’s epiphany: “The poor deluded people will starve and die as they are in Russia.” She rejects Herman’s advances…
…and Norman’s father arrives at the head of a Navy fleet to save the day.
Norman lowers the Red flag and raises the American flag to general cheers. [Source]
You can see the last 3.5 minutes of this thriller below, if you enjoy sappy melodramas!
The film was promoted as being just what the nation ordered to resist the rampant Bolshevism allegedly abroad in the land. And reviews agreed.
The film’s advertising called it “the timeliest picture ever filmed” and reviews were good. “Powerful, well-knit with indubitably true and biting satire,” said Photoplay.
As a promotion device, the April 15, 1919, issue of Moving Picture World suggested [to local theater owners] staging a radical demonstration by hanging red flags around town and then have actors in military uniforms storm in to tear them down. Then distribute handbills to the confused and curious crowds assuring them that Bolshevism on Trial takes a stand against Bolshevism and “you [theater owners] will not only clean up but will profit by future business.”
When this publicity technique came to the attention of U.S. Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson, he expressed his dismay to the press: “This publication proposes by deceptive methods of advertising to stir every community in the United States into riotous demonstrations for the purpose of making profits for the moving picture business… .” He hoped to ban movies treating Bolshevism and Socialism. [ibid]
I was unable to discover whether any theater owners tried that weird scheme. But I do know that Secretary Wilson did not succeed with his desires. Bolshevism on Trial was the first in a long, LONG line of anti-Bolshevism/anti-Communist movies, reaching clear into the 1950s and 60s.
The movie was, of course, specifically crafted to match…and make a profit from…the “paranoia of the year” in the US at the time—the rise of the First Red Scare.
But only after pondering those posters above for a few days did it dawn on me that the advertising agency illustrator who designed them was subliminally matching another type of paranoia too. Take a look one more time. When I first found this one on the Internet…
…I had an uneasy feeling I’d seen the illustration before. Or something very close to it. I had. Numerous times. Such as this pair.
Those are Nazi propaganda posters from the 1930s/40s. And they aren’t aimed at Communists, even though Nazis were indeed opposed to Communism. Yes, they are portraying sinister, ominous caricatures of Jews.
The one thing that is different is that on the Bolshevism poster, the man has that strange stringy hair hanging down in front of his ears.
You may have wondered how that fits in a Jewish caricature, as Nazi posters never portrayed such a look when caricaturing Jews. I think I have an answer… the Nazis were almost always depicting Jewish businessmen. In fact, Jewish businessmen who were likely intended to depict “secular” Jews rather than devoutly Orthodox ones. How do I know that? Have a look at this sketch from 1913.
That’s an Orthodox rabbi from that time period, and as you’ll note, he has long hair hanging down in front of each ear. This is referred to as payot in Yiddish, or sidelocks in English.
The Torah says, “You shall not round off the pe’at (פְּאַת) of your head” (Leviticus 19:27). The word pe’at was taken to mean the hair in front of the ears extending to beneath the cheekbone, on a level with the nose. [Source]
Although not all Jews, then or now, observe the custom of letting the sidelocks grow long, it would have been typical among some groups…including in New York City…around the turn of the last century. The illustrator doing that poster must have been familiar with the practice, and included it in his caricature.
But there is NO question about the other stereotyping factors he built in to his drawing to indicate to “those in the know” that this was a picture of a Jew. Particularly the large, bending nose, the protruding lower lip, and the large, distinctive ears.
I don’t know how long those features had been typically used by bigoted non-Jews as signposts for depicting a Jewish man, but they were obviously well set in place by Nazi times. Take a look at this German “children’s propaganda” story book from the Nazi era titled, in English, The Poisonous Mushroom.
It starts out with a picture of a mother and child looking for mushrooms in the forest.
A mother and her young boy are gathering mushrooms in the German forest. The boy finds some poisonous ones. The mother explains that there are good mushrooms and poisonous ones, and, as they go home, says:
“Look, Franz, human beings in this world are like the mushrooms in the forest. There are good mushrooms and there are good people. There are poisonous, bad mushrooms and there are bad people. And we have to be on our guard against bad people just as we have to be on guard against poisonous mushrooms. Do you understand that?”
“Yes, mother,” Franz replies. “I understand that in dealing with bad people trouble may arise, just as when one eats a poisonous mushroom. One may even die!”
“And do you know, too, who these bad men are, these poisonous mushrooms of mankind?” the mother continued.
Franz slaps his chest in pride:
“Of course I know, mother! They are the Jews! Our teacher has often told us about them.”
The mother praises her boy for his intelligence, and goes on to explain the different kinds of “poisonous” Jews: the Jewish pedlar, the Jewish cattle-dealer, the Kosher butcher, the Jewish doctor, the baptised Jew, and so on.
“However they disguise themselves, or however friendly they try to be, affirming a thousand times their good intentions to us, one must not believe them. Jews they are and Jews they remain. For our Volk they are poison.”
“Like the poisonous mushroom!” says Franz.
“Yes, my child! Just as a single poisonous mushroom can kill a whole family, so a solitary Jew can destroy a whole village, a whole city, even an entire Volk [nation].” [Source]
And it goes downhill from there. The book warns the kiddies about all sorts of “types” of sinister Jews.
At one point in the book, a teacher in a classroom helps the little scholars figure out how to recognize a Jew. Check out his chalkboard illustrations.
Putting the young ones through their paces, he brings one after another to the board, hands them a pointer, and has them repeat what they’ve learned about the visible characteristics that are a dead giveaway that someone is a Jew.
“It is noon,” he says. “We should summarize what we have learned in the past hour. What have we talked about?”
All the children raise their hands. The teacher calls on Karl Scholz, a small lad in the front row. “We have talked about how to recognize the Jews.”
“Good. Say more!”
Little Karl reaches for the pointer, steps up to the board and points at the drawings.
“One can most easily tell a Jew by his nose. The Jewish nose is bent at its point. It looks like the number six. We call it the ‘Jewish six.’ Many Gentiles also have bent noses. But their noses bend upwards, not downwards. Such a nose is a hook nose or an eagle nose. It is not at all like a Jewish nose.”
“Right!” says the teacher. “But the nose is not the only way to recognize a Jew…”
The boy goes on. “One can also recognize a Jew by his lips. His lips are usually puffy. The lower lip often protrudes. The eyes are different too. The eyelids are mostly thicker and more fleshy than ours. The Jewish look is wary and piercing. One can tell from his eyes that he is a deceitful person.”
And another lad comes forward and adds…
Their ears are very large, and they look like the handles of a coffee cup.
It is as if the illustrator of the Bolshevism movie poster had this little “manual” in front of him as he sketched his illustration! Large, bent nose…check. Puffy lips with lower lip protruding…check. Large ears like coffee cup handles…check. Menacing eyes…check.
He just added his own little flourish of very, very Jewish sidelocks. And of course, those claw-like fingernails. Those were likely added to make a connection with the typical conception of Satan the Devil.
Well, how about that other Bolshevism on Trial poster? Turns out that doesn’t depict just a Jew…it portrays a specific Jew. Have a look:
Note the standard anti-Jewish caricaturizing of the nose, lips, and ears in both posters. But beyond that, there are characteristics both are adding…including the granny glasses and the poofy hair. That’s because they are both depicting the same man.
I would suggest that the illustration on the movie poster on the left may well have been “inspired by” the poster on the right. That poster on the right was also from 1919, but from Russia itself, created during the “Civil War” that raged in Russia after the Bolsheviks took over control of the country in 1917, ousting the Tsarist regime and the old aristocracy. From 1917 to 1921 a group known as the “White Russians” violently resisted the Bolshevik rule and rejected Communism, wanting to return to a more traditional, autocratic ruling system.
The poster on the right above was a piece of White Russian anti-Bolshevik propaganda, portraying Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, who was a secular Jew, as a Devil-like character. And the illustrator of the movie poster on the left could well have found that to be a really convenient “meme” to use to personify Communism.
Here’s what Trotsky really looked like in 1917.
An interesting touch…that is NOT a six-pointed Star of David on a chain that Devil Trotsky is wearing on the White Russian poster. Nazi anti-Jew posters later on were known to depict Jews wearing such Star of David symbols on chains as part of the stereotyping used in such propaganda.
Instead, the White Russian Trotsky is wearing on his chain a pentagram, a five-pointed star that is used in some circles as a “Satanic symbol.”
The huge piles of skulls below him on the poster symbolize the White Russian accusations that the Bolsheviks indulged in massive indiscriminate mass murders.
Note the small characters in blue and gold uniforms working among the bones…look close and you will see that they are obviously intended to portray Chinese men, with slanted eyes and pigtails! What on earth was that all about??
The Chinese with the Red Army were recruited from factory workers who had been attracted into Russia before the war and sided with the urban proletariat with whom they worked. Separate Chinese units fought for the Bolsheviks in the Ukraine, Trancaucasia and Siberia.
One estimate suggests that there were hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops in the Red Army.
…Chinese units were involved in virtually every front of the Russian Civil War. Some sincerely sympathized with the Bolsheviks who treated them as “proletarian brothers”. Others simply joined the Red Army in order to survive and others wanted to fight their way home to China.
The Chinese were one of several foreign contingents dubbed in Soviet historiography as “internationalist detachments” Chinese internationalist troops wore the same uniform as the rest of the Red Army.
The Bolsheviks found special value in the use of Chinese troops who were considered to be industrious and efficient. In addition, they were seldom able to understand Russian, which kept them insulated from outside influences.
The use of Chinese troops by the Bolsheviks was commented on by both White Russian and non-Russian observers. In fact, the Bolsheviks were often derided for their reliance on Chinese and Lettish [Latvian] volunteers. Anti-Bolshevik propaganda suggested that the Bolsheviks did not have the support of the Russian people and thus had to resort to foreign mercenaries who ran roughshod over the Russian populace. [Source]
The White Russians who employed propaganda posters such as the one above were notoriously anti-semitic. In fact, they are identified by most historians as the source of the spread of the most notorious anti-semitic propaganda literature of all time, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion is an antisemitic fabricated text purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. The forgery was first published in Russia in 1903, translated into multiple languages, and disseminated internationally in the early part of the 20th century. According to the claims made by some of its publishers, the Protocols are the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting where Jewish leaders discussed their goal of global Jewish hegemony [domination] by subverting the morals of Gentiles, and by controlling the press and the world’s economies. [Source]
Although it is generally agreed that the final form of the Protocols was settled on some time after 1901, it is difficult to pin down the exact original authorship. But it is clear that the White Russians are the ones who made sure that it was spread far and wide.
As the Russian Revolution unfolded, causing White movement-affiliated Russians to flee to the West, this text was carried along and assumed a new purpose. Until then, The Protocols had remained obscure; it now became an instrument for blaming Jews for the Russian Revolution. It became a tool, a political weapon, used against the Bolsheviks who were depicted as overwhelmingly Jewish, allegedly executing the “plan” embodied in The Protocols. The purpose was to discredit the October Revolution, prevent the West from recognizing the Soviet Union, and bring about the downfall of Vladimir Lenin’s regime. [Source]
The Protocols document was first published in English in the US in 1920, and picked up immediately by automobile magnate Henry Ford…who was devoutly anti-Jewish.
Henry Ford funded printing of 500,000 copies that were distributed throughout the U.S. in the 1920s. The Nazis sometimes used the Protocols as propaganda against Jews; it was assigned by some German teachers, as if factual, to be read by German schoolchildren after the Nazis came to power in 1933, despite having been exposed as fraudulent by The Times of London in 1921. It is still widely available today in numerous languages, in print and on the Internet, and continues to be presented by some proponents as a genuine document.
So there you have it…the posters for the Bolshevism on Trial movie were in essence subliminally suggesting that the Communist movement was really part of a greater Jewish movement to conquer the world.
Perpetuating the Paranoia
As covered in the most recent entries in this series, the Communist Revolution in Russia began in March, 1917, one month before the US entered the European War. The new Communist leaders of Russia withdrew their country from the conflict in March 1918. The US remained involved until the end of the war, in November 1918.
Before the war was even over, US authorities were concerned that Communist ideas and ideology would infect America, in part through soldiers coming back from the European front. There was a particular fear that Negro soldiers would return to the US after serving in Europe with ideas of racial equality, an idea that much of the white population of the US was definitely not ready to accept! It was feared that Communist agitators would take advantage of the new Negro attitudes to inflame racial unrest in the nation, leaving many open to Communist propaganda.
There was certainly good reason for authorities to worry about this. When the US entered the War, many blacks were actually excited about the opportunity that American military service would provide them…they believed that by being “good soldiers” they would prove their patriotism, and “earn” a more respected place in American society. And perhaps even the walls of segregation would come down. These notions were dispelled all too quickly.
When the first draft cards were issued, they came with an unusual feature…
Down in the left hand corner was a little notice printed on the diagonal…
If person is of African descent, tear off this corner.
370,000 black men were inducted as a result of the draft. But the purpose of that little triangle on their card was soon obvious. It was for sorting purposes, so that all men of African descent could be segregated into their own “proper place.” Which was NOT as regular soldiers who would be actually fighting the war. Negroes were instead assigned to “support” roles, even near the front lines in the European theater…such as cooking and serving meals and cleaning latrines.
During boot camp, and once deployed to their ultimate destinations, they were at all times strictly segregated in housing, eating facilities, and more.
Later in the war, when shortages of troops became a big issue, a couple of all-black regiments were organized, with the men actually trained for battle, including the famous 369th Infantry, dubbed “Hellfighters” by the German enemy for their toughness and tenacity…they were thereafter known as the Harlem Hellfighters.
They were also known for their amazing marching band, which was a hit wherever they performed in Europe… for introducing jazz and ragtime to the continent.
But the Hellfighters and other Negro units were not trained so that they could fight alongside white American soldiers. Many deeply racist white American soldiers would have vehemently resisted attempts to force them to accept Negroes as equals and comrades. So they were instead “loaned” to the French army for the duration of the war, serving under French military commanders. The Hellfighters regiment was so fabulously successful in battle that they received the highest military honor decoration offered to soldiers by the French, the Croix de Guerre (Cross of War).
But their highly distinguished medal and a quarter wouldn’t even get them a cup of coffee in most restaurants in America after they returned from the war. A black soldier returning from the Great War was just as subject to Jim Crow laws and customs in his WW1 uniform, wearing his medal, as he was in his civvies before the war. Some returning black soldiers were even lynched in violent racial riots after the war while still wearing their uniforms. So much for earning respect for their bravery, sacrifice, and patriotism.
In fact, even before they got back on US soil, they suffered indignities once “returned” back to US authority over in Europe by the French at the end of hostilities.
Black soldiers experienced many indignities after World War I, including not being allowed to celebrate the Allied victory. In Paris, the United States refused to allow any black American soldiers to march with other Allied soldiers, including [black] colonial African troops, in the victory parade up the Champs-Elysées on Bastille Day in 1919. [Source]
So is it any wonder that President Wilson and many other American leaders might think that such discharged men might be subject to persuasion by Communist recruiters to reject The American Way? Those in authority could have allowed this reality to be a prod to make some desperately-needed changes to that American Way so that it lined up better with the highest aspirations proclaimed in the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
Instead they turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the plight of the Negro. They proceeded to stir up paranoia among the general populace about the “imminent threat” of a Communist Revolution in America. And offer the solution…getting rid of all outside agitators. They evidently believed that success with these tactics would somehow result in returning all those Negro soldiers to their subservient pre-war response to abuse, neglect, and injustice.
Liberty and justice for all? Don’t need no stinkin’ liberty and justice. Just a big stick.
That big stick would be named A. Mitchell Palmer. We’ll meet him in the next entry in this series: