When Hitler sent his minions to LA: The true-life Nazi plot against Hollywood

It's a piece of American history that sounds like an action movie -- numerous Nazi plans to murder prominent movie stars, including Charlie Chaplin, foiled by a Jewish spy ring

Leon Lewis receiving the Americanism Award from American Legion, in June 1939. (USC Libraries Special Collections)
Leon Lewis receiving the Americanism Award from American Legion, in June 1939. (USC Libraries Special Collections)

It reads like a scene from a nightmare Hollywood script: Nazis in Los Angeles plan to kill some of the most beloved names in show business — including Charlie Chaplin and Busby Berkeley — and use the mass execution to launch pogroms against Jews in the US.

But this nefarious scheme and others like it were all too real in LA during the 1930s and 1940s. And they were all thwarted thanks to a spy ring run by Leon Lewis, a founder of the Anti-Defamation League.

Lewis and his network are the subjects of a new book, “Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots against Hollywood and America,” by University of Southern California professor of history Steven J. Ross.

Prof. Steven J. Ross, author of ‘Hitler in LA.’ (Courtesy)

The book, which will be released by Bloomsbury Press on October 24, illustrates how Nazi agents operated in LA — beginning shortly after Hitler became Reichschancellor in January 1933 and continuing through World War II. The agents’ goal in the early 1930s was chillingly clear.

“Hitler and the Brownshirts, in the 1920s, got disgruntled veterans of World War I to join their organization,” Ross explained. “If they could get Americans who could attract other Americans, all military men, they would train other Americans for the day there would be a putsch in America.”

Nazi agents arrived in LA in March 1933 and created Friends of New Germany, a lobbying and recruitment group for Nazis in the US. (After 1936, the group was called the German-American Bund.) The first Nazi meeting in LA took place that July. From the beginning, Lewis was vigilant.

“The Nazis had known since 1933 that Jews were spying on them,” Ross said. “Leon Lewis was the main Jew. They called him ‘the most dangerous Jew in LA.’”

A World War I veteran and a founding executive secretary of the ADL, Lewis “had seen enough” in wartime of the evils that men could do “when properly motivated,” Ross said.

“As far as Leon Lewis was concerned, he could not take a chance,” Ross said. “It was not just talk. He was certain it was for real.”

Leon Lewis, counter-Nazi spy and one of the founders of the Anti-Defamation League. (Courtesy ADL)

In the fall of 1933, he learned of a plot to seize the armories in San Francisco, LA and San Diego.

“In a couple of days, all three would be taken over and Jews executed,” Ross said.

Lewis shared the plot with LA police chief James Davis. But two minutes in, Ross said, the chief told Lewis, “Stop. You don’t get it. Hitler’s doing the right thing. The real danger is all the Jews in Boyle Heights, where all the Communists are.”

Several years later, in 1936, Lewis himself became a target of a Nazi plot.

“They would ignite the Nazi Party in early 1936 by killing 20 men in teams of four,” Ross said. “It would be like Kristallnacht. They would hang prominent Angelenos, including Busby Berkeley,” Lewis himself and Mendel Silberberg, “the most powerful entertainment attorney in the US.

“They would be hung and shot, their bodies riddled in what was described as a ‘hail of lead,’” said Ross. “They fully expected, once this happened, to have pogroms throughout America and the beginning of mass violence against Jews.”

The chief plotter, Ingram Hughes, had written anti-Semitic tracts for the American Nationalist Party “calling upon fellow Christians to create a ‘Final Solution’ in 1935 for Jews,” Ross said. “The Final Solution was to involve, basically, a unified fascist front around the country, all these fascist groups across America. Nobody was paying attention. Officers were too busy looking for Reds. They never considered that Nazis or Silver Shirts [an American fascist group] were a danger to them.”

Rabbi Edgar Magnin (left) and Mendel Silberberg (right) convinced Hollywood moguls to fund the spy operation. (USC Libraries Special Collections)

Ultimately, Hughes called off the plot. “At one point, Ingram Hughes was afraid they had been penetrated,” Ross said. “He did not know who the spy was. He did not want to be arrested for attempted murder. It was postponed. Temporary [postponement] became permanent.”

One year later another Nazi plotter, former British military officer Leopold MacLaglen, conceived a scheme to kill 24 Angelenos — “Hollywood’s biggest stars,” Ross said, “producers and their two big Jewish friends, Charlie Chaplin and James Cagney.” (Though Chaplin wasn’t Jewish, the Nazis believed that he was.)

The scheme consisted of MacLaglen, three Americans, “as well as some Nazis,” Ross said.

He described their premise: “When you hang Louis B. Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn and the most famous man in the world, Charlie Chaplin, and they’re shot, like Hughes [had planned earlier], it will start pogroms throughout America and lead to the mass extermination of American Jews.

“They were told the police would turn their eyes,” said Ross. “Many in the police and sheriff’s department were sympathetic to the Nazis and fascists.”

MacLaglen was unaware that his right-hand man and one of his three American cohorts was Lewis’ spy Charles Slocombe.

Leon Lewis’s ace spy, former Ku Klux Klan member Charles Slocombe. (Courtesy Sherry Slocombe)

Slocombe, like many of Lewis’ spies, was Christian. He was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Silver Shirts.

“He rose up to a very high [position] within the California Klan,” Ross said. “He was [Lewis’] highest-placed spy for 12 years.”

Slocombe felt “there was a difference between anti-Communism, which simply opposed it, and being a Nazi or fascist who actively wanted to kill Jews,” Ross said. “[Slocombe] just wanted Communists under surveillance. Once he saw what the Nazis were up to, he felt it was un-American.”

When the plotters compiled a list of their 24 targets and divided it in half, Slocombe got one half of the list for safekeeping.

“Slocombe sends his half to Lewis with the other names he remembers,” said Ross. “With Lewis’s encouragement, Slocombe talked to the other Americans [in on the plot]. He said [MacLaglen] was ‘a schemer and con artist who was blackmailing a wealthy Santa Barbara millionaire. Maybe later he’ll turn on us, go to the police, squeal and get off scot-free, and we’ll be arrested for attempted murder.’

“He convinced the two other guys to go to the DA’s office. At the office, they testified in exchange for immunity,” Ross said.

MacLaglen was arrested and eventually deported. But the charge was extortion for blackmailing the millionaire. The plot was never mentioned.

And, Ross said, “in this plot, Leon Lewis covered up police involvement. He did not want to embarrass them.” Lewis reasoned that “if he covered it up, they owed us a favor.”

‘Hitler in Los Angeles,’ by Prof. Steven J. Ross. (Courtesy)

After Kristallnacht in 1938 and the subsequent Nazi buildup to WWII, Lewis faced plots of a more military character.

“They became more and more espionage or sabotage,” Ross said. “After September 1 [in 1939, when the war began], the Nazi secret agents were Gestapo agents who not even the German diplomats knew about.

“It was easy to get spies, money and property through the Port of Los Angeles. New York, which they called ‘Jew York,’ was closely guarded by mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, a devout anti-Nazi who was half-Jewish.

“They would go through the port of LA. Lewis’s spy network was inside, at the Deutsche Haus, where the Nazis met. There were several instances of potential sabotage. They got names of potential fifth columnists from surveillance from within. They were sending all these names. The FBI was doing nothing. They sent them to the FBI, to Army military intelligence, naval intelligence and the FBI, in the hope that one day, someone would use them,” Ross said.

Ross credited Gen. George C. Marshall with using material that Lewis’s ring compiled. And after the US entered WWII, the FBI did use Lewis’s lists.

“The question I ask myself is, if government officials had ignored them at the time, how did they know who to arrest after Pearl Harbor?” Ross reflected.

The spy team of the young Joseph Roos (left) and his Uncle Julius Klein (right). (Courtesy Leonard Roos)

“They had taken the lists that Leon Lewis and [his associate] Joseph Roos had been sending them since September 1939. I went to the National Archives, to the military intelligence records. The FBI retyped Lewis’s lists, with their three sections, as if they had done all his undercover work. Lewis did not care, as long as they arrested all the Nazis,” he said.

Lewis worked as a spymaster through the end of WWII.

“Anti-Semitism, much to my surprise, went up after Pearl Harbor went down,” Ross said. “The America Firsters, the nationalists, who said that Jews were trying to get us into war, said when we get into war, we’ll get these Jews. Lewis kept his spies going after December 1941 till the end of the war. Jews in LA were still under threat.”

He and his children were targeted by Nazi agents, and three of his spies died “very suspicious deaths,” Ross said.

Following the war, Lewis left LA and went into private practice. He continued to be active in Jewish community affairs. In 1965, while driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, he died of a heart attack at age 54.

His spy ring showed that Jews and Christians could unite to stop hate.

“It was never presented as an opportunity on behalf of Jews, it was an American cause against hate groups in America calling for the death of certain people — whether Jewish-American or African-American or even later on, Catholic-American,” Ross said. “All these first parts [before the] hyphen were the adjective. What mattered was the noun — the American.”

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LIGHTER SIDE

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ALERT ALERT

Newt Says What The Rest Of Us Are Thinking:
It’s Time To Throw Peter Strzok In Jail

Disgraced FBI special agent Peter Strzok, a senior member of the bureau who gained notoriety in recent months over his anti-Trump text messages to a colleague, was grilled for nearly 10 hours during a joint congressional committee hearing on Thursday.

At issue was Strzok’s anti-Trump texts to former FBI lawyer and lover Lisa Page that coincided with his leading of the investigations into both former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server scandal and the alleged Trump/Russia 2016 election collusion, as well as his involvement in the subsequent Robert Mueller special counsel probe.

The hearing proved to be a heated battle, as Strzok displayed an arrogant smugness in defiance of pointed questions from Republicans that he largely danced around, while Democrats sought to upend and undermine the entire hearing with a plethora of interruptions, parliamentary maneuvers and outright praise for the man who helped let Clinton off the hook while ferociously targeting Trump.

Former House speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was less than impressed with Strzok’s performance and cooperation in the hearing and suggested during an appearance on Fox Business that the FBI agent should be held in contempt of Congress.

“I think they have to move to hold him in contempt and throw him in jail,” Gingrich said of Congress and Strzok.

“This is a person who is willfully standing up and refusing to appear as a congressional witness and he was a government employee at the time,” he continued.

“He has every obligation to inform the legislative branch, and I don’t think they have any choice except to move a motion of contempt because he is fundamentally — and so is his girlfriend (Page) — they’re both fundamentally in violation of the entire constitutional process,” he added.

Page had been subpoenaed to appear before Congress on Wednesday but refused to appear, saying she’d been unable to review relevant documents prior to the scheduled hearing, a closed-door hearing that has since been rescheduled for Friday.

Gingrich was not the only one who thought Strzok deserved to be held in contempt of Congress, as House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte informed Strzok that he remained at risk of such during the hearing, according to The Daily Caller.

That warning from Goodlatte came after Strzok had refused to answer a straightforward question posed by House Oversight Committee chairman Trey Gowdy, regarding how many people Strzok had personally interviewed between a specific set of dates in relation to the Clinton email investigation.

“Mr. Strzok, please be advised that you can either comply with the committee’s direction to answer the question or refuse to do so,” Goodlatte stated. “The latter of which will place you in risk of a contempt citation and potential criminal liability. Do you understand that? The question is directed to the witness.”

Strzok still refused to answer, citing instructions received from his counsel and the FBI to not answer certain questions on certain topics.

Goodlatte replied, “Mr. Strzok, in a moment we will continue with the hearing, but based on your refusal to answer the question, at the conclusion of the day we will be recessing the hearing and you will be subject to recall to allow the committee to consider proceeding with a contempt citation.”

It is unclear if Goodlatte and the committee ultimately did consider a contempt citation for Strzok following the contentious hearing, nor is it clear if Page will be held in contempt for blowing off her subpoenaed appearance on Wednesday.

Hopefully Congress will follow through on the threats of contempt followed by actual jail time against Strzok and Page in response to their uncooperative behavior and failure to appear when subpoenaed, if only to ensure that future witnesses called before Congress for sensitive or contentious hearings don’t think they can get away with the same sort of behavior.

TEA PARTY TARGET

Cops Sent To Seize Veteran’s Guns Without A Warrant, He Refused To Turn Them Over

“No one from the state was going to take my firearms without due process,” says Leonard Cottrell, after successfully staving off law enforcement and the courts from confiscating his firearms. Cottrell, an Iraq War veteran, was at work when he received a phone call from his wife. The cops were there, busting in to take his guns away. It all started after a casual conversation his son had at school.

Ammoland reports:

Police said their visit was sparked by a conversation that Leonard Cottrell Jr.’s 13-year-old son had had with another student at the school. Cottrell said he was told his son and the other student were discussing security being lax and what they would have to do to escape a school shooting at Millstone Middle School.

The conversation was overheard by another student, who went home and told his parents, and his mother panicked. The mom then contacted the school, which contacted the State Police, according to Cottrell.

The visit from the troopers came around 10 p.m. on June 14, 2018, Cottrell said, a day after Gov. Phil Murphy signed several gun enforcement bills into law.

After several hours, Cottrell said police agreed not to take the guns but to allow him to move them to another location while the investigation continued.

“They had admitted several times that my son made no threat to himself or other students or the school or anything like that,” he said.

Cottrell said he made it very clear to the police that he was “not going to willingly give up my constitutional rights where there’s no justifiable cause, no warrants, no nothing.”

The troopers searched his son’s room and found nothing, Cottrell said.

“To appease everybody, I had my firearms stored someplace else,” he said. “That way, during the course of the investigation, my son doesn’t have access to them and it’s on neutral ground and everything and everybody’s happy.”

“In the Garden State, the usual approach is to confiscate first and ask questions later, and victims of this approach often don’t know their rights. ‎In this case, the victim pushed back and confiscation was avoided — but the circumstances surrounding the incident are outrageous. A student expressing concern over lack of security is not a reason to send police to the student’s home — but it might be a reason to send police to the school to keep students and teachers safe” said Scott L. Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs and a member of the NRA board of directors.

NJ.com adds:

Cottrell, a disabled U.S. Army veteran who served three tours during “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” owns a shotgun and a pistol. He has all the correct permits to own the firearms, he said, and predominately uses the shotgun to hunt.

He said his wife allowed the officers to enter the home, and with her permission, they searched his son’s room — but they did not find any weapons, he said. The officers, he said, didn’t have a warrant but still wanted to take his guns. Cottrell wouldn’t let them.

“No one from the state was going to take my firearms without due process,” he said Thursday.

He said the attempted seizure resulted because of a new law Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law that makes it easier for police to confiscate guns when someone in the state poses a threat to themselves or others. The law is part of a broader statewide effort to make New Jersey’s gun laws even tougher amid the national outcry for more gun control in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Cottrell said the officers “danced around the issue” when he confronted them about the new law.

A New Jersey State Police spokesman declined to answer questions about whether this incident had anything to do with the new gun laws.

In an email, Sgt. First Class Jeff Flynn said, “Troopers responded to Mr. Cottrell’s residence in reference to the report of a possible school threat. Based on their investigation, it was determined that Mr. Cottrell’s weapons did not need to be seized.”

David Codrea, writing for Ammoland, further added:

To appease everybody, I had my firearms stored someplace else,” New Jersey gun owner and Army veteran Leonard Cottrell Jr. told New Jersey 101.5 after a June 14 visit from State Police,. “That way, during the course of the investigation, my son doesn’t have access to them and it’s on neutral ground and everything and everybody’s happy.”

Cottrell was recalling state troopers showing up at his door to confiscate firearms after his 13-year-old son was overheard discussing lax school safety with a friend.

Indoctrinated by a pervasive snitch culture — one that never seems to deter the blatantly obvious demonic nutjobs — the eavesdropping student told his parents, who told school administrators, who in turn called the cops. (Note “If you see something, say something” carries risks of its own – if you report the wrong person, you could end up smeared as a “hater.”)

“Cottrell said he made it very clear to the police that he was ‘not going to willingly give up my constitutional rights where there’s no justifiable cause, no warrants, no nothing,’” the report continued. Despite that, his home is now a “gun free zone” and that has been publicized by the media. He has, in fact, willingly ceded those rights, and by his own words in order to make authorities “happy.”

Before judging him for that, consider the environment that is New Jersey. Then consider the overwhelming force the state can bring to bear, and its predisposition to using it, especially if it’s to enforce citizen disarmament. It’s easy to anonymously declare “Molon Labe” on the internet. In meatspace, resistance is more effective when the aggressor doesn’t get to dictate the time and place, especially if that place is your home and you have family inside.

Appeasing gun-grabbers, generally couched as “compromise,” is impossible. It’s like throwing a scrap of flesh to a circling pack of jackals and expecting them to be sated and leave you alone — instead of sensing opportunity and fear, and moving in closer.

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