Defamation Factory, Prt.2: The ADL vs Henry Ford

T h e A D L

v s

H e n r y F o r d



Shortly after the ADL’s formation and the Frank Case’s close, war reared its ugly head – World War I, the first “great war,” of the industrialized age, had begun. 52 year old automotive industrialist and beloved American icon, Henry Ford, upon hearing of the continental strife, was horrified. A pacifistic man by nature, Ford abhorred war; during that time oft remarking how wasteful and hideous the whole affair was. He noted to the Detroit Free Press that American armament creation was “-wasteful and war-breeding.” But Ford was not a man who let things pass him by and so sought to rectify the situation by sailing out to Europe in protest on a “peace ship.” The idea for the venture had come from a Hungarian Jew and idealistic suffragette named Rosika Schwimmer who Ford, a liberal, supported for her stalwart opposition to the war. With Ford’s cry of, “We’re going to get the boys out of the trenches by Christmas!” Ford set off to Europe on the Scandinavian-American ship Oscar II to mediate the belligerent continental powers – yet before the departure a incident occurred which so outraged Schwimmer that she would later proclaim it “-cheap and vulgar.” What induced such emotions in the feminist-crusader was a series of proclamations made by Mr. Ford during a conversation pertaining to the root-cause(s) of the war; Ford said, “I know who caused the war– the German-Jewish bankers. I have the evidence here,” the industrialist slapped his pocket triumphantly,”Facts. I can’t give them out yet because I haven’t got them all. But I’ll have them soon.”

When The War ended in 1918, Henry Ford commissioned his private secretary, Ernest Gustav Leibold to purchase The Dearborn Independent (later it would also be known as The Ford International Weekly) from the previous owner, Marcus Woodruff who had been operating the company at a loss. The used press for the publication was ensconced in the now famous Rouge River Factory in Dearborn, Michigan, the area from which the publication derived its name. Ford maintained several of the key figures of the previous staff such as E.G. Pipp and a former Detroit news writer, William J. Cameron who would write the column known as Mr. Ford’s Page, in addition to many of the seminal pieces in the paper’s canon.

One year later, as the Independent‘s publication formally began under its new owner, Ford took a camping trip with his good friends, Harvey Firestone, founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, John Burroughs the renowned essayist and naturalist, and Thomas Alva Edison, the “Wizard of Menlo Park.”

Burroughs recalled in his diaries that during the meeting of these great men Ford spoke a good deal about “the Jews” and their relation to The War. When Edison remarked upon the decline of the United States navy Ford promptly noted that Jewish meddling had brought about this particularly unhappy inefficiency. Somewhat later, at the Ford Motor Company, a executive would find Mr. Ford alone at night, the two striking up a conversation which turned to the “Peace Ship” voyage. The executive asked Ford what he had gotten out of the venture which had ostensibly been a total failure, both in terms of its intended effects and in terms of public perception. Ford responded in a mysterious, knowing fashion,

I know who makes the wars – the international Jewish bankers arrange them so they can make money out of them.” He further added, “I know it’s true because a Jew on the Peace Ship told me.. .That man knew what he was talking about – gave me the whole story. We’re going to tell the whole story one of these days and show them up!”

It was a statement that would prove quite prophetic, for in 1920, Ford issued forth a striking, inflammatory piece in his now well-syndicated publication titled, The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem. A section of the article reads as follows,

The Jew is again being singled out for critical attention throughout the world. His emergence in the financial, political and social spheres has been so complete and spectacular since the war, that his place, power and purpose in the world are being given a new scrutiny, much of it unfriendly. Persecution is not a new experience to the Jew, but intensive scrutiny of his nature and super-nationality is. He has suffered for more than 2,000 years from what may be called instinctive anti-Semitism of the other races, but this antagonism has never been intelligent nor has it been able to make itself intelligible. Nowadays, however, the Jew is being placed, as it were, under the microscope of economic observation that the reasons for his power, the reasons for his separateness, the reasons for his suffering may be defined and understood. In Russia he is charged with being the source of Bolshevism, an accusation which is serious or not according to the circle in which it is made; we in America, hearing the fervid eloquence and perceiving the prophetic ardor of young Jewish apostles of social and industrial reform, can calmly estimate how it may be. In Germany he is charged with being the cause of the Empire’s collapse and a very considerable literature has sprung up, bearing with it a mass of circumstantial evidence that gives the thinker pause. In England he is charged with being the real world ruler, who rules as a super-nation over the nations, rules by the power of gold, and who plays nation against nation for his own purposes, remaining himself discreetly in the background. In America it is pointed out to what extent the elder Jews of wealth and the younger Jews of ambition swarmed through the war organizations — principally those departments which dealt with the commercial and industrial business of war, and also the extent to which they have clung to the advantage which their experience as agents of the government gave them.”

[The Dearborn Independent, issue 12, June, 1920]

The basic thesis of the sum-total text was that a largely monolithic cabal of Jewish banksters from various different countries, including America, France, England and Germany, had schemed in such a fashion so as bring about the first World War for the purposes of financial gain and their own group’s ethnic and political advancement and were now scheming to do as much again.

Ford had four paperback, feature-length books published via the Dearborn Publishing Company concerning Jewish influence, those being The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem (1920), Jewish Activities In The United States (1921), Jewish Influences In American Life (1921) and lastly, Aspects of Jewish Power In The United States (1922). These various volumes are sometimes all colloquially referred to as The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem and were widely distributed in various versions and languages, both in the US and further abroad.

Despite being a success, the volumes and articles rather predictably whipped up a fervor within the Jewish community and those who sympathized with them. It was a push-back which Ford had predicted when, in The International Jew, William J. Cameron (who penned the majority of the Jewish-critical pieces) wrote,

In simple words, the question of the Jews has come to the fore, but like other questions which lend themselves to prejudice, efforts will be made to hush it up as impolitic for open discussion. If, however, experience has taught us anything it is that questions thus suppressed will sooner or later break out in undesirable and unprofitable forms.”

[The Dearborn Independent, issue 12, June, 1920]

It was a statement that would prove all too accurate, as the articles were widely circulated (The Dearborn Independent had a peak circulation of around 700,000, though some sources place it at 900,000) and also widely read and trusted (especially by European Americans), due to Ford’s popularity as a affable captain of industry and champion of the working man – indeed, it would not be hyperbolic to say that Ford, during the 1920s was one of the best-loved and respected men in all of America. Ford was also one of the richest with a vertically integrated company worth billions (around $ 199 billion, to be precise). He ingeniously engineered cars in such a fashion so as to make them available to the common man, rather than mere playthings of the ultra-rich, as they had been since their inception. Despite his esteem and monumental accomplishments, not everyone was pleased with the industrialist’s work, especially not the Jewish-American community who swiftly began boycotting his products and sending letter after letter of vitriolic complaint to Ford. The most egregiously aroused of these poison-penners consisted of the National Council of Jewish Women, The Central Conference of American Rabbis as well as the still very active, B’nai B’rith, whose current chair was the league’s founder and prominent attorney, Sigmund Livingston.

Outraged that Ford and his agents were able to freely disseminate their “anti-Semitic” opinions, these incensed organizations pooled their efforts and sought out the Anti-Defamation League, demanding prompt and decisive action. The ADL readily agreed that something should be done about the Jewish-critical articles and set itself into a vigorous contemplation of how best to shutdown the publication and tarnish Ford’s reputation as well as his various employees and associates. The League’s first course of action was to set forth a pamphlet entitled, The Poison Pen, which harshly criticized the Dearborn Independent. The ADL’s actions were incredibly effective, so much so that shortly after the publication of The Poison Pen, then-President Woodrow Wilson, as well as former presidents, Taft and Roosevelt and William Jennings Bryan, along with other prominent and ostensibly respectable individuals, signed a paper titled, The Perils of Racial Prejudice. The tract vociferously denounced The Dearborn International and vehemently urged public opinion-makers to “strike at” the “un-Christian” and “un-American” publication. All of the signees were notable in that they were all gentiles, that is, non-Jews, they were also all Christians. Continuing on this theme, the Michigan publication was also denounced by the now defunct religious coalition known as the Federal Council of Churches, a ecumencial Protestant organization comprised of thirty-two different Christian sub-demoninations.

Presidents, present and former, and ardent Judeo-Christians, however, were not the only ones to take aim at the publication and Ford himself; the well-known lawyer, Samuel Untermeyer wrote that The International Jew read as if it had been penned by a madman and additionally remarked that the piece had become, “-the Bible of every anti-Semite.”

Despite the increasing ferocity and frequency of the press vitriol against him and his paper, Ford did not back down and instead, continued on with his publications against “International Jewry” (it is here of note that during this time Jews themselves utilized the phrase “Jewry,” generally in a positive communal sense).

Eventually, Ford’s social efforts turned toward the Jewish-lead agricultural cooperation movement and its relationship to American husbandry. The movement was helmed by a man named Aaron Sapiro, a Jewish lawyer and political activist who had received notoriety in 1923 and 1924 for several prominent speeches he had given in the States and the Canadian Provinces, principally, Saskatchewan. Despite his humble origins, short statue (his growth had been stunted from malnutrition) and relatively low social standing, Sapiro’s intelligence, idealism and magnetic charisma inspired both popularity and loyalty. After years of giving numerous speeches concerning agricultural reform and progressive social issues all about the states, Sapiro began coordinating what came to be known as “The Sapiro Plan,” which advocated for agricultural cooperatives that would focus on commodity-specific strategies rather than on territory specific strategy, ideas which were initially espoused by his mentor, Dave Lubin who was a key player in the internationalization of American markets at the time.

In April, 1924, the former rabbinical student, Sapiro, became aware of the Independent‘s section titled, Jewish Exploitation of the American Farmer’s Organizations: Monopoly Traps Operate Under the Guise of Marketing Associations,” which was featured in The International Jew. The piece mentioned Sapiro by name and harshly criticized him and various other Jewish co-op advocates. One section of the piece noted that Sapiro’s meddling had “-turned millions away from the pockets of the men who till the soil and into the hands of the Jews and their followers.” Sapiro, a rather ill-tempered and vengeful man, took Ford to court for libel in 1925, in a federal district court in Chicago. Ford happily obliged despite concerns from his right-hand man Liebold who had, until this time, been the foremost champion of the paper’s Jewish-critical efforts.

Now the trial itself and its principal players bare some deliberation as it was a most curious affair, especially where Sapiro is concerned, for the historical narrative here gets rather polemical. Upon looking the case up online one (especially on the ADL’s website) is given the impression of a wholly one-sided play, with Aaron Sapiro playing a near-helpless yet heroically tenacious, almost messianic figure, fighting against the defamation of his people and Ford assuming the role of a cartoonishly malevolent (or sometimes incompetent) big-money bigot who simply can’t wait to crush “the little guy.”

Obviously, things were a bit more subtle and complicated than all that. One of the people who has done the utmost to bring this particular piece of history to the fore is the research professor for the American Bar Association of Chicago, Victoria Saker Woeste. Ms. Woest has done much work concerning the history of Ford’s legal disputes, typified in her most recent book upon the subject titled, Henry Ford’s War On Jews And The Legal Battle For Hate Speech (2016). From the title alone one understands immediately that Ms. Woeste is, despite her claims to the contrary, engaging in a highly polemical exercise that is painting Ford as a villain from the outset. It is clear that her work is biased from the start against Ford and upon listening to her speak or reading her work one quickly realizes that she has great admiration for Sapiro which is understandable given his accomplishments and obvious intellectual gifts for organization, rhetoric and agricultural innovation.

That being said, Sapiro was no saint and neither was he, as Woeste describes him, “-a nobody from California.” This is manifestly untrue, however. In fact, by 1925, Sapiro had amassed around 890,000 farmers from all across the nation into his cooperative network. The New York Times described him as, “-the leader of one of the greatest agricultural movements of modern times.” Clearly Sapiro was not some random roustabout, not “the little guy” or average Joe, but rather quite a powerful figure, which is not to say that one should hold this fact against him (or Ford, for that matter) but the issue should be clearly and factually stated to better understand the context of what was next to transpire.

Sapiro went for broke and sued Ford for $ 1 million dollars in damages – to put this sum in its proper historical context, then-president Calvin Coolidge was earning only $ 75,000 a year! Sapiro also went further, claiming that Ford had not just libeled him, personally, but that the auto-tycoon had also libeled the whole Jewish race. Unfortunately, for Sapiro, the case in question concerned only Ford and Sapiro himself meaning that any comments pertaining to anyone other than Sapiro were inadmissible since hate speech legislation had not, at this point in time, been wholly instantiated within America’s legal infrastructure. Furthermore, Louis Marshall, a famous lawyer and Jewish civil right’s leader who had been brought into the case by a friend of Ford’s named Earl Davis, was none too keen on Sapiro’s ethnocentric appeals. Marshall, though a supporter of the Belfour Declaration and the then-president of the American-Jewish Committee, never involved himself in cases pertaining to “anti-Semitism.” Instead, Marshall (who had staunchly opposed Sapiro’s libel suit from the get-go) wanted to settle the suit in a way that would benefit all parties involved without overt appeals to ethnocentricity (though, it should be said, Marshall very much wanted things to end in manner which would benefit the Jewish community). To this end Marshall extended his help to Ford under one condition, that the industrialist repudiate his infamous work, The International Jew – this despite the fact that Sapiro’s suit against Ford had absolutely nothing to do with the whole of the publication, but merely a 1924 addition of the paper which mentioned Sapiro by name.

Ford was stretched thin at this point in time given that his new Model A car was slated to be released very soon, additionally he had been run off the road (allegedly) during the course of the trial and may have feared for his life, thus, he readily agreed to Marshall’s plan and allowed a letter to be written which denounced his previous works and praised the Jewish peoples. Upon Marshall’s publication of “Ford’s” letter of apology (which Ford did not write nor sign) the Jewish community (for the most part) praised him. Sapiro was not convinced that his wily foe was truly repentant but decided that he had accomplished all that he had wanted – Sapiro’s legal expenses were also quite considerable, which was another factor which doubtless played into his acquiescence of the apology.

Ford himself, never apologized for the affair nor did he ever see the note of apology according to one of his closest associates, a Jew named Harry Bennett (who signed the Marshall apology). Indeed, Bennet wrote a whole book concerning the affair and Ford more generally, entitled, Ford: We Never Called Him Henry (1950).

Ford and Sapiro reached a out-of-court settlement in 1927. On December the 31st of that same year Henry Ford would close up The Dearborn Independent for good.

Ford was perhaps the most illustrious and well known of the ADL’s targets and one who, in life, they were never able to defeat. Yet in death, the organization continues to defame the great industrialist even as they (begrudging) sing his well-earned praises. For instance, in a bevvy of articles published to the ADL’s main web-page they consistently mention Ford’s name in connection with a host of disreputable and trouble-makers, such as the Nation of Islam’s vociferous racialist preacher, Louis Farrakhan who has, in the past, made a number of bizarre, empirically unverified or unverifiable statements such as, “You [black people] are not now, nor have you ever been a citizen of America. You are a slave to white America,” he has also made the peculiar remark that, “The Mother Wheel is a heavily armed spaceship the size of a city, which will rain destruction upon white America but save those who embrace the Nation of Islam.” For the purposes of clarification, Farrakhan meant the latter comment literally. Regardless of your opinion of Farrakhan, the ADL’s constant mentioning of Ford in proximity to Farrakhan seems to be a way in which to say, “Look, if you criticize ethnocentric Jews you’ll end up believing in Mother Wheels and demons!” This conclusion is somewhat speculative, I will admit, so let use turn our attention to the more fundamental and more empirically demonstrable issue – Ford’s supposed “anti-Semitism.”

Was for a anti-Semite? Well before we can answer that question we must accurately define our terms. Taken literally, anti-Semite seems to mean someone who is opposed to all Semites – that is to say, to all who speak a Semitic language. The problem here is that this definition would include a large array of other ethnic and religious groups, such as Arabs who, in turn, are merely a people who speak Arabic. One never hears Muslim-critical speech defined as “anti-Semitic” nor are the originators of such speech ever described as “anti-Semites.” Clearly, the phrase anti-Semite is not, in common parlance, meant to be taken literally, which, in my opinion, is highly unfortunate as any word which has multiple and non-literal meanings gains the troublesome attribute of identity-amorphism, that is to say, it seems to be a thing when one wishes it to be a thing and not, when one does not.

Given that we are talking primarily about the ADL, let us turn our attention to their definition of “anti-Semitism” for the purposes of further clarification. According to the ADL, anti-Semitism is defined as:

The belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. It may take the form of religious teachings that proclaim the inferiority of Jews, for instance, or political efforts to isolate, oppress, or otherwise injure them.

It may also include prejudiced or stereotyped views about Jews.

Now this definition is, in fact, even more broad then the literal definition of the term. For where it says, “-to isolate, oppress, or otherwise injure them,” we must ask who is the “them” to which they are referring? Even though the ADL itself oft complains when any individual looks upon the whole of the Jewish peoples as a monolith, this seems to be, here, precisely what they are doing. That being said, let us see if the ADL’s definition, poor and amorphous as it is, applies to Ford himself.

Certainly Ford did not consider ALL Jews a monolith, for the very title of his book, The International Jew, attests to this very fact. Whether you think he was largely correct or largely incorrect as regards his (and Cameron’s and Liebold’s) theories about this international group is irrelevant to whether or not he believed ALL of the Jewish people acted ever in concert. If Ford really was opposed to ALL Jews in uniformity he simply would have named the book “The Jew,” leaving aside the descriptor “International.” In addition to this, we must also consider the fact that Ford had many Jewish friends and employed thousands of Jews at his factories (which he paid just the same as any of his other employees). Ford himself was shocked at the vitriolic outrage he received from some of his Jewish friends after the publication of his papers, yet many of those very same friends remained by his side all throughout the car-king’s battles with Hollywood, the ADL, Sapiro and various international forces. In fact, Ford was so fond of one of his Jewish friends, a popular rabbi named Leo Franklin, that once, every year, the industrialist would send him a brand new car – free – as a show of appreciation. Yet, once Ford and Cameron began publishing their Jewish-critical pieces, and the next year came, Franklin rejected the car, telling the driver, “I can’t accept that.” Ford, confused and concerned, called his friend, asking, “Rabbi, has something come between us?” Franklin responded, “Yeah, you’re attacking Jews. I can’t accept anything from you.” Ford responded matter-of-factly, “No, I’m not attacking Jews, I’m attacking bad Jews. I would think you’d be supportive of that.”

The rabbi wrote of The Dearborn Independent’s articles,

“Such venom could only some from a Jew-hater of the lowest type, and here it was appearing in a newspaper owned and controlled by one whom the Jews had counted among their friends. It was veritably a bolt out of the blue.”

Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate, Neil Baldwin (2003)

Despite the rabbi’s misgivings, and obvious sense of disappointment and resentment, he and Ford eventually patched up their relationship and remained fast-friends until Franklin’s death in the late 40s. Additionally, Ford was also considered, both at the time and in modern-day publications by most liberal thinkers to be “ahead of his time” on race and gender issues (so long as they were not race and gender issues related to Jews). For instance, Ford employed both women and blacks at a time when very few other companies would – not only that, but he also paid them the exact same wage as his white, male workers.

In his book, Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate, the cultural historian, Neil Baldwin writes that Ford’s social views were indicative of a “-almost bipolar trait.” Yet there is nothing “bipolar” about dichotomizing any given ethnic group into good and bad categories so long as the distinctions made are accurate. Such a principal holds regardless of whether one disagrees or agrees with Ford and Cameron’s conclusions. Indeed, the United States government does as much to this very day, they merely do not call it as such; for why would a government note race-&-religion in crime statistics if those who compiled them were not interested in mapping out and dichotomizing said groups along such lines as good and bad individuals? The answer is clear, they would not, for unlike a think-tank, the government is not collecting such information merely for academic purposes but for future enforcement of law and the safeguarding of their interests. Additionally, many of the Jewish groups which Baldwin seems to think were horribly maligned were doing precisely what he criticizes Ford for (in that many Jews considered Ford to be a bad euro-American) – were they “bipolar?” I shall not put words in anyone’s mouth – one would have to ask Mr. Baldwin to be sure – but it doesn’t seem a stretch to assume his answer would be a resounding, “No.” At this point I am hopeful that the reader will discern that, though Ford, though he certainly made mistakes, was not the ignorant, hateful schizoid who so many scholars seem to make him out to be; nor was he a “anti-Semite” even by the ADL’s own proffered definition of the very word.

Popular opinion held that Ford was the loser of the affair, albeit a fairly gracious one and Aaron Sapiro the victor. Such sentiments, however, betrayed the truth of the matter and all that was later to transpire for the libel case had nearly bankrupted Sapiro who had moved from New York City to Chicago where he was warmly embraced by the Jewish community. More damaging than that, however, was a series of incidents in Chicago that seem to lend some credence to the claims that Ford and William J. Cameron laid out against the Jewish lawyer. On July 28th 1933, Aaron Sapiro was implicated in a Chicago-based racketeering scheme alongside none other than crime boss Al Capone as well as Capone’s likely heir, Murray Humphreys. The Michigan Daily describes the event thusly,

Chicago’s War On Gangsters

NEW YORK, July 27.-(AP)-Aaron Sapiro was taken to Police Headquarters late today, charged with being a fugitive from Chicago, where he was indicted on a charge of racketeering conspiracy.

CHICAGO, July 27.-(W)-Reputable attorneys and industrial arbiters, labor union bosses, plain hoodlums and Al Capone himself were named alike in a blanket indictment today, charging 24 men with bombing, acid-throwing and restraint of legitimate trade through terrorism. A eminent among the defendants were:

AARON SAPIRO, New York attorney, who once sued Henry Ford for $1,000,000. He is a pioneer organizer of the co-operative marketing movement in the United States, named because he was counsel for nearly a year of the Chicago Laundry Owners Association. He quit June 2.

DR. BENJAMIN M. SQUIRES, University of Chicago lecturer on economics, Federal labor mediator who was appointed head of the Master Cleaners and Dyers Institute of Chicago for the announced purpose of eradicating the gangsters.

ALDERMAN OSCAR NELSON, Republican leader of the City.Council, attorney for the Dye House Drivers Union.

AL CAPONE, who might still be the czar of Chicago’s outlaw labor rackets, ruling by the gun, had the Government not put him in prison for 11 years on an income tax evasion conviction.

MURRAY HUMPHREYS, successor to Capone as Public Enemy No.1, business boss of the syndicate, a fugitive now from Federal indictments charging that he dodged his income tax bill.

Sapiro was acquitted of the charges, namely, labor racketeering, but then again, so were all of the 22 defendants, several of whom were then or are now, well known criminals, chief among which is notorious Chicago-based, prohibition era crime boss, Al Capone. It should also be noted that Sapiro’s freedom was only assured after the Illinois attorney general killed himself. Let us also note that a

Sapiro’s affiliation to syndicated crime lends some credibility here to Ford and Cameron’s assertion’s over shady dealings and plans. There is also the fact that Dave Lubin and Sapiro’s plans would have effectively cornered the wheat market across international lines, which, regardless of intentions, was something which wasn’t at all irrational to oppose.

Regardless of whether Sapiro was guilty of the racketeering scheme, his agricultural plan would have done nearly everything which Cameron and Ford accused him of – the principal question here is merely of motivation, was it nefarious or benign? That is a matter still of historical dispute and thus I shall not take pains here to answer it and leave it up to the reader to decide. Instead, I wish to re-direct our attention, for Sapiro was not the only was he indicted on charges of a racketeering scheme (which he may, or may not have been a part of) he also had a very close association with a man whose name conjures up the blackest of villainy.

Meyer Lansky.

Yet Sapiro was the least of the players involved in the Ford affair who were connected to organized crime; the most prominent of them all was none other than the ADL itself.