Research Outline

Anti-Defamation League


To understand how the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) worked against antisemitic groups in the United States during the 1930s, with a specific focus on how they tracked and thwarted extremists working in the United States, and including their specific role, who the players were, and other details about the events.

Early Findings

Background and Overview

  • During World War II, the founding executive secretary of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) - Leon Lewis - organized a United States-based spy network aimed at working against American Nazis who had "infiltrated the region and recruited sympathetic Americans to their cause".
  • At the time, the American Nazi groups "were working on plans and ideas to subvert the government and carry out acts of anti-Semitic violence". It was Lewis' goal to prevent them from doing so.
  • Following Hitler's rise to power in Germany, and his appointment as chancellor in 1933, German agents arrived in the United States with the goal of forming an organization aimed at building Nazi- and German sympathy in the country.
  • This organization, the Friends of New Germany, was later renamed the German American Bund.

Leadership and Major Players

  • As the founder of the spy organizations as well as the founding executive secretary of the ADL, Leon Lewis was the primary player in the ADL's work against the German American Bund.
  • The German American Bund's target audience, so to speak, was German-American veterans. Because of this, Lewis targeted the same group in his attempts to build a spy ring.
  • "Just as Hitler had channeled the frustration of World War I veterans and struggling citizenry in Germany to help elect him, his supporters in Los Angeles hoped to stir up feelings of resentment among those who were disgruntled by cuts to their veteran benefits during the Depression."
  • Because about a third of disabled veterans lived in Southern California at the time, that region was a "particularly appealing locus" and Los Angeles in particular became a central point for these events.
  • In addition to having a large demographic of disabled veterans, "the region [also] had 50 German-American organizations with 150,000 members, which the Nazis hoped to unite...[and] the port of Los Angeles was largely unguarded, perfect for trafficking in propaganda from Germany".
  • Further, aside from the Southern United States, Los Angeles was a significant port for the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), making the area "ripe for Nazi messaging".
  • Despite all this however, Lewis also had significant connections in the area because of his work with disabled veterans in the Disabled American Veterans organization and, as a result, he was able to appeal "to his spies’ sense of patriotism".
  • Despite their support of Germany, many of the veterans were not similarly supportive of Nazi groups and in fact, "many despised [Hitler] for what he had done to their ancestral nation".
  • Ultimately, the vast majority of Lewis' spy ring was made up of Gentiles, with only one spy and Lewis himself being Jewish.