Prescott Bush and the Business Plot

The BBC Radio 4 series Document broadcast an episode, The Whitehouse Coup, about a little-known event in United States history, sometimes called “The Business Plot”. It's a fascinating half-hour look at a plan hatched in 1933 by some wealthy businessman to create a fascist movement in America, using army veterans to pressure, co-opt, or replace President Franklin Roosevelt. The businessmen attempted to recruit retired Major General Smedley Butler, who had earlier supported The Bonus Army, as a leader. After playing along for a while to get more information, Butler revealed the plot to a Congressional committee.

The committee called a few witnesses in executive session, then let the matter drop. Why? The BBC program posits that Roosevelt may have used the threat of prosecution for the plot as leverage in his political battle to pass his New Deal programs.

An article by Paul Joseph Watson (here) says:

A BBC Radio 4 investigation sheds new light on a major subject that has received little historical attention, the conspiracy on behalf of a group of influential powerbrokers, led by Prescott Bush, to overthrow FDR and implement a fascist dictatorship in the U.S. based around the ideology of Mussolini and Hitler.

This has been widely repeated and linked across the web. But that's not at all what the BBC said. What the program says (starting at 20:24) is:

Later in the McCormack-Dickstein report, a shipping company called Hamburg-America Line was accused of providing free passage to Germany to American journalists willing to write favorable copy on Hitler's rise to power. The company is also alleged to have brought Nazi spies and pro-fascist sympathizers into America. John Buchanan has studied this latest section of the report and has discovered that one of the company's managers came from a very famous family. "The thing that surprised me most was to discover in the documents of this company that Hamburg-America Lines had, in fact, been managed on the U. S. side at the executive level by Prescott Bush as part of a web of Nazi business interests that were all seized in late 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act by the U. S. Congress and Prescott Bush is the grandfather of the sitting President of the United States." [John Buchanan]

Of course, at the time it was perfectly legal to have dealings with Hitler's Germany. Prescott Bush was not called to account for this until America entered the war.

The McCormack-Dickstein report is "Investigation of Nazi Propaganda Activities and Investigation of Certain Other Propaganda Activities." United States Congress, House of Representatives. Special Committee on Un-American Activities.Dec 29, 1934. (73rd Congress, 2nd session. Hearings No. 73-D. C.-6). (Washington, Government Printing Office; 1935)

It's been known for years, albeit not widely publicized, that Prescott Bush and the Harriman Bank had extensive business dealings with the Nazis, so this is not really new. The BBC is reporting that the Hamburg-America line (where Bush was a director) was investigated by same committee that also investigated Smedley Butler's allegations. But that's the only connection. Neither Bush nor the Hamburg-America Line had any connection to the Business Plot.

Ken Hirsch
26 July 2007