The Aborted Fetus of American Fascism?

Column by Kevin M. Patten.

Exclusive to STR

As of late April, the remnants of an enthralling legend still stand within the hills of Pacific Palisades. Down here, some seventy years ago, a potential Fascist headquarters was being cultivated for the day that Adolf Hitler announced victory in World War Two. Afterwards, the Third Reich would make its way across the ocean to the shores of Los Angeles, receive some needed R&R, and only then conquer the rest of the American continent. So the storied agenda goes. As with all good legends, it’s been stated and then restated with just a modicum of fact.

What is for certain is that the City of Angeles has long wanted to tear down the dilapidated remains of Murphy Ranch. To my knowledge, aside from a novel and a general history of LA, only one thick book mentions these malevolently colorful ruins. The co-contributor of that work – Randy Young, a local historian – is cited in various articles. Therefore, for the sake of the budget, we’ll go with those.

LA.Curbed probably has the best overview of this odd scenario. The prophecy of Nazi triumph starts with the enigmatic “Herr Schmidt,” apparently an important figure in the fascistic, anti-Semitic Silver Legion of America, and whose only evidence of existence comes from a 1940 Los Angeles Times piece entitled “Trouble for Traitors.” The June report stated that he was being investigated by US Navy intelligence: “You may be sure that when he finishes, naval intelligence will know all about . . . .” Several years before that, in 1933, the mystically endowed Schmidt was able to convince a wealthy couple to prepare a compound for the inevitable arrival of De Fuhrer.

Norman and Winona Stephens, the former an engineer with an interest in silver, the latter the heiress to a thumb tack manufacturing fortune, and both of them fetched by the prognostication of Mr. Schmidt, buoyantly bought some fifty acres in the Pacific Palisades. “Murphy” would be their alias. Winona, it is said, was always of the esoteric persuasion. They proceeded to spend about $4 million dollars on a vast construction project, that eventuating in the form of a 20,000 gallon fuel tank, a 500,000 gallon water tank, and a power station “large enough to support a small town.” Soon there was a barn, a steel garage, a garden, and several other small-end developments – all of which now constitute the LA tourist attraction.

But they had even bigger ideas, and, quite ironically for members of the “master race,” hired the renowned African American architect Paul R. Williams to draw out some plans, this in 1939. UCLA’s Young Research Library houses many of the blueprints, made up from 1934 to 1941 (no, I won’t be going over to check them out). Williams’ own initials are absent from these, but, according to Young, the iron gate at the entrance of the compound were of his design. Between the years of ’33-’34, the operation was being supervised by the firm of Plummer, Wuderman & Becket. They eventually pictured: a four-story, twenty-two bedroom mansion with basement, a “public floor” situated around a grand central hall, an indoor pool, and many libraries. Unfortunately for the Nazi utopians, it seems that by the late 30’s, little work had been done.

Young believes that there was genuine activity in these hills: “There was a powerful presence here . . . . It’s such a pretty place for such a stupid pursuit.” He once interviewed John Vincent, the UCLA music professor who negotiated the forthcoming sale of the property, and who confirmed that it had indeed been a commune for Nazi sympathizers, complete with residential vandalism and plenty of nighttime rendezvouses. “Everything was really weird about this. The neighbors were a little freaked out about it,” Young said. “Until war broke out, it was just eccentric people.”

Then came Pearl Harbor. Then came war. And between those, the arrest of many. As the legend concludes, Herr Schmidt was one of them. The Stephens’ would live on the property for a few more years, staying in the steel garage. In 1948, Prof. Vincent worked out a land transaction, the disappointed couple now mawkishly desirous to be rid of it. As director of the Huntington Hartford Foundation, with the behest of its owner, Huntington Harford, Vincent transformed it into an artisan’s retreat.

And so it somewhat remains today, even after a fire that ripped the place apart in 1978. The city soon took control, allowing it to be used as a hiking spot.

I had heard about the Ruins a couple of years ago, never getting around to a proper visit. The city has always intended for its demolishment, making such announcements too many times to be taken seriously. But emphatic news of an impending deadline suddenly impelled me. I needed to go before I was unable to. Rumors abound that trespassing citations were being given out as gratuitously as Federal Reserve Notes on Wall St., this as an effort to begin curtailing the movement of the crowds.

Mid-February. A weekend. Glorious weather in the low 70s. I invite my longtime friend and drinking buddy. Despite promising to go without, he attempts to bring an open bottle of vodka into the car. Alas, I have a personal incentive for alcohol abstinence. No more risks, especially on a planned adventure like this. I notice his treachery even before he leaves the store (said he was buying cigarettes). I kick him out. The day is ruined. Sunday comes. My father, an embarrassed user of menthol cancer sticks, agrees to join me instead, if for no other reason but to clean out his lungs a bit. I read online that, altogether, it’s about a five mile trek. It wouldn’t be quite as exciting as the third Indiana Jones movie, but it would have to do. We arrive in Pacific Palisades around noon. There are lots of hikers.

The trailhead sits below a mansion currently under construction. The dirt path is adorned with sideline shrubbery, and overlooks the canyon. My guess would be that it took – only – about a mile and a half to get to the real entrance: a six foot high chain-link fence, with loosely attached barbed wire on top, and a big part at the bottom that is cut open. No cops to be seen. Nearly everyone goes in, while a few keep on the trail. I peel the fence apart and hold it for dad and a few others, then jump over the top. Below a quick set of concrete steps was what I assume to be the water tank. An unstable ladder is attached. I use it to climb up. Inside were the two items that never saw a shortage: beer and paint cans.

Just to the side of this tank is the declivitous drop that leads to our dual destinations – the barn and the steel garage – with the stairs probably some quarter-mile downward. I look at my father and ask how he is doing, reminding him that we had to come back up. “I’m fine.” And so we went. Every step has some trace of graffiti. At the bottom there is another dirt trail. Standard hiker question: “Which way?” We’d discover that it was actually something of a circle: that going right – as we did – would take us first to the barn, then to the garage; if we kept going around, the stairway would soon reappear.

It was another half mile or so before the first ruins could be seen. Trees and overgrown grass hide the scene for only a second. The barn is also surrounded by a chain link fence. It’s busy; likely a few dozen, at least. The hikers make an orbit, taking pictures and admiring the decrepitude. Another rip in the metal allows us inside. It’s beautiful in how used it is. We go into the wooden structure. Hardly three congruent inches exist without paint. Beer cans are plentiful. A ladder takes us to the second floor. We must share with the other interested faces. Pictures. A few more.

Suddenly the thought overwhelms me: Fascism? Fascism! Mr. Young was right: all the lovely places of the earth that we could enjoy and explore, and we still have to contend against the forces of darkness. And tyranny! Always with the tyranny.

Let us break for some contemplation. For I have recently finished reading one of the most popular political books of recent decades, that being Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. Published in 2008, this is a captivating study. It’s sharply argued, thoroughly referenced, fluidly written – and somewhat deceptive in regards to a few omitted details.

Goldberg’s first two chapters profile those who are contemporarily considered as the 20th Century’s original fascists: Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and he makes the case that these were dictators undoubtedly from the Left. Lawrence Samuels, my colleague here, seems to have settled the matter, reporting that Mussolini – who Goldberg calls “the father of fascism” – had specified it as a doctrine of . . . indeed, Leftism.

But, as one would figure, this is ultimately a dilemma of nomenclature: what policies gravitate towards what kind of system? Hitler was a genocidal racist; El Duce had little stomach for it (Italy sheltered many Jews, and Mussolini had the support of the chief Rabbi). Both denounced bourgeois culture; simultaneously partnering with many a corporation. And both were nationalists, with Hitler believing that patriotism was the unjust premise of those who upheld established institutions, and that he was the great catalyst who would bring about much needed change. The differentiation: for their enthusiasts, the Third Reich was, of course, the third in a succession of Germanic empires; the Holy Roman Empire (962–1806 AD) came first, followed by the German Empire (1871–1918). Hitler viewed the Weimar Republic, which came after Germany’s post-war revolution, as illegitimate. Thus, nationalistic, but not patriotic. For Mussolini, a dedicated socialist and intellectual, he eventually denounced a core tenet of Marxist doctrine, holding that ideologies like religion and nationalism were “opiates of the masses,” and that the only true struggle was worldwide worker solidarity. “The sentiment of nationality exists and cannot be denied,” he declared (page 45).

By today’s political standards, socialism would invoke Leftism and nationalism would be Rightist. Corporations, to which we will return, knows no spectrum. State violence, likewise, if not always up to Hitler’s insatiable bloodthirst. Reconciliation comes with a simple retort: national socialist. Goldberg uses classic libertarian vernacular: “war socialism.” As El Duce said, “All within the State, nothing outside the State.” Logistically, and by definition, a state needs boundaries. Paradoxically, and per usual policy, it is blind to them. Despots are always centralizers, but they are hardly indifferent to using power solely within their recognized geographical purview. No matter his intended scale of it, Hitler craved war. Mussolini was considered a traitor to his party when, in 1914, the start of the First World War, he came out in favor of Italy’s involvement. Patterns are seen elsewhere, as in the American Presidencies.

Because for Goldberg, the truth is much more striking: Before the Murphy delusion, before the Nazis, and before Mussolini, Fascism had already manifested – right here in “Freedom’s Land.” (As Gore Vidal would say.) Enter: the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921). This man worshiped the State. He wrote an 800-page tome entitled The State. Cheered the annexation of Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Hated Lincoln’s politics but admired his centralizing prowess. “I cannot imagine power as a thing negative and not positive,” Wilson wrote (page 84). According to Goldberg, he oversaw an “archipelago of agencies, commissions, and bureaus” to replace the “anti-organic, contra-evolutionary influences of the family.” Wilson, the first modern adherent of “statolatry”: “We were Jeffersonians . . . but that time has passed. America is not now and cannot in the future be a place for unrestrained individual enterprise.” (Page 93)

Omission: nowhere does Goldberg mention Wilson’s other fascist program, the Federal Reserve Act. Signed in December 1913, during Wilson’s first year in office, Rothbard informs us in his essay, Wall Street, Banks, and American Foreign Policy, that The Fed was a pet project of powerful bankers; specifically, the Rockefellers, the Kuhn, Loebs, and the Morgans – who had bankrolled Wilson’s presidential run. For now, we’ll skip the details of the Monster Bank, which Ron Paul writes can provide: “Guns, butter, and everything else under the sun, including endless bailouts for failing businesses as well as foreign aid for the world . . . all provided courtesy of the money machine.” The former congressman from Texas is quite scathing. Up for dispute is whether or not Wilson had regretted his signing of the bill, dubiously saying that he was: “[A] most unhappy man” because he had “unwittingly ruined my country” via making “a great industrial nation” now “controlled by” a “system of credit,” adding that, “The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities” is “in the hands of a few men.” (The whole quote is a Google click away)

Doesn’t really sound like the man described by Goldberg. Plus, a scholar like Wilson would have had seven more years to study and critique The Fed, but didn’t seem to get around to it. Elijah Johnson, YouTube investigator, discovers that the quote was a medley of different utterances, made before both Wilson’s presidency and the creation of the Monster Bank. Either way, he signed the bill. And in doing so, he set forth a “coincidence” – to quote the good doctor again – “that the century of total war coincided with the century of central banking.” Whether or not one describes The Fed with invective, Goldberg, who actually does have sources from Rothbard, can’t be bothered with this institution.

The next chapter deals with FDR, and his “fascist New Deal.” One of the most interesting findings is that Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust” had visited and studied the experiments taking place in Moscow and Italy. Privately, FDR even acknowledged that they were doing some of the things already being done over there, “in an orderly way.” (Page 122). Rexford Tugwell, important New Deal economist and pro-war hawk, wrote: “There was a new life beginning there.” Both Hitler and Mussolini praised the U.S. president and his statist programs, with the former writing a letter congratulating him for his “heroic efforts in the interest of the American people.” El Duce, known by FDR as “that admirable Italian gentleman,” commented, in effect, “This guy is one of us.” Birds of the same feather? More like snakes of the same scale.

Another important omission? I think so. There is an incident in American history that usually gets left out, likewise with Goldberg’s book: the planned coup d’état of 1934, when Major Smedley Butler – that honorable anti-warrior – blew the whistle on what is now called the “Business Plot.” Butler had claimed that a bond salesman, named Gerry MacGuire, had approached him with the offer to lead 500,000 men – veterans – which would “be able to take over the functions of government.” Working for Grayson Murphy, financier of the American Legion, MacGuire was representing some rather powerful interests: Rockefellers, Mellons, and Pews. Their goal: the removal of FDR and the installation of, according to Butler, a “fascist dictatorship.” Although the press savaged any possibly of the idea, a congressional committee, taking the word of the highly-decorated Butler, eventually verified some of his testimony, concluding that it had some merit – although it probably never got past the contemplation stage.

And why would business elites want to do that? Let us turn to Professor Domhoff for some insight. Wouldn’t you know: the New Deal was supported by some of the wealthiest farmers in the country? As Domhoff writes in his book, State Autonomy or Class Dominance?, the domestic allotment program was a “key provision in the Agricultural Adjustment Act” that “provided government payments to farmers to major crops like cotton, corn, wheat, and tobacco in exchange for voluntary reductions in the number of crops they planted.” This program had its “origins in private foundations and think tanks funded by wealthy business families, and the program was widely supported by leading businessmen well before Roosevelt was elected” – adding that Rockefeller foundations provided most of the financial support for plan development, as it did with Social Security. With that information, there does seems to be almost a contradiction here. FDR wasn’t going against any expensive grain; he was just being challenged by another group of elites on the same class level. Maybe.

That leads to the final criticism requiring brief exploration. Goldberg’s book contains many references to that dreaded word: Corporatism. As left-libertarians like to remind us, corporations operate in much the same manner as states: they are dually centralist and expansionist. While boardrooms are everything, national borders mean nothing. As market anarchists who believe in business and private property and trade and travel, this wouldn’t be sinister per se. However, the problem is the undeniable alliance that always seems to occur, the nexus that has been given deep study by scholars on both the left and the right. That is, when industry falls in love with the State. (For a wonderful discussion, see the esteemed Power Elite scholar G. William Domhoff tackle this issue with libertarian sage Murray Rothbard.)

Same happened all that time ago. Prescott Bush, father to Bush Senior, and grandfather to “Dubya,” was on the board of directors of Brown Brothers Harriman, a firm that had many dealings with Nazi Germany, even after Hitler had seized power. They worked closely with Fritz Thyssen, a major funder of Hitler’s party. In 1942, under the Trading with the Enemy Act, the Federal Government took control of their assets. I don’t think there’s any more dispute about this. And Goldberg’s response? Ramblings from the “conspiratorial left” to propagate a “widely peddled smear.” (Page 285)

In short, Jonah Goldberg’s book is a treasure trove of 20th Century history. But on these questions, the contributing National Review editor proves to have a bias. As further example: while he doesn’t come out directly as being anti-interventionist, he tells us again and again how these fascistic prototypes would use war as a mechanism for social reorganization. “Militarism in America,” he writes, “as in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, was a means to this end, not the end itself.” (Page 159) And since he’s made the connection to Fascism, we’re left with no other impression except that these policies are bad. He goes from Wilson to FDR to Kennedy to LBJ to Clinton. Obama gets notice in the new afterward. All DemoCrips. (Odes to Mr. Ventura). But ReBloodlicans? Not a single paragraph takes the hardline approach. Yet, the book was released several years after “Dubya” lied this nation into another bloody conflict (Goldberg: “We are in Iraq for good reasons and for reasons that were well-intentioned but wrong.”), using September 11th as a sharp object to cut into the American body in order to install things like the Patriot Act; and then more than two decades after Congressman Jack Brooks asked Oliver North about the “continuity of government” program known as Rex 84. (Yes, support for Third World deathsquads is still quite hawkish.) In fact, Goldberg appraises the end of World War One by saying that America was “less free at home and less safe in the world.” (Page 127) Whodathunkit?

I could go on a bit more. Goldberg’s warns that “no police state deserves the name without an ample supply of police,” then discusses Hugh “Iron Pants” Johnson and the Palmer Raids and the American Protective League and the Blue Eagle. How about something on how the Reagan Administration finally got rid of the Exclusionary Clause, thereby destroying the last arch of our once-beloved Castle Doctrine? We were classical liberals, were we not? Goldberg deems Mussolini as the progenitor of this political ideology, let comparisons in the latter part of his book are devoted almost entirely to Hitler. Why can’t there be….

. . . Ah, but I’ve left you back at the Murphy Ruins. Where were we? Oh yes. We leave the barn. Utilize the standard hiker question. A young man and his girlfriend suspend their adventure to politely assure us, “It’s just up ahead.” Along the way we pass another concrete structure – was it used for fire? – that has been anthropomorphized. It has a fairly good dentist. The steel garage is something of a wonder. Brazenly, taggers are at work today. On the roof and inside, they collude nicely with the tourists. We go in. More pictures; a sticker of a grinning FDR: “Nice Try, Nazi Spy.” I climb to the roof. Not much of a view. Dad and I go around the back, where a large dirt gully ascends up to another tank. I attempt to shimmy across a tree limb to get onto it, then decide against the stunt. We go back down. Some people are having lunch, paint fumes be damned.

At the top of the stairs that lead to the garden – the last scene to be seen – there is a small plastic shot of alcoholic tea. I announce: “Excuse me . . . .” A dozen or so faces look up. “Somebody left their shot over here.” No interest except a few giggles. Then I say, less loudly, “I can’t drink it right now . . . .” I put it down. Dad and I go through the garden and continue onward. As told, the steep steps soon reappear. “Ready?” I ask. He’s slightly winded. Two couples pass us. But he makes it. Another short walk back to the car. Water. Home.

Final thoughts. George Orwell pointed out in his famous 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” that Fascism had come to mean “something not desirable,” thereby asking, “Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against” it? I’ve tried to explore some of the terminology and report on some of those undesirable policies. My own take away? Well, I’m not a Rothbardian; not an optimist, I mean. I’m a George Carlin (Carlinian?) misanthrope. I have no stake in the outcome – which is admittedly depressing for anyone with offspring. I think people, if they can, should begin bunkering up. Flee. Burrow. Hoard. Hide. No shame in recognizing that things are bad and projecting that they could get worse.

Why? Observe. We are in the midst of another presidential circus. On the one hand, a flamboyant and smarmy and inconsiderate nationalist – but someone who also might be the only candidate truly against World War Three. Mr. Trump. On the other, a real life comic book villain, the criminally insane Hillary Clinton – a Hitleresque tyrant whom I thank every day is not greeted with applause by members of my generation, and, noticeably, very few from the rest. Meanwhile, there is the just-released trailer for Oliver Stone’s Edward Snowden movie, which might give a fantastic, albeit dramatized depiction of how terrifyingly real Orwell’s Nightmare has become. Then, closer to home, the culture wars, where college campuses are perpetually in uproar, with membership of the victim hierarchy now at an all-time high. Err…low. Somewhere in the middle is Peter Schiff’s latest doom-and-gloom report. Bill Nye, deemed “the fascist guy” by social media, hovers overhead, advocating imprisonment for all “climate skeptics.” Something, at some time, is bound to collide.

But I can try to be optimistic. After all, I had a great afternoon exploring the ruins of would-be fascists. I can only hope that one day soon, I’ll see a similar scene at the White House, or even the many state congresses, not forgetting the Federal Reserve and its branches, or – hell, since we’re fantasizing – all those thousands of child kidnapping centers and domestic terrorist stations (sometimes called police headquarters) and however more brainwashing facilities (do watch the disturbing clip and read the accompanying story). Maybe someday they’ll also become abandoned ruins of a time that needs to be forgotten: overgrown with foliage, covered in street art, and serving a much better purpose as a hiking trail and occasional playground for boozing delinquents. And then I can finally stop pondering on that necessary question: Why did we ever need those things?

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Kevin M. Patten's picture
Columns on STR: 16


Jim Davies's picture

Kevin, I don't know how this appears on your screen, but here it's very hard to read for want of some decent editing.
My own To Freedom from Fascism, America! suggests that fascism in this country has even more ancient roots. And that it can be rooted out.
The ruins, though, reminded me of Berchtesgaden. Some very historic buildings were razed to the ground by the victors and left for the forest to overgrow. Excepted, oddly, was the very photogenic Tea House, perched high on an Alp and reached by an elevator built through solid rock.

Kevin M. Patten's picture

Yes, it comes up fine on my computer, Jim. Although I didn't think the pictures would turn out that big. I dont have any control over the editing and/or formatting. Apologies. 

Jim Davies's picture

Understood. Editing can be helped, though, by presenting graphics that will more easily fit; any processor will do that, eg FS Resizer.
I've reduced your dozen to a width of 400 pixels or less, in case you want to re-submit them. They are at - follow that URL with kp1b.jpg, kp2b.jpg etc. All are .jpg except kp12b.png

KenK's picture

The truth is that modern California is already fascist, and like Germany, Spain, and Italy in the 1930's many people like things this way. Modern day California fascists have lofts in SF or mansions in the Hollywood hills, but those too will end up as graffitti smeared ruins in time.