When American Lawmakers Took a Page from the Nazi Playbook

In his chilling new book, Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America, scholar Steve Ross chronicles how Hitler and American Nazis planned to take over the United States, using Los Angeles as their stronghold. Their plot included machine-gunning Jews on the streets and publicly hanging prominent entertainment-industry figures such as Al Jolson and Samuel Goldwyn.

Surprising? Not so much.

The notion that racist Nazi ideologies gained a foothold in the United States is more than plausible given the early-20th-century popularity here of eugenics, the science of improving the human population by controlled breeding. Such beliefs weren’t just cocktail-party chatter among a handful of extremists; they were codified into laws and practices that, in the Southwest especially, targeted people of Mexican origin.

In 1907, California began mandating forced sterilization of those men and women deemed “mentally inferior” or otherwise “unfit to propagate.” By 1909, a sterilization law was in effect. And by 1964, the state had sterilized 20,000 people—mostly poor women, African Americans and immigrants. Women and men of Mexican descent were sterilized at disproportionate rates.

Eugenics shaped immigration policy, too. As Mexicans continued crossing the border to provide the cheap labor for America’s rapidly expanding industrial agriculture, critics viewed them as an even greater threat to national “purity” than their European counterparts, who were subject to strict quotas under the Immigration Act of 1924. Restrictionist politicians invoked the language of racial superiority as they strove to extend quotas to immigrants from south of the border. Texas Representative John C. Box, for example, argued against Mexican immigration this way: “For the most part Mexicans are Indians, and very seldom become naturalized. They know little of sanitation, are very low mentally and are generally unhealthy.”

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