On Feb. 20, 1939, New York City's Madison Square Garden was the site of a gathering of 20,000 passionate, like-minded Americans.
There were flags and speeches and music and much pomp and pageantry.
The object of their affection?
The Third Reich.
It seems jaw-dropping in 2020 that one of America's most iconic venues would have opened its doors to such a reprehensible event.
The whole thing sounds like an elaborate prank, except that it has been preserved in filmmaker Marshall Curry's 2017 documentary, "A Night at the Garden."
The unedited film runs only seven minutes, but that's long enough to underscore the depths of our denial. It also proves we know a lot less about ourselves than we thought.
It's a sight to behold. The stage is festooned in American flags. At its center is a three-story portrait of George Washington along with a platoon of uniformed drummer boys, and all of it framed by two massive Nazi banners.
Behind the curve
As keynote speaker Fritz Kuhn goes on a screed about Jews, Isidore Greenbaum, a plumber's helper from Brooklyn, vaults onstage to protest and immediately is pummeled. Police have to come to Greenbaum's rescue.
If you're thinking "A Night in the Garden" couldn't happen in this day and age, it already did, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the same year the film was released.
If you're hoping Charlottesville was an aberration, you're dangerously behind the curve.
According to a new report the Anti Defamation League has released, the presence of hate-group material has doubled on college campuses, from 1,214 reported cases in 2018 to 2,713 incidents in 2019, the highest recorded in the ADL's existence.
Materials range from stickers to fliers to posters, some of which mimic the patriotic recruitment posters created during World War I. They have usurped such formerly innocuous words as "heritage," "culture," "identity" and "American."
It's all designed to skew people's patriotism and exacerbate their sense of loss and powerlessness.
They have fertile ground. The economy in Ohio isn't as robust as is being touted. A full 25% of the state's children live in poverty.
There are counties where coroners are running out of room to store the bodies of people who have died from overdoses.
Mix anger with despair and resentment and you have yourself a bumper crop of people ripe for radicalization and recruitment.
The Southern Poverty Law Center's 2019 Year in Hate and Extremism report found the number of known hate groups operating in the region has grown from 42 to 49; with 36 in Ohio and 13 in Kentucky.
Nationwide, there is a record-high 1,020 such groups, the SPLC reports.
If there is a spark of redemption, it is that an unrepentant Greenbaum was charged $25 for disturbing the peace. Fritz Kuhn later was convicted of embezzlement, stripped of his citizenship and deported back to Germany during World War II. From there, his story ends.
But his spirit is alive and well.
To view "A Night At the Garden", visit FieldofVision.org/a-night-at-the-garden.
Charita Goshay is a columnist for the Canton Repository and is syndicated by More Content Now.