George Lincoln Rockwell (March 9, 1918 – August 25, 1967) was a Navy Reserve Commander (aviation) and founder of the American Nazi Party. Rockwell was a major figure in the Neo-Nazi movement in post-war United States, and his beliefs and writings have continued to be influential among white nationalists and neo-Nazis.
Rockwell applied to Harvard but failed to get in. After a year, his father sent him to a boarding school, Hebron Academy, near Lewiston, Maine. There he began to read philosophy and socially significant novels, leading him to re-examine the topic of religion. Previously, he had thought of himself as being highly religious, but after rereading the Bible, he declared himself to be an agnostic. Later, he began to see religion not as an opiate of the masses, but as a necessary pillar of civilization. He contemplated the possibility of a "total intelligence" existing somewhere in the universe, and thought that a better description of his views was agnostic. Years later, he promoted the Christian Identity sect.
In 1938, Rockwell entered Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and majored in philosophy. In his sociology courses at Brown, Rockwell rejected equality and the idea that man was made by his environment or that all human beings had the same potential in life. He debated with fellow students over topics such as social themes in popular novels.
On April 24, 1943, Rockwell married Judy Aultman, whom he had met while attending Brown University. Aultman was a student at Pembroke, which was the female half of Brown University. After his marriage, Rockwell studied at the navy's aerial photography school in Florida. Upon completing his training, he served in the Pacific. His most notable action was the coordinating of air support in the retaking of Guam.
During the war, blacks were segregated in the Navy, and Rockwell was not hostile toward them. On VJ Day, marking the Allies' victory over Japan, Rockwell gave a bottle of champagne to some black sailors. Later, Rockwell's attitudes toward blacks changed, and he saw them as inferior to whites. Rockwell later called for a total separation of blacks and whites as a solution to America's race relations problems. He wanted to enact a program of repatriation of blacks to Africa. When the United States armed forces were integrated in 1948, Rockwell predicted a drop of morale among American servicemen.
In 1952, Rockwell was ordered to report to Norfolk, Virginia. Upon arrival, he was told that his next post would be Iceland. Since families were not permitted to be with Americans stationed in that country, his wife and children moved in with her mother in Barrington, Rhode Island. After a few months in Iceland, Rockwell returned to his family in Rhode Island. A short time later, Rockwell and his wife were divorced. Several months after his return to Iceland, Rockwell attended a diplomatic party in Reykjavík, Iceland's capital. At the party, Rockwell met Thora Hallgrímsson, who later became his wife. Rockwell told Thora about his political beliefs, and said that he would either be a "bum or a great man. They were married on October 3, 1953, in the Icelandic National Cathedral by Thora's uncle, who was the Bishop of Iceland. The couple honeymooned in Berchtesgaden, Germany, where Hitler had had his mountain retreat in the Bavarian Alps.
In 1948, he won the $1,000 first prize for an ad he did for the American Cancer Society. The contest was sponsored by the National Society of Illustrators in New York. Rockwell left Pratt before finishing his final year, and started an advertising agency in Maine. Rockwell's career as a commercial artist was interrupted when he was recalled to duty as a Lieutenant Commander at the start of the Korean War. He moved his wife and two children to San Diego, California, where he trained Navy and Marine pilots.
Upon returning a second time to civilian life, Rockwell saw a business opportunity in starting a new magazine that would appeal to United States servicemen's wives. In September 1955, he launched the publication U. S. Lady. After presenting the idea to generals and admirals who headed public relations departments for the various military services, Rockwell began his publication efforts in Washington, D.C.. The new enterprise would also incorporate Rockwell's political causes: his opposition to both racial integration and communism. Rockwell financed the operation through stock sales and subscriptions. With a staff of 30, Rockwell could only promise to pay his employees before the successful launch of the first issue. The publication continued to have financial troubles and Rockwell would later sell his interest in the magazine. However, Rockwell still hoped to become a publisher.
In July 1958, Rockwell picketed in front of the White House to protest President Dwight D. Eisenhower's decision to send troops to the Middle East. One day he received a large package from one of his supporters, which contained an 18-foot-long Swastika flag. He placed the flag on the wall of his home and made an altar with Adolf Hitler's photo in the center, lit with three candles in front. According to his autobiography, Rockwell claimed to have had a religious experience and swore allegiance to his leader, saluting "Heil Hitler!" Rockwell and a few supporters got uniforms, armed themselves with rifles and revolvers, and began to parade about his home in Arlington, Virginia. The window to his home was left open, showing the huge Swastika flag. Drew Pearson wrote a news column about Rockwell, giving his first bit of publicity. In the presidential election of 1964, Rockwell ran as a write-in candidate, receiving 212 votes. He ran unsuccessfully for governor of Virginia in 1965 as an independent, polling 5,730 votes, or 1.02 percent of the total vote. According to one of Rockwell's biographers, he was in demand on the lecture circuit and spoke to more than 100 college audiences.
Rockwell's next tactic was to hold a rally in Union Square in New York City. He went there to demand a permit to speak. The crowd almost rioted as Rockwell began to answer reporters' questions. Rockwell said that 80 percent of the Jewish population in America were Communist sympathizers and therefore traitors. He was given a protected escort out of New York City and never received the permit to hold the rally.
Rockwell's next planned rally was set for July 3, 1960, again on the Mall. Rockwell and his men were confronted by a mob and a riot ensued. The police arrested Rockwell and eight party members. Rockwell demanded a trial but instead was sent to a mental institution for thirty days of observation. In less than two weeks he was released and found capable of standing trial. He published a pamphlet on this experience titled, How to get out or stay out of the insane asylum. Thereafter, he became more careful in his rhetoric.
In summer 1966, Rockwell led a counter-demonstration to Martin Luther King's attempt to bring an end to de facto segregation in the white Chicago suburb of Cicero, Illinois. He believed King was merely a tool for Jewish Communists to integrate America. Although he admired J. Edgar Hoover's stand against communist subversion and would have approved of Hoover's tactics against King , unbeknownst to him, Rockwell was also targeted by the FBI's counter intelligence program: COINTELPRO.
Rockwell led the American Nazi Party in assisting the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups during the Civil Rights Movement, by countering the Freedom Riders and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But he soon came to believe the Klan was stuck in the past and ineffective for helping him wage a modern race struggle. After hearing the slogan "Black Power" during a debate in 1966 with Black Panther Stokely Carmichael, Rockwell altered the phrase and started a call for "White Power." White Power would later become the name of the party's newspaper and the title of a book authored by Rockwell.
Rockwell's principal message was racial separation and attempted to form friendly associations with the Nation of Islam. He praised Elijah Muhammad as the "Black people's Hitler," and for doing the best job in promoting integrity and pride among his people. Rockwell also admired Malcolm X and saw him as the next true leader for Black America.
If separation was not achieved, Rockwell believed America faced long-term racial problems and predicted a great race war, where "the uniform would be skin color." Rockwell believed the conflict was approaching with whites eventually becoming America's new racial minority.
Rockwell once gave an interview to Alex Haley, the author of the novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The interview was published in Playboy magazine in the April 1966 issue. The interview was dramatized in the TV miniseries Roots: The Next Generations, with Marlon Brando portraying Rockwell in an Emmy Award-winning performance and James Earl Jones portraying Haley.
The location he established as the headquarters of his American Nazi Party, 2507 North Franklin Road in Arlington, Virginia , is now a coffee shop called "The Java Shack" , and serves a racially diverse community. The two-story house he established as his "Stormtrooper Barracks," which some of the locals dubbed "The House on Hatemonger Hill" (6150 Wilson Boulevard, in the Dominion Hills district of Arlington), has since been razed and the property incorporated into the Upton Hill Regional Park.
On June 9-11, the party held its national conference in Arlington aimed at reorganizing its leadership and “charting a new course of professionalism.” In July, 1967, The swastika-bearing party publication The Stormtrooper magazine was replaced by a newspaper with an American eagle masthead entitled “White Power”. Some within the NSWPP opposed this new ideological direction.
When compared to other political icons of the 1960s, Rockwell was a combination of radical-reactionary and counter-revolutionary, meaning that he sought to counter the perceived leftist progressive cultural revolution in America and preserve its old way of life by going out of the mainstream to become a frontline fighter. But unlike other radical groups, Rockwell always made sure his was law abiding and often claimed they had to "break their backs" to be so.
Rockwell supported America's war in Vietnam. At times he would dive into anti-war demonstrations at home, tearing down Viet Cong flags that were being waved by protesters. If not for the politicians, he claimed, the war in Vietnam could easily have been fought and won "with the Boy Scouts."
On June 28, 1967, the first attempt was made on Rockwell’s life. Returning from shopping, he drove into the party barracks’ driveway on Wilson Boulevard and found it blocked by a felled tree and brush. Rockwell assumed that it was another prank by local teens. As a young boy cleared the obstruction, two shots were fired at Rockwell from behind one of the swastika-embossed brick driveway pillars. One of the shots ricocheted off the car right next to his head. Leaping from the car, Rockwell pursued the would-be assassin. On June 30, Rockwell petitioned the Arlington County Circuit Court for a gun permit; no action was ever taken on his request.
On August 25, 1967, Rockwell was killed by gunshots while leaving the Econowash laundromat at the Dominion Hills Shopping Center in the 6000 block of Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Virginia. Two bullets crashed through his 1958 Chevrolet’s windshield and it slowly rolled backwards to a stop. Rockwell staggered out of the front passenger side door of the car, pointed towards the shopping center roof, and then collapsed face up on the pavement.
The gunman ran along the shopping center roof and jumped to the ground in the rear. A shop owner and customer briefly gave chase, but were unable to get a clear look at the fleeing figure. Other customers called the Arlington County police and checked Rockwell for a pulse. He had none; the one bullet that struck him had ripped through several major arteries just above his heart. The internal bleeding was so heavy that Rockwell died in two minutes.
A half hour later at a bus stop several miles away, John Patler - a former member of Rockwell’s group - was arrested as the suspected murderer by a passing patrolman familiar with the Arlington Nazis. Later that day, after hearing of his son’s death, Rockwell’s 78-year-old father commented laconically, “I am not surprised at all. I’ve expected it for quite some time.” Matt Koehl, the number two man in the NSWPP, moved to establish legal control over Rockwell’s body and all NSWPP assets. At the time of his death, the NSWPP had approximately 300 active members nationwide and perhaps 3,000 financial supporters. Although Rockwell’s parents wanted a private burial in Maine for him, they did not feel up to a public fight with the Nazis for his body. On August 27, an NSWPP spokesman reported that Federal officials had given verbal approval to a planned military burial of Rockwell at Culpeper National Cemetery, which was his right as an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
On August 29, several dozen NSWPP troopers and about 100 party supporters formed a procession and drove the 65 miles from Arlington to Culpeper. At the cemetery gates they were met by General Carl C. Turner and 60 MPs who had been rushed in from Vint Hill to enforce the U.S. Army’s burial protocol. They were backed by dozens of police from various jurisdictions. No mourners bearing Nazi insignia would be allowed into the cemetery. The NSWPP troopers’ refusal to remove their uniforms led to a day-long standoff. They unsuccessfully tried to force their way into the cemetery three separate times. Several arrests resulted. With daylight fading, General Turner declared that Rockwell could not be buried until the NSWPP made a new request to the Pentagon and agreed to follow protocol.
The Nazis returned to Arlington with Rockwell’s body. Plans were made to bury Rockwell in Spotsylvania County, but they fell apart when local Jewish organizations protested. Fearing that Arlington County officials might seize the body, the ANP had Rockwell cremated the next morning and a memorial service was held that afternoon at party headquarters. On February 8, 1968, the NSWPP filed suit to obtain a Nazi burial for Rockwell’s remains at any National Cemetery. On March 15, 1969, a Federal district judge upheld the Army Secretary’s ruling that Rockwell was ineligible for a burial with full military honors in a national cemetery. The final resting place of Rockwell’s remains is uncertain.
The controversy after Rockwell’s death wasn’t limited to the disposition of his remains. It soon spilled over into the trial of his alleged murderer. Following psychiatric evaluation, John Patler was judged competent to stand trial. Unsurprisingly, he pled not guilty at his preliminary hearing, but on September 29, 1967, Patler was bound over by a grand jury on the charge of first degree homicide. His trial began on November 27 amid tight security at the Arlington County Courthouse. On December 15, Patler was found guilty and released on bond to await sentencing. On February 23, 1968, Patler was sentenced to 20 years in prison, at that time the least punishment possible for a first degree murder conviction. The Virginia Circuit Court postponed imprisonment pending his appeal.
On November 30, 1970, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld Patler’s conviction and 20-year sentence for slaying Rockwell and ordered him to begin serving his sentence. On May 16, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected Patler’s appeal based on claims of witness contamination. In August 1975, Patler was paroled from the Pulaski correctional unit after serving less than four years of his sentence. Judge Charles S. Russell, who had presided over Patler’s murder trial, wrote a lengthy letter to the parole board supporting Patler’s release. It was the only time he ever did this in his career. The following year, however, Patler violated the terms of his parole and was returned to prison for an additional six years. On December 30, 1977 Patler petitioned the Henry County Circuit Court to change his surname back to its original form, Patsalos. After serving out the remainder of his sentence, John Patsalos returned to the New York City area.
The exact reason for Rockwell's murder and the exact identification of his killer is still a matter of much debate. Patler's nasty feuding with Rockwell and a family history of violence certainly weighed against him at the trial. Despite being convicted of the crime, Patler has always maintained his innocence. The case against him was largely circumstantial and key evidence against him (e.g., whether he possessed the murder weapon at the time of the killing) was disputed by defense witnesses.
The strip mall where Rockwell was killed is still called the Dominion Hills Shopping Center. In the past, admirers of Rockwell have painted a swastika on the exact spot of the parking lot where he died.
Rockwell had an extremely successful naval career both on active duty and in the Naval Reserve. A veteran of World War II, Rockwell was a naval aviator and served a follow-on tour during the Korean War. He would transfer to the naval reserve and, after nineteen years of service, had risen to the rank of Commander and had served as the Commanding Officer of several aviation reserve units. In 1960, as a result of his political and racial activities, the United States Navy discharged Rockwell one year short of retirement. The official reason was that Rockwell was "not deployable" in the Naval Reserve due to his views. The board proceedings to separate him were an extremely public affair and Rockwell widely advertised the results stating that he "had basically been thrown out of Navy".
Dates of rank