My guest this week on The Scariest Part is author Terrence McCauley, whose new novel is The Fairfax Incident. Here is the publisher’s description:
Manhattan, 1933. Charlie Doherty may have been kicked off the force after The Grand Central Massacre, but thanks to a wealthy benefactor, his private detective business is booming. Catering to the city’s wealthy elite, Doherty is making a good living chasing down wayward spouses and runaway socialites when the case of a lifetime lands in his lap. Mrs. Fairfax, a wealthy widow, hires Doherty to prove her husband’s suicide wasn’t actually a suicide. It was murder.
At his benefactor’s urging, Doherty takes the case. He expects to pocket a nice chunk of change to prove what everyone already knows: Walter Fairfax walked into his office in the Empire State Building one morning, took a phone call, and shot himself. But Charlie took the widow’s money, so he begins to dig.
He quickly finds out there is more to the Fairfax incident than a simple suicide. Before long, he discovers that Mr. Fairfax was leading a double life; running with a dangerous crowd that has a sinister agenda that threatens to plunge Charlie’s city — and his country — into another war. In an investigation that quickly involves global implications, Doherty finds himself against not only some of the most powerful people in New York City, but against the most evil men in the world.
And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Terrence McCauley:
The scariest part about writing The Fairfax Incident was that the book is based, in part, on actual events. No big deal, right? Most works of fiction have their roots, at least in part, in a real world experience. But this one is different. This one was the historical fact that the Nazi Party not only had a presence in my hometown of New York City, but they managed to hold a huge rally in Madison Square Garden in the 1930s.
This posting isn’t about history, so I’m not going to bore the reader with names and dates and facts about the American Bund movement or how groups like the Friends of New Germany had a direct line to Rudolph Hess, one of Hitler’s most trusted advisors. Google it and find the information on your own if you’re interested.
My father had been a history buff and had told me about Nazi attempts to establish a presence in America before the Second World War, but it wasn’t until I began doing some research on my own that I uncovered how extensive their activities had been. The Nazi party had storefronts in all major cities, including right here in Manhattan. The German American Bund, under the guise of seeking to reestablish pride in German culture following the humiliation in the First World War, rallied new German immigrants and German-Americans together at outdoor events and regular meetings. The true reason for all of this wasn’t just to remove a stigma from losses suffered during the previous war. The purpose was to slowly and steadily indoctrinate people into the evils of Nazism.
The scariest part of all this is that it worked for a little while. The Bund had its own propaganda arm and published its own materials that members were ordered to purchase. Mein Kampf was obviously required reading. The bastards even managed to acquire property throughout the United States and set up summer camps for children, just like the scouts. Two of these camps were located in Long Island, NY (Camp Siegfried) and New Jersey (Camp Nordland). The American flag and the German Swastika hung side by side and enjoyed the same amount of reverence from young people and their parents.
I’d like to think they were blind to the hateful rhetoric spewed by these monsters, but I’m not naïve. People — at their core — like to belong to something bigger than themselves. They like to fit in. They want to be on the winning team, and in the 1930s, Hitler was surging. The atrocities in Germany hadn’t reached our shores, so it the average Bundist wrote them off as someone else’s problem. They were in it for the beer and the bratwurst while the kids enjoyed some fresh air. If you have to throw up a salute every once in a while and buy some propaganda, so what?
Such ambivalence in the face of focused aggression came to a head in 1939 when the Bund managed to fill Madison Square Garden to capacity for a rally in support of the Nazi cause. Twenty thousand members attended the rally from all over the country to show their support for this growing movement.
The good news? One hundred thousand people protested on the streets outside Madison Square Garden.
The even better news? The rally received so much negative attention that the Nazi party in Germany abandoned it, even going as far as to forbid its citizens from participating in Bund events. And once war was declared between the two countries, most of the members abandoned the organization altogether and sided with the United States. Some remained loyal to the cause throughout the war, but an overwhelming number of German-Americans supported their country when it counted most.
We all know how the war ended and what became of the Nazi party. What scares me the most is that such an ideology was able to find a foothold in this country at all. It troubles me now to see it raising its ugly head in certain circles today.
In The Fairfax Incident, it takes my protagonist, Charlie Doherty, a long time to uncover the Nazi plot that is at the heart of the novel. I wrote it that way to show how insidious the Bund’s infiltration of our country had been. Today, we see Nazi party rallies almost every week on the news. And today, just like back in the 1930s, I find the people with the torches and the rhetoric to be as repulsive as they are terrifying. But the people I fear most are those behind the curtain. Those who we don’t see, yet wield all the power. We defeated them once. And we must remain vigilant if we hope to do so again.
Swastika Nation, Arnie Bernstein
“When Nazis Filled Madison Square Garden”, Politico Magazine, Gordon F. Sander, August 23, 2017
Terrence McCauley is the award-winning author of three James Hicks thrillers: Sympathy for the Devil, A Murder of Crows, and A Conspiracy of Ravens, as well as the historical crime thrillers Prohibition and Slow Burn, all available from Polis Books. He is also the author of the World War I novella The Devil Dogs of Belleau Wood, the proceeds of which go directly to benefit the Semper Fi Fund. His story “El Cambalache” was nominated for the Thriller Award by International Thriller Writers. Terrence has had short stories featured in Thuglit, Spinetingler Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Big Pulp and other publications. He is a member of the New York City chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and the International Crime Writers Association. A proud native of The Bronx, NY, he is currently writing his next work of fiction.