Fascism in North America

Fascism in North America was composed of a set of related political movements in Canada, the United States, Mexico and elsewhere that were variants of fascism. Fascist movements in North America never realized power, unlike their counterparts in Europe. Although the geopolitical definition of North America varies, for the sake of convenience it can be assumed to include Central America and the Caribbean, where fascist variants also flourished.


Main article: Fascism in Canada

In Canada, fascism was divided between two main political parties. The Winnipeg-based Canadian Union of Fascists was modelled on the British Union of Fascists and led by Chuck Crate. The Parti national social chrétien, later renamed the Canadian National Socialist Unity Party, was founded by Adrien Arcand and inspired by Nazism. The Canadian Union of Fascists in English Canada never reached the level of popularity that the Parti national social chrétien enjoyed in Quebec. The Canadian Union of Fascists focused on economic issues while the Parti national social chrétien concentrated on racist themes. The influence of the Canadian fascist movement reached its height during the Great Depression and declined from then on.[1]

United States

In the so-called Business Plot in 1933 Major General Smedley Butler claimed that wealthy businessmen were plotting to create a fascist veterans' organization and use it in a coup d'état to overthrow President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1934, Butler testified to the Special Committee on Un-American Activities (the "McCormack-Dickstein Committee") on these claims. In the opinion of the committee, these allegations were credible.

During the 1930s Virgil Effinger led the paramilitary Black Legion, a violent offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan that sought a revolution to establish fascism in the USA.[2] Although responsible for a number of attacks, the Black Legion was very much a peripheral band of militants. More important were the Silver Legion of America, founded in 1933 by William Dudley Pelley, and the German American Bund, which emerged the same year from a number of older groups, including the Friends of New Germany and the Free Society of Teutonia. Both of these groups looked to Nazism for their inspiration.

While these groups enjoyed some support, they were largely peripheral. Two other leaders, Huey Long and Charles Coughlin, sparked concern among some on the left at the time. However, Huey Long did not take on any such role because he was not a fascist. Father Charles Coughlin, who publicly endorsed fascism to an extent that Long never did, was unable to become involved in active politics because of his status as a priest.[3] Other fascists active in the US included the publisher Seward Collins, the broadcaster Robert Henry Best, the inventor Joe McWilliams and the writer Ezra Pound.

In the modern United States, fascism is politically 'toxic'. It is understood that calling someone a fascist is an insult, and mainstream politicians will strongly dispute such a description as applied to themselves. Many politicians or movements have been accused of fascism, generally but not exclusively by those to the left of them. For example, in 1966 Republican Senator Thomas Kuchel said of the Conservative movement, "A fanatical neo-fascist political cult in the GOP, driven by a strange mixture of corrosive hatred and sickening fear, who are recklessly determined to either control our party, or destroy it."[4]


The National Synarchist Union was founded in 1937 by José Antonio Urquiza. The group demonstrated some of the palingenetic ultranationalism at the core of fascism because it sought a rebirth of society away from the socialism, liberalism, secularism and Americanism which it saw as dominating Mexico. It differed from European fascism however by being very Roman Catholic in nature.[5] Although supportive of corporatism the National Synarchist Union was arguably too counterrevolutionary to be considered truly fascist.[6]

The red shirts of Mexico, considered fascist by some scholars,[7][8][9] were an anticlerical uniformed paramilitary organization active in the 1930s formed by Tomás Garrido Canabal during his second term as Governor of Tabasco.[10] A similar group, the Gold Shirts, founded in 1933 by Nicolás Rodríguez Carrasco, also bore some of the hallmarks of fascism.

A Falange Española Tradicionalista was also formed in Mexico by Spanish merchants based there who opposed the consistent support given to the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War by Lázaro Cárdenas. The group neither sought nor had influence outside this immigrant population, however.[11] A Partido Nacional Socialista Mexicano was also active, with most of its 15,000 members being of German background.[12]

Central America

The dominance of right-wing politics in Central America by populism and the military has meant that there has been little space for the development of proper fascist movements. The Central American leader who came closest to being an important domestic fascist was Arnulfo Arias of Panama who, during the 1940s, became a strong admirer of Italian fascism and advocated it following his ascension to the presidency in 1940.[13]

As a minor movement the Nazi Party was active among German immigrants in Costa Rica (where a liberal government largely tolerated their activities in the name of free speech),[14] El Salvador (where the government cracked down on activity)[15] and Guatemala (which outlawed the Nazi Party and the Hitler Youth in May 1939),[16] among others. They also organised in Nicaragua although Falangism was more important, especially in the Colegio Centro América in Managua where this brand of fascism flourished in the 1930s.[17] Some smaller groups have readily adopted the fascist mindset such as the Sombra Negra, which supports Adolf Hitler's views on groups such as homosexuals and people of African descent.


Fascism has also been a rare feature of politics in this region, not only for the same reasons as those in Central America but also due to the continuation of colonialism well after the main era of fascism in much of the area. However Falangist movements have been active in Cuba, notably under Antonio Avendaño and Alfonso Serrano Vilariño from 1936 to 1940.[18] A Cuban Nazi party was also active but this group, which attempted to change its name to the 'Fifth Column Party' was banned in 1941.[19] As in Cuba, Falangist groups have been active in Puerto Rico, especially during World War II, when an 8000 strong branch came under FBI scrutiny.[20]

Support, of sorts, for fascism was also briefly logged in Jamaica during the 1930s. Although based in London for much of that decade, Marcus Garvey remained an important political figure on the island which had often been his home base. In the early 1930s Garvey expressed a strong admiration for Benito Mussolini and argued that "we were the first fascists", comparing the mass membership and discipline of Mussolini's followers to that of his own.[21] Garvey changed his opinion following the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 and soon denounced Mussolini as "a tyrant, a bully, [and] an irresponsible upstart".[22]

World War II

During World War II, first Canada and then the United States came into conflict with the Axis powers, and as part of the war effort they suppressed the fascist movements within their borders, which were already weakened by the widespread public perception that they were fifth columns. This suppression consisted of the internment of fascist leaders, the disbandment of fascist organizations, the censorship of fascist propaganda, and pervasive government propaganda against fascism. In the US this culminated in the Great Sedition Trial of 1944 in which George Sylvester Viereck, Lawrence Dennis, Elizabeth Dilling, William Dudley Pelley, Joe McWilliams, Robert Edward Edmondson, Gerald Winrod, William Griffin, and, in absentia, Ulrich Fleischhauer were all put on trial for aiding the Nazi cause

Notable neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups

United States


See also


  1. The Canadian Encyclopedia article on fascism
  2. Michael E. Birdwell (2001). Celluloid Soldiers. p. 45.
  3. Stanley G. Payne (2001). A History of Fascism 1914-45. pp. 350–1.
  4. G. Kabaservice (2012). Rule & Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to The Tea Party - Studies in Post War US Political Development. Oxford Press. p. 169.
  5. Roger Griffin (1993). The Nature of Fascism. p. 149.
  6. Payne. A History of Fascism 1914-45. pp. 342–3.
  7. "Garrido Canabal, Tomás". The Columbia Encyclopedia Sixth Edition (2005).
  8. The New International Yearbook p. 442, Dodd, Mead and Co. 1966
  9. Millan, Verna Carleton, Mexico Reborn, p. 101, 1939 Riverside Press
  10. Mabry, Donald J. Tomas Garrido Canabal Historical Text Archive (2001)
  11. A. Hennessy, "Fascism and Populism in Latin America", W. Laqueur, Fascism: A Reader's Guide, Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1979, p. 283
  12. John Gunther, Inside Latin America, 1941, p. 113
  13. "Arnulfo Arias, 87, Panamanian Who Was President 3 Times". The New York Times. August 11, 1988.
  14. Gunther, Inside Latin America, pp. 136-7
  15. Gunther, Inside Latin America, p. 129
  16. Gunther, Inside Latin America, p. 125
  17. Gunther, Inside Latin America, pp. 141-2
  18. Le Falange en Cuba
  19. Gunther, Inside Latin America, p. 467
  20. Gunther, Inside Latin America, pp. 434-5
  21. Colin Grant (2008). Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey and His Dream of Mother Africa. p. 440.
  22. Grant, Negro with a Hat, p. 441
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