History lesson: The Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, 1977-78

Frank Collin, head of the National Socialist Party of America, tells the press about his organization’s plans to march in the predominantly Jewish town of Skokie, Ill., on June 22, 1978. (AP)

It has come to my attention that some readers have never heard of this event. Since I was an adult at the time, I recall hearing about it although I was living in distant Canada.

This is an excerpt from a piece written in 2009, recalling the events:

…[R]oughly thirty members of the Nazi Party of America sought to march in Skokie. The plan was for the marchers to wear uniforms reminiscent of those worn by the members of Hitler’s Nazi Party, including swastika armbands, and to carry a party banner bearing a large swastika.

At the time of the proposed march in 1977, Skokie, a northern Chicago suburb, had a population of about 70,000 persons, 40,000 of whom were Jewish. Approximately 5,000 of the Jewish residents were survivors of the Holocaust. The residents of Skokie responded with shock and outrage.

They sought a court order enjoining the march on the grounds that it would “incite or promote hatred against persons of Jewish faith or ancestry,” that is was a “deliberate and willful attempt” to inflict severe emotional harm on the Jewish population in Skokie (and especially on the survivors of the Holocaust), and that it would incite an “uncontrollably” violent response and lead to serious “bloodshed.”

The Skokie controversy triggered one of those rare but remarkable moments in American history when citizens throughout the nation vigorously debated the meaning of the United States Constitution. The arguments were often fierce, heartfelt and painful.

The American Civil Liberties Union, despite severe criticism and withdrawal of support by many its strongest supporters, represented the First Amendment rights of the Nazi.

As a young law professor at the University of Chicago, I had the played a minor role in assisting the ACLU. In the end, the Illinois Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court contributed to the conclusion that Skokie could not enjoin the Nazis from marching…

…The outcome of the Skokie controversy was one of the truly great victories for the First Amendment in American history. It proved that the rule of law must and can prevail. Because of our profound commitment to the principle of free expression even in the excruciatingly painful circumstances of Skokie more than thirty years ago, we remain today the international symbol of free speech. (Ultimately, a deal was worked out and the Nazis agreed to march in Chicago rather than in Skokie.)

Ironically, but exquisitely, it was the Skokie controversy that caused the survivors in Skokie and around the world to recognize that, in the words of the new Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, “despite their desire to leave the past behind, they could no longer remain silent”…

Things have changed greatly since then. Of course, no countries aside from the US have such strong free-speech guarantees.*

I doubt that they could be added in the present day US, with the present-day cult of victimhood and obsession with ‘micro-aggressions.’

Also note that the Jews of Skokie, while strongly disagreeing with planned march, refrained from Muslim-style violence.

The BBC writes snootily and perfectly expressing the prevailing leftist thought:

...[T]he US has been finding out that it, too, has defenders of free speech who nonetheless believe that free speech has its limits, even before it veers into hate speech.

America may be a land built on the Bible and the gun – and a place that defends, vigorously, both freedom of religion for all, and freedom of speech.

But this has been a testing week for those who care passionately about that debate, creating strange bedfellows in defence of free speech – or rather, the right to offend.

It even united the initiator of the controversial “draw the Prophet Mohammed” cartoon contest in Texas, where two gunmen were shot dead after opening fire on a security guard, with the rather more left-wing supporters of PEN, an organization that campaigns for freedom of speech for authors, writers and cartoonists wherever they may live and work…

…[W]hat is becoming clear is that the fundamentalism of this new generation of radical Islamists risks provoking an extreme reaction from some of those espousing the cause of unlimited freedom and liberty.

The danger is that tolerance and respect for our differences – and for each other – could be the loser; the very principles that many came to America and Europe to enjoy and uphold.

*I am not positive about this: there may be some small countries that do have US-style freedom. But the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have nothing of the sort, and neither do major European nations like France and Germany (somewhat more understandable in their case), or the much-admired Scandinavian countries.

Screen-shot-2012-12-06-at-1.48.53-PMPeople protest over the planned march. Source.

  • no4

    The Illinois Nazis… I hate the Illinois Nazis

  • G

    The Huffington Post has to keep braying about some non existent Nazi threat. That way they conveniently don’t have room to write actual news about Islamic terrorism.

    • Drunk_by_Noon

      There were virtually no Nazis in the 1970’s, and there are even fewer today.
      There will never be another Skokie because there are not enough Nazis left to even form a parade.
      However, the radical left doesn’t need actual “Nazis” anymore, they now have anyone that disagrees with them, even sometimes their own.

      • Frau Katze

        Yes, their numbers were pretty small. But anything > 0 causes a problem.

        I really put this here because “Billy Bob Thornton” didn’t seem to believe the episode really took place. I was arguing with him on another thread.

        • Billy Bob Thornton

          So what would define the BNP as or the Golden Dawn party?

          From what I can tell they are not National Socialists in the sense that they are anti-Semitic.

          I would describe them as economically the same but socially they would not be the same.

          As for Nazis being around yes they are virtually nonexistent in today’s society and no one would ever want to call themselves a Nazi.

          But yes Canada has a history of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s of Nazism in this country. Research Adrian Arcand.

          • David

            What would you call yourself?

          • Billy Bob Thornton

            Anti-establishment. I am very much tired of mainstream politics. What I watch is democracy opened up and real discussions to happen to enlighten the Canadian people. I call myself different things on different days because there has been history of certain ideas working. Russia is a system which usually nationalization with opening up markets so they are right wing nationalists by that definition with state capitalism. On other days I tend to agree immigration should be limited. So I guess a bit of everything. But Nazism and those ideas will never come back and the Old Left is dead. Capitalism is what I fall within. Just not the version of the mainstream but using variations. So I could either be a civic nationalist, a right wing nationalist or someone for syncretism. And yes I had a conversation with someone on here and I concluded that I believe capitalism will always have cronyism because without government picking winners and losers you have anarchism which I definitely don’t agree with. Communism cannot work. So it has to be something that is capitalistic but a bit fascistic or cronyist.

          • Billy Bob Thornton

            want* democracy opened up – A mistake on the second sentence.

          • Drunk_by_Noon

            Then just use the edit button.

          • Justin St.Denis

            That takes a brain.

          • Billy Bob Thornton

            Except you are wrong on the statement that you have made. I am quite accurate and make good points for someone that never uses edit. I also spell and use good grammar. So I guess you are wrong on that count. I also don’t resort to insults.

          • Frau Katze

            Why don’t you get a Disqus account? You can set it to private so no one can read your past comments. Then you could edit your comments.

          • Justin St.Denis

            Except, Skippy, that you just proved my point. I did not insult you, btw. You are genuinely stupid and have demonstrated that repeatedly for many to see over the last week alone. And your command of written language is tenuous at best. Bye, Skippy.

          • Frau Katze

            He doesn’t have a Disqus account. Without an account, you can’t edit your comments.

          • Billy Bob Thornton

            Exactly why I couldn’t find edit and knew that I would have to create an account. The fact is I already have so many accounts and addresses. I don’t know if I should create more.

          • Billy Bob Thornton

            Also the truth is no one knows what kind of person I am or what industry I am in. Just basing things off of ideology seems so judgmental and is just basing a person based on one aspect of their life. The fact is many on here don’t know that I am a master mathematician; I took IT; I have knowledge of many areas. So basing that on just one’s ideology or how they perceive someone definitely says more about the person doing the insulting rather than the person making the contribution.

          • Xavier

            The rest of us would say “annoyance” like a small biting bug.

          • andycanuck

            Shit-for-brains pseudo-libertarian NDP voter!!1!!!

          • Billy Bob Thornton

            I hate the NDP buddy. Just like all mainstream parties. What I do want is elections to be monitored and I want our system to never go down the road of oligarchic parties like in the US. Their system is a fascist one based on their lack of getting money out of politics and having two parties. Also, this “shit for brains” nonsense is based on nothing other than assuming based on my comments I am an NDP voter when I haven’t voted NDP for a long time. It is also based on nothing that comment. The NDP is beneath me now and forever, and from what I know about them they are basically a party that tries to break the logjam between the two mainstream parties and out-mainstream them. They are completely irrelevant at every level. Usually when parties are like theirs they have to become a centrist party to get their taste at power. I hate that game and refuse to play it.

          • no4

            “The British National Party has received just 1,667 votes in the 2015 UK general election, a vast drop from 2010 when it garnered 563,743.
            The far-right party fielded just eight candidates this election, securing zero MPs and being beaten by Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol and Monster Raving Loony Party.”

          • Frau Katze


        • Justin St.Denis

          He’s an idiot. Why bother? Don’t waste your good neurons on the chronically confused and/or stupid? 😉

        • Drunk_by_Noon

          Oh your absolutely right, it’s real and it happened.
          The whole point of public demonstrations is to BE PROVOCATIVE, on some level, because that’s what they are.

          Although nobody sane likes groups like this (which should also include the New Black Panthers, and all communists), it’s only the Nazis that get pushed back against and make case law. Nobody has the guts to tell any of the assorted left they can’t march.

          At the end of their day, they had their parade, made their speeches, and NOTHING HAPPENED.

          • Frau Katze

            Yep, the left always a free pass. Even if they’re violent.

    • Denial and deflection are typical communist ploys.

      Not that the Huffington Post people are smart enough to be communists.

  • Norman_In_New_York

    The end result of this was that the Nazis faded into oblivion, vindicating the First Amendment.

    • andycanuck

      The Klan is nothing today either.

  • Brett_McS

    My school was the local voting place and come election day the posters for the various candidates were arrayed along the school fence next to the entrance. One in particular stood out: It was a dude in a spiffy military type uniform, photographed rigidly at attention, eyes firmly fixed on the glorious future – the Nazi Party candidate. He must have been a party of one, though, because in all the elections I remember he only ever got one vote – his own, presumably.

    • Frau Katze

      There’s always a handful of weirdos.

      • Justin St.Denis

        The weird will we with us always.

  • Hard Little Machine

    And for what it’s worth, famous American ‘progressive’ Glenn Greenwald openly talks about how the greatest regret in his life is not being old enough to have helped them successfully march.

    • Drunk_by_Noon

      The neoNazis don’t really dig the homosexuals.
      I wonder if he knows that?
      In any event, if he really is seriously about freedom of expression for an “unpopular” cause, then he’s free to help out Pam Geller.
      Somebody should point that out to him, if only to see what weasel excuse he gives for saying no.

    • Frau Katze

      Greenwald? He’s a leftist…I thought. Weird.

      • Hard Little Machine

        He himself claims he’s not. He claims he’s a radical anarchist.