In February, Willis Carto was buried at Arlington National Cemetery alongside men and women who fought against Nazis. But perversely, Carto wished that the Nazis had won. He made his name as one of the 20th century’s most vile racists, and the FBI has now released most of Carto’s file in response to a Freedom of Information Act request I submitted last year.
Before he died this past October, Willis Carto thought it was quite amusing that he was going to be buried at Arlington. “I’m probably America’s biggest Hitler fan, but I’ll be buried alongside all these World War II vets,” he told a confidant. Carto was himself a veteran of World War II, but after the war, he became known as one of America’s most repugnant anti-Semites. In fact, he would gain notoriety for being one of the first people to deny the Holocaust in print.
The FBI released 322 of 356 pages this week, all of which I’ve published in full below. The pages only cover the period between 1956 and 1969, but they provide an interesting peek at aspects of Carto’s cowardice that were not widely known until now.
Carto rose to prominence in the political far right in the 1950s and 60s as an admirer and promoter of Francis Parker Yockey, author of the 600-page racist novel Imperium. (Daniel Radcliffle stars as an undercover FBI agent infiltrating the world of neo-Nazis in a new movie of the same name which comes out next month.) Yockey committed suicide in prison in 1960 after getting picked up for having four passports under different names. Carto fought with authorities to interview Yockey in prison and was purportedly the last person to see Yockey alive.
Carto had a number of failed ventures into the world of gainful employment in the 1950s. But the FBI file notes something quite interesting given the context of Carto’s hate-mongering. Willie, like many impotent fascists harboring delusions of grandeur, was clearly frustrated about not having enough control over his own life. He was fired from one job for being a massive prick.
Specifically, Carto lost his job because of his “dictatorial manner.” I guess all fascists have to start somewhere.
Carto eventually made his mark on history as founder of far right political organizations like the Liberty Lobby and the Institute for Historical Review, and as a writer and publisher—giving voice to people who supported racial segregation, abolishing the United Nations, and denying that the Holocaust ever happened.
Carto’s racist rants were often couched in terms that might be amenable to liberty-minded folks of the 1950s and 60s. Much like today, the veil of phrases like “states rights” were used in polite company as code for more nefarious (and usually racist) tendencies. He also claimed that he wasn’t anti-labor, but instead hated “the abuses perpetrated by officials of labor unions.” Again, it sounds quite familiar to those of us living here in the 21st century.
Carto published a newsletter called Right, which caught the eye of the FBI for its hate speech. His views on Jews weren’t particularly nuanced or veiled in the 1950s, before he would learn ways to mask his hate in code words. “Special interests” became a favorite code phrase that very explicitly meant “Jews” in the pages of Carto’s publications.
While Carto would later distance himself publicly from leaders of the neo-Nazi movement, he maintained friendly relationships just out of public view. One letter dated July 1, 1963 to Carto in the FBI file is written on the letterhead of George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party. Rockwell was assassinated by one of his own men just four years later.
Strangely, most of the names in the letter are redacted, and it’s not clear if the letter is from George Lincoln Rockwell, or someone else from the Nazi Party using his letterhead.
“Carto did maintain ties with George Lincoln Rockwell, but they were always kind of secretive,” Carto biographer Dr. George Michael tells me over the phone. “Carto would use code words. If you would dig deep you could find them.”
And it’s letters like these where we see Carto’s coziness to the most vicious neo-Nazi elements of society. But, again, Carto was reluctant to say as much so bluntly in public. Instead, he preferred more coded messages.
“There were some articles sympathetic to Hitler [in his publications], but Carto for his part tried to eschew the overtly Hitlerian rhetoric. He tried to appear respectable,” Michael told me.
As you thumb through the pages of the FBI file, one thing sticks out as being firmly retro-fringe, and even more associated with the far left in the 21st century than the far right: The fluoridation conspiracies. (The far-right of the 1950s believed adding fluoride to public water sources made people more docile and more likely to become communists.)
Carto used many different aliases for writing, publishing, and fundraising. But he told the FBI in 1959 that people in the right wing “do not attempt to conceal their identity.” The FBI talked to Carto in March of 1959, looking for someone known as The Patriot who wrote anti-Semitic literature. Carto insisted he had no idea who it was:
Of course, Carto was full of shit. He, like so many other fascist cowards of his time, was using aliases so as not to sully his reputation with so-called respectable people.
For instance, the file includes references to some of Carto’s aliases such as Dr. E. L. Anderson, which was used frequently to give Carto’s words an air of respectability and authority. In reality, Carto didn’t have a college degree, let alone a doctorate. Sometimes “Dr. E. L. Anderson” was “Professor E. L. Anderson.” As we can see in the FBI file, “Professor E. L. Anderson, PhD” sent letters to organizations like fraternities in an attempt at fundraising.
“He was a formidable fundraiser by far-right standards,” Michael told me, contrasting Carto’s efforts with his other racist peers who often struggled to raise money.
Carto was also the founder of the American branch of The Northern League, a white supremacy organization based in Scotland. Carto wrote about how this Dr. Anderson was a “brilliant retired professor” who was going to help with the organization of The Northern League in the United States.
The Northern League, unlike Carto’s newsletter Right, had a more Euro-centric view of the world. Carto published The Northlander which wrote about how liberal plans were in motion “to destroy the German people racially” by “urging admission of Asian and African workers into Germany.”
One of the most bizarre incidents in the entire file involves former Supreme Court Justice and Governor of California, Earl Warren. Carto was reportedly angry that Warren’s Supreme Court was ruling liberally from the bench. He hatched a plan to get a short fiction story published that would tell the tale of how Earl Warren murdered his own father. Carto offered $500 to any prominent writer who would write such a story, changing the name so as to avoid a libel suit, but making it clear to anyone who read it that the protagonist was Warren.
Warren’s father was indeed murdered in 1938 and his killer was never caught. It’s not clear if Carto actually believed that Warren murdered his farther or if this was just a blatantly false lie to disparage the judge. Whatever his sincerely held beliefs, Carto’s goal was clear:
It appears that Carto’s slanderous story never found a writer.
By 1978, well outside of the scope of the pages I’ve received from the FBI, Carto had founded the Institute for Historical Review. The aim of the organization? Writing revisionist history claiming that the Holocaust, which killed roughly 11 million people, never happened.
Obviously there’s an enormous blindspot in the FBI file covering 1970 to the present. And if the FBI releases more pages to me, I’ll be sure to update this post. But hopefully the 322 pages that they have released will be useful to people fighting fascism, racism, and anti-Semitism in the United States today. Sadly, vigilance against the forces of fascism feels even more necessary than ever.