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An exclusive WITHpod conversation with Rachel Maddow: podcast and transcript

Chris Hayes speaks with MSNBC anchor, author and friend Rachel Maddow about her new podcast, "Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra" and more.

What more can we say? Rachel Maddow is incredible. Luckily for us, her decision to dial back from the nightly cable news grind has allowed her to create a work in new media. One of her new projects is “Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra,” a podcast all about the history of pre-World War II American fascism, and those who worked to stop it. The historical, narrative style pod could hardly be more relevant, as the plot revolves around a sedition trial quite similar to the ongoing Oath Keepers one. As threats to American democracy abound, there’s more that has to be done to save it, said Maddow in our exclusive podcast interview. “I think there needs to be a bigger, broader, anti-fascist movement where people actually have work to do every day in trying to fight fascism and save the country,” she urged. Maddow joins WITHpod to discuss what she’s been up to, how she found the story that’s told in her new podcast, the editorial and creative process that has followed and more.

Note: This is a rough transcript — please excuse any typos.

Rachel Maddow: I think there needs to be a bigger, broader antifascist movement, where people actually have work to do every day in trying to --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- fight fascism and save the country. I think that our professional, and civic and religious institutions can be strong, but can also be hurt. I think we're capable of it. I just think we need some energy in it. And I'm hoping, in some ways, that learning the history of other Americans who've done it well can give us some energy.

Chris Hayes: Hello and welcome to "Why Is This Happening?" with me, your host, Chris Hayes.

Here in the televisual medium for a very, very special, exciting episode, I'm going to start with a sports metaphor, if you'll indulge me. I'm not pulling this from memory. See, if I was not televisual, I could be like in 1913, the American League home run leader was a guy named Home Run Baker. They named him Home Run Baker because of how many home runs he hit, and he hit 11. And then in 1913, he had 12. And then in 1914, he had nine.

And then a guy named Babe Ruth comes along. Now, this is basically the standard for American League home run leaders for like the entirety of the first 20 years of the 20th century. You get 11, you get 10. This guy, Babe Ruth, comes along, starts out as a pitcher, goes over to hitting. Babe Ruth just completely annihilates the records, hits 29 in 1919 --

Rachel Maddow: Wow.

Chris Hayes: -- 54 in 1920, 59 and then famously 60 in 1927.

Point is, Babe Ruth was sort of just doing something different than every other baseball player was doing. There were lots of good baseball players. They were good at hitting, they were good at getting doubles and triples and all this stuff.

The game operated a certain way. It operated in a way where, like, people maybe hit 10 home runs a year. And then there's just a person who comes along who's just better at it, just better at hitting baseballs and completely revolutionizes, like, what it is to be a hitter in Major League Baseball.

And like, you get figures like this sometimes, right? There's some sort of conventions to some game or genre, whether it's artistic medium or it's a sport, you know, Michael Jordan, Picasso, Steve Jobs, like people that just do this thing that other people are doing. And some are doing extremely well, like at an incredibly high level, playing Major League Baseball. And then someone comes along, they just like do it differently. And then everyone starts doing it differently or some people try to do it differently, even if they're not quite as good.

And my friend and colleague, Rachel Maddow, is one of those people.

Rachel Maddow: Oh.

Chris Hayes: I told her she's going to hate that (ph), but it is true.

Rachel Maddow: That's ridiculous.

Chris Hayes: I am someone who does this for a living. I communicate for a living. I try to tell stories for a living. And Rachel is just on another level as a communicator and a storyteller, and incredibly innovative in that respect as well, just at a technical level, which I think we're going to talk about a little bit, even though it's like a little inside (ph). But I find it really interesting, so you're along for the ride.

So there's a little bit of like heartbreak and joy that came when Rachel said that she was going to step away from "The Daily Show" and have "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Monday nights. I'm getting weirdly teary. That's kind of funny just because she was doing that. But the thing that was very exciting to me about that was like, oh, well, let's see what Babe Ruth is going to do next. How are you going to take this very distinct, particular, you know, I think generational ability to tell stories in other fashions and forms and genres.

So that, to me, was like incredibly exciting. And I've been kind of like champing at bit of, like, OK, what do we do here? And then it's here. This is extremely exciting.

So there's a new podcast out. As I'm speaking to you, I think the podcast is available now wherever you get your podcast. It's called "Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra." It is everything that I would have wanted. It has all of the kind of like context, and history, and pacing, and sort of just like narrative oomph of like a great Rachel A block, but with all the production abilities of a great podcast.

If you listen to Bagman, it'll be familiar, but it's also different and new. It's about a story that I had never heard before which, for me, is like I know a lot of American history. Actually, when I heard the gloss (ph), and I was like, that can't be right. I would know if that happened, like someone's miscommunicating to me what the topic of this is because, if that had happened, I would know, but it turns out it did happen, I didn't know about it.

So all that said, it is a great pleasure to have the one and only Rachel Maddow. I’m talking to (ph) --

Rachel Maddow: You're killing me. You're killing me.

Chris Hayes: I know.

Rachel Maddow: Chris, it's very nice. And now I'm done. I feel done. Whatever is going to happen now, it's going to be coming down from that, so that was very kind.

Chris Hayes: Well, so let's talk about before we get to the podcast --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- like, how is the new life of one night a week of "The Rachel Maddow Show"?

Rachel Maddow: It is great. Actually, it was the right decision.

Chris Hayes: Good.

Rachel Maddow: And I'm really grateful. Not to be weird but, like, I'm very grateful to the executives at the company who said I could do this, because it means that I don't have to quit doing what I'm doing. I can keep doing what I'm doing. I was burning myself out physically and mentally in a way that meant that I was not going to be able to keep doing this for very long. And now I feel like I can. And I've got this good mix of things now instead of just having a supersized serving of one thing that is too much for me to handle.

So Susan's annoyed because I'm not working any less. And the unhealthful thing about my new life is that I've lost one very healthy thing that I had, which was strict compartmentalization --

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Rachel Maddow: -- which is between weekdays and weekends and --

Chris Hayes: And time off.

Rachel Maddow: -- working and not working --

Chris Hayes: I say this to people all the time when they say, "Well, oh, God, it must be crazy when you go on vacation."

I'm like, "No, it's the opposite of crazy. When I go on vacation, I take Twitter off my phone and I don't know what's happening in the world."

Rachel Maddow: Right.

Chris Hayes: I have one work product. It's the most --

Rachel Maddow: Yes.

Chris Hayes: -- transparent work product in the world.

Rachel Maddow: Yes.

Chris Hayes: Everyone gets to see what I do. It's an hour --

Rachel Maddow: Every day.

Chris Hayes: And it's this thing. And if that thing isn't there at the end of the day, like, I got the day off --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- like, I’m not doing anything.

Rachel Maddow: And that magic of being like, the show is over, I'm going to --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- answer whatever e-mails I need to answer that pertain to this evening, and then shutoff and not turn on again until the workday starts again.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: Like, you and I have talked about this over the years, about how important that is and how you make sure with your staff there's an expectation that nobody is working through the weekend --

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Rachel Maddow: -- you know, like --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- yes, stuff comes up and there's --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- breaking news times, and there's time we have to be on call and all that stuff. But compartmentalization is important so that you can work this intensely. When you are not just doing a highly structured daily deadline, daily production thing, it is harder to figure out where the compartments are.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: And so, I am working past midnight now instead of stopping working at --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- 10:30. I haven't figured out how to work less, but I am working in a different way and I'm doing different things, and that is valuable.

Chris Hayes: I mean, not to get too, like, therapy here, but there is just this is like a prime insight of therapy, right, which is like, wherever you go, there you are.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: That, like, a lot of times you come in, you're talking to a spouse or a friend or a therapist, and you're, like, talking about things in your life. Sometimes it's like there are exogenous factors. It's like, well, I have an 18-month and they're up all night, so I'm tired all the time. It's like, yeah, my job does this, but then there's you, inside. It's like, you could leave the job but, like, the you follows you.

Rachel Maddow: Yes. Susan was like, you know, when I met you, you were a grad student who works hard.

Chris Hayes: Exactly right, yes.

Rachel Maddow: And then you were in local morning radio and working this hard, and then you were working for the ACLU --

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Rachel Maddow: -- and you were working this hard.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: And so, now she's like, you didn't retire --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- you changed jobs. And now you're working harder than you were working at the job that was killing you before. Happy? Right. It's like, could we --

Chris Hayes: I want to follow-up on this. So the thing that I left out at the intro is that, and I've said this before publicly and you've said it before and it's like reported, like, the way that you would approach the show daily was just, like, an unbelievable amount of work, you know, just in terms of sheer hours, and in effort, and in rewrites and revisions and making those A blocks, particularly, which they take a bunch of different producers and they're very long for --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- cable news, which is part of the reason they don't get done at that length because, actually, it just --

Rachel Maddow: Means a lot of commercials in the back-half of the show because you can't put any in the first 25 minutes --


Chris Hayes: Right, but it also means, like --

Rachel Maddow: -- yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- constructing. It's like a physics bridge with the toothpicks and the weight, like, it better be pretty structurally tight --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- or it falls apart if you're doing something in 15 minutes or 14 minutes. If you're doing something in 90 seconds, it's like there's just a lot more room for error, right? So that part of it, like, what have you learned from that storytelling process that you bring over now?

Rachel Maddow: I mean, I think I learned what I like, which is helpful. It's easier to do hard work for a long time when you like what you're doing and you like the production of it.

I've definitely learned that I can't do everything alone and that there is no such thing as a one-man-band in this business. And it's not just fact-checking, it is people correcting you when you stray and having a trusting relationship with the people you work with, so that --

Chris Hayes: That's really key.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah. I mean, you can't have people who are afraid to tell you no, you can't. You have to work with people who are smarter than you, who keep you on track and bring out the best in you.

Chris Hayes: And, yes, I think it's a really important thing that I've learned also, like if someone sends an e-mail or sends a note saying, like, the thing you said in the monologue this morning when you were just talking it through, like, isn't quite right, you kind of missed this. To be like, "Thank you. That's awesome."

Rachel Maddow: Yes, rather than (ph) --

Chris Hayes: Like, a round of applause for this, like --

Rachel Maddow: -- impertinent, yes.

Chris Hayes: -- please, yes. Like, please, because that’s like --

Rachel Maddow: Yes.

Chris Hayes: -- it can be so dangerous.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: So here's the thing, so we're going to get in the topic, but what was so striking to me, and this sort of goes back to what I was trying to get at the monologue, there is just this inimitable thing. I mean, obviously it's your voice, and you have a very good voice technically, but a Rachel Maddow way of telling a story that happens in this podcast where it's like, "I'm in it. I'm in Rachel's head, and I'm in her world." And how much do you think about suspense? You're so good at suspense, so good.

Rachel Maddow: Oh, in terms of legitimately not knowing what's coming next? That --

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Rachel Maddow: -- like, technical suspense? I don't know. I mean, what I do think about is not assuming that anybody knows anything, but also expecting that everybody can go everywhere, right. So to me, that's like the thing that I feel like I brought to this job that I've tried to hold on to and tried to build on, which is people are capable of absorbing any level of complexity and even obscurity if you do the work to get them there. And the way you do the work to get them there is to assume that people know nothing when you start, right. So --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- you are smart, and you can travel this path with me, but we will both start with this first step.

Chris Hayes: Right, but the first step, the key, is to parcel out the information in this way --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- that doesn't overwhelm --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- but that creates this constant sense of curiosity.

Rachel Maddow: Yes, and that's got a whole lot of technical elements to it, like, don’t --

Chris Hayes: A lot, like, it’s a real --

Rachel Maddow: -- don’t use too many proper nouns that are --

Chris Hayes: -- magician’s trick, it really is, like --

Rachel Maddow: -- but you know how to do it. I mean, don’t make --

Chris Hayes: Yes, but the opening scene of this podcast, you're just, like, I don't know who this guy is.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: I don't know whose secretary is. I don't know where this is going but, like, what? Why is he so upset? It’s really --

Rachel Maddow: And also, is this real? Is this a real story?

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: Did this really happen or is this a play?

Chris Hayes: I've never heard of this guy.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah. And why have you never heard of this guy? Great reason --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- it turns out that you've never heard of this guy.

But I'll tell you, the name of the secretary. Harriet Johnson, I only took out in the draft before you got that rough cut, so --

Chris Hayes: Right, because you didn't want to give me two names that I had to manage --

Rachel Maddow: Because you only --

Chris Hayes: -- because I only had one, and that one was enough. And I also was like, I guess, I just never heard of the senator.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah. And so you're focused on that name. So you get that name. That's the very first words (ph) --

Chris Hayes: See, I'm doing the thing right now because we're talking about it. Like the people who are listening are like, "Wait, who's the senator?"

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Wait, what's the story? What's the story?

Rachel Maddow: Right. Yeah, it's about titrating that stuff. It's about thinking about the way the mind works, right? Like, you're getting the name of the senator. So I took out the name of the senator's secretary after leaving it in for all the other drafts. I had also taken out the name of the flight attendant, but I put the name of the flight attendant back in in a later draft, because you need to be able to picture her name on the piece of paper that we describe when we bring out --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- the flight attendant later in the story. So having her name --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- matters, when having the secretary's name doesn't matter. I love that scientific part of it.

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Rachel Maddow: I love that, but it takes a lot of work.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, it’s a lot of work.

Rachel Maddow: That's why I'm always up after midnight working on this stuff.

Chris Hayes: Let's talk about Ernest Lundeen --

Rachel Maddow: OK.

Chris Hayes: -- senator from Minnesota. Here's the thing, I'm in this weird thing where it's like I don't want to spoil it, but kind of have to talk about the content of the podcast. I'm not spoiling it.

Rachel Maddow: Let's take it beyond Ernest Lundeen. So we start off with the story of the senator who you've never heard of.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: And where we get to from that is a Nazi plot --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- to distribute German government propaganda in the United States through the U.S. Congress and through the United States Senate.

Chris Hayes: With an actual, like, handler, like a Nazi handler --

Rachel Maddow: A paid agent of Hitler's government working with members of Congress and members of the United States Senate to distribute, literally, propaganda written by the German government targeting the American people in quantity. That happened. That's how we got the Foreign Agent Registration Act. That's how FARA, which is now, like, having this new rebirth in the Trump era.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: Tom Barrack, literally on trial right now --

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Rachel Maddow: -- who's (ph) Trump's inaugural chairman, as (ph) being a secret foreign agent.

Chris Hayes: So the broad contours of this, and again they're individual stories and I want to keep that narrative suspense --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- is about essentially, like, fascist sympathies in the United States in the run-up to World War II. Obviously, in a big country, people have all sorts of views, right --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: But these weren't just like odd cranks, rondos, that there was organization, very powerful popular support and mobilization, key figures, and the sort of formation of something that looked like a kind of proto or explicitly profascist movement and organization inside the United States.

Rachel Maddow: An effort in the United States. And so, what we end up with is the Justice Department, not stumbling onto but discovering the contours of this plot by the Hitler government to use members of Congress to distribute Nazi propaganda in quantity to the American public. And the Hitler government simultaneously supporting both native fascist and German fascist movements in this country that were plotting a violent overthrow of the U.S. Government. And the same agents in the Hitler government, operating through the same channels, was doing both of those things simultaneously.

And the Justice Department was like, "We should do something about this. This isn't good." And the marrying of those two things, a violent threat to overthrow the U.S. government multiple plots along those lines --

Chris Hayes: Hoarding guns, training with those guns and weapons, ordnance, I mean --

Rachel Maddow: Yes. Oh, yeah --

Chris Hayes: -- the full thing.

Rachel Maddow: -- stockpiling bombs and detailed plans. That happening at the same time that members of Congress and members of the United States Senate were being roped into a plan involving a Nazi agent to, not just sort of leverage their pro-German or antiwar sympathies, but actually do Hitler's work in this country. The combination of those things is something that the Justice Department tried to tackle through a mass sedition trial in 1944.

And the Justice Department, I think, was onto something in terms of the way those things were connected. But the effort to force a resolution to it through the criminal law and through the courts didn't work.

All sorts of other efforts against those forces did work. And those are some of the really interesting stories that I think are very much lost to history. But it's this great, I think, very resonant tension between something happening that does seem to require a criminal law response that is not well-managed by a criminal law response. And you need the prosecution, you need the investigation, you need the Justice Department to be engaged in things like this, but it's actually not the solution. And, to me, when I started to understand the story, that's when I felt like, "Oh, I need to make it right away."

Chris Hayes: How did you find your way to the story?

Rachel Maddow: I found my way to the story a little bit backwards. I was really interested in some of the sort of deep, radical right, ultra-right stuff that was happening in the country in the post-World War II era leading into the Reagan era. I feel like this idea that we're dealing with pro-authoritarian impulses on the right as connected to electoral politics, that being some sort of unprecedented challenge, it doesn't feel unprecedented to me. I feel like there has been real ultraright pro-authoritarian radicalism adjacent to Republican electoral politics for longer than we admitted.

So I started working on that, ended up in this place where I was looking at sort of the origins of American Holocaust denial, which has always been sort of an interest for me as well. And I ended up in the weird part of American Republican Party politics where they were against the Nuremberg trials. They didn't want Nazi war criminals being put on trial because that was unfair to the Nazis. Like, there was a weird moment around the birth of American Holocaust denial and accountability for actual Nazis, not allegorical Nazis, but the real Nazi leadership that brought me to this moment. So that's telling --


Chris Hayes: Well, no, that’s fascinating.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: I knew a little bit about the Nuremberg controversy, or not really a controversy but people that objected to Nuremberg.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah. I mean, if you take people at face value and you believe that they are arguing earnestly for what they believe, those are fascinating and substantive arguments, which also occluded a lot of active fascist-organizing in the United States at the time.

Chris Hayes: Well, this is part of what makes this so interesting. So when Doni, our producer who's here, you guys are very closely held with the details of this, which made sense. So I hadn't gotten the actual cuts of the first two episodes. So I was like --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- ballpark, what is this? And he gave me some two-sentence sketch that he'd been given. And I was like, I feel like I would know if that happened.

Rachel Maddow: What did he tell you? Do you remember what it was like? Doni, do you remember what you told him?

Chris Hayes: Authoritarian plot --

Doni Holloway: It was about events of historical significance compared to today.


Chris Hayes: Having to do with, like, a pro-Nazi --

Doni Holloway: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- was like --

Doni Holloway: World War II era in America --

Chris Hayes: Yeah. And I was just like, OK, well. So, but that gets only (ph) --

Rachel Maddow: Rachel wrote a fiction podcast?


Chris Hayes: Well, that gets to something fascinating to me because we use the term "lost to history." I mean, one of the things that's sort of really exciting and fascinating about the podcast is you've got front-page news coverage of this stuff. I mean, this is --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- stuff that is top of mind at the time, big news --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- totally lost to history. And I wonder what you think, what is that curtain about.

Rachel Maddow: Super interesting. And actually, it's amazing, you know, that the Oath Keepers sedition trial is going on --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- right now. And in that opening statement from the prosecution in the Oath Keepers sedition trial, the prosecutor said, you know, A, they thought when they left the Capitol on January 6th that they had succeeded and that there would not be an electoral count certification --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- and that they were then plotting their next steps when they realized that Congress reconvened --

Chris Hayes: Was coming back, yes.

Rachel Maddow: -- like, that night, and was coming back. Then they planned a second attack. And then the prosecutor said they continued their plot. I'm paraphrasing. But they expected to go forward with this armed effort to stop the transfer of power in the United States.

It was stopped when the FBI arrested these perpetrators on January 17th, right. So we got January 6th attack on the Capitol. January 20th is inauguration. January 17th is when they got arrested.

January 17th, 80 years to the day earlier, January 17th, 1940, the front-page story in every newspaper in the country is about the arrest of 17 members of the Christian Front militia. J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, announces it. Eleanor Roosevelt is writing a newspaper column, at the time, as first lady. She writes her first lady column about how shocked she is. They've arrested these guys and put them on trial for sedition because they were stockpiling bombs and working with stolen military heavy machine guns, and they had a plot to simultaneously assassinate 12 members of Congress and violently attack armories and U.S. government outposts and take over the U.S. government, 80 years to the day from the Christian Front to the Oath Keepers sedition arrest.

And that's stunning to me. And it was front-page news, and it was a huge deal. And they were acquitted. Some were acquitted, the rest were off in a mistrial. That was 1940, and then by 1941, we were in World War II, and we moved on.

Similarly, with the great sedition trial in 1944, which is sort of amazing that they brought it in 1944 --

Chris Hayes: Right, yes, right, right, right --

Rachel Maddow: -- given what happened in 1940 when they tried it against the Christian Front, that trial has gone down in history as a failure or as a sideshow or, in some cases, as a debacle because it wasn't a successful prosecution. And that means that the history of it, to the extent that there is any history of it, has been written by the right and by people who are sympathizers of the defendants --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- saying, oh, the Justice Department should have never done this, and these poor Americans were persecuted just for being conservatives.

And I want them to tell that story. I'm happy to read it. One of the defendants wrote a book about it. That's actually a great primary source for this work because he reproduces all of the statements from the trial, that are hard to get from the multi-thousand-page transcript of the trial now, simply because he wants to rebut them in his book. So I'm glad that history is written, but there's another way to write this history rather than just saying, oh, these poor defendants, they never should have been put on trial.

Those poor defendants were not convicted. But the reason the Justice Department put them on trial is bananas and is totally worth telling, and is an incredibly resonant snapshot of a previous iteration of the allure of authoritarianism in this country and what it took to fight it.

Chris Hayes: More of our conversation after this quick break.


Chris Hayes: As I've been listening to this, I've been thinking about just the rupture that happens with Pearl Harbor. And I think this first entered my consciousness in the Philip Roth book, "The Plot Against America" --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- which is fictional, but also when you read it, it's a fictional counter-history in which Charles Lindbergh runs for president as essentially a kind of Nazi sympathizer, essentially America first. And when you read it, it sends you to Wikipedia because you're like, wait, how much of this is Philip Roth --

Rachel Maddow: Yes.

Chris Hayes: -- and how much is history?

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: And then what you uncover is that, like, prior to Pearl Harbor, there was a huge amount of Nazi sympathy in the United States. There was a huge amount of, probably, a bigger category of not outright Nazi sympathizers but people who are, like, kind of equivocal about the whole thing.

Rachel Maddow: Or appeasers.

Chris Hayes: Appeasers, right.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah, yeah.

Chris Hayes: Pearl Harbor happens, the war happens. I feel like that's part of it all getting scrubbed because it's like, oh, well, that was all before.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: You know, then we went to war and then we beat the Nazis. And then, you know, it's one of these things where the story you end up learning, even at a relatively high level of sophistication in American history, is like, what comes out the other end, which is that we liberate --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: You know, we have D-Day. We have all this stuff.

Rachel Maddow: Right.

Chris Hayes: And all that nasty unseemliness in '39 and '40 --

Rachel Maddow: We beat them. We were against them --

Chris Hayes: Exactly.

Rachel Maddow: -- they're defeated and gone.

Chris Hayes: So it’s like --

Rachel Maddow: Yes.

Chris Hayes: -- and it's funny, too, because I've been thinking about this as I'm listening to your "Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra," I'm thinking about, you know, the Russians, who have an incredibly profound mythology around World War II, justified by the fact that they lost more lives than anyone in --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- defeating Hitler's army. I mean, the siege of Stalingrad, one of the most brutal, bloody things ever to happen in human war-making --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- you know, they don't talk about the Hitler-Stalin Pact beforehand --

Rachel Maddow: Right.

Chris Hayes: -- because it’s like, look, well, it turned around in the end. And they're right, like, they earned it.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: They sacrificed tremendous amount of bloodshed.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: But, like, where everyone was on Hitler and Nazis in '39, '40s, I guess, what I'm saying, is like a very different thing than where everyone is on Hitler and Nazis in '44.

Rachel Maddow: Yes.

Chris Hayes: And that's something that comes through in the story you're telling in a way that, I think, we really don't think enough about.

Rachel Maddow: And if we can't be real and, like, sort of justly calibrated in terms of thinking about American fascism, and American authoritarianism, and indeed American support for Hitler in the leadup to Pearl Harbor, then I think we can't be real and clearsighted about the persistence of those movements over time as the generations have gone on.

And the fact is that even after Pearl Harbor, the groups that were planning the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, they took on a different caste because then, you know, we were at war. And so, we had to decide whether or not this was the enemy within. But those folks didn't change their views once the Japanese bombed us in Hawaii. Those movements came from somewhere. And in some cases, they were actively supported by the Hitler government as an effort to create a fifth column here that was going to soften us up for a fascist takeover or to have a native takeover here in the United States that would bring in an administration or a form of government that would be more in keeping and more friendly toward Hitler’s aims. Some of it was, you know, a hostile foreign power, but a lot of it was native borne.

And one of the plots that we talk about in the podcast involves a guy who had been, you know, a high-ranking clan leader, right. And he sort of leaves the clan and forms a successor organization, and then joins with all these American fascists, including those who are in touch with Hitler’s government, to create a plan to build an American fascist, to create an American violent fascist to overthrow here. And his training is all in the clan, right.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: The clan is a fascist terrorist movement --

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Rachel Maddow: -- in this country. And so, deciding that we won in the war --

Chris Hayes: Right, yes, right.

Rachel Maddow: -- and, therefore, that vanquished --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- the problem --

Chris Hayes: The impulses --

Rachel Maddow: And all Americans came around --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- and we’re on the right side of this fight, it’s reductive, and facile, and not helpful.

Chris Hayes: Well, and it also, I mean, the obvious resonance is here with the current day. I mean --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- and through time, I mean, I think that’s also partly, in a weird way there’s actually kind of something comforting about it insofar as a liberal democratic open society is going to face existential foes to that liberalism almost as a matter of just reality. Like, that there’s no final victory over the forces of it, even though I feel like the story of World War II and particularly the story of that, you know, it’s like the defeat of Nazis and fascism, the purging of Nazis and fascists from the continent, although not really in France. And then the Cold War, right? So these sort of grand ideological battles, first against Nazis and fascism, then against communism, and then of course, like, the ultimate victory of liberal democracy as a kind of like teleological story about human development, which we basically all get, like, whether we know it or not --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: As opposed to, like, no, liberal democracy is a hard thing to maintain.

Rachel Maddow: Yes.

Chris Hayes: Its enemies are everywhere, all the time. The impulses that seduce people to oppose it are there all the time.

Rachel Maddow: Yes.

Chris Hayes: And you basically got to just constantly work at it, which I think is both more realistic and not the story we’re told, but is very much illustrated by the story you are telling.

Rachel Maddow: Yes. And there are Americans who went before us who were as smart or smarter, as funny or funnier, more nimble, more interesting, more capable, and who saved us from this last time around, and we should learn how they did it. And some of them, yes, were prosecutors and people working inside the criminal justice system, but some of them were crusading columnists. And some of them were activists and infiltrators, and anti-fascist movement participants.

I mean, I brought this for you as a present.

Chris Hayes: This is amazing, yeah.

Rachel Maddow: This is a booklet about the Christian Front. It’s called "The Christian Front: Coughlin’s Storm Troopers," which was put out by an anti-fascist organization that was trying to raise awareness about the Christian Front. This was 1939.

And the thing that I thought was beautiful about this is that, at the end of this whole thing, exposing the Christian Front and talking about how they’re essentially --

Chris Hayes: Oh it's the full pamphlet. Oh, that’s awesome.

Rachel Maddow: Oh, the full pamphlet. I brought you the whole thing. Practical steps for Americans reading this who are concerned about this. It can be stopped now before it acquires the prestige of success. You can help a great deal by, A, keeping us, this anti-fascist organization, advised of incidents, i.e., stabbings, beatings, et cetera, that may happen in your neighborhood. Because these are fascist thugs --

Chris Hayes: Right, yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- who are beating up Jews in neighborhoods in New York.

B, you can petition your local city council and police to take action within the existing law and without violating the right of free speech against the incitements to riot from the Christian Front.

C, organize local tolerance committees in your own neighborhood to hold street meetings and other meetings.

D, ask your local clergymen to preach sermons on tolerance.

Chris Hayes: Wow.

Rachel Maddow: I mean, this is not --

Chris Hayes: It’s amazing.

Rachel Maddow: -- you know, get them arrested.

Chris Hayes: Right, no. It’s fight --

Rachel Maddow: This is --

Chris Hayes: -- fight with the --

Rachel Maddow: -- fight this.

Chris Hayes: -- tools of liberal democracy.

Rachel Maddow: We’ve got fascist antisemitic thugs who are echoing the Hitler line. In this case, this pamphlet is about the Bronx. And we, in the Bronx, need to figure out how we are going to fight that.

Chris Hayes: Oh, my God, this is amazing.

Rachel Maddow: And we are not going to fight them with knives. And we are not going to fight them by getting rid of our civil liberties. We’re going to fight them by trying to get our churches to be more active on this, and trying to get the police to be more aware of what we’re doing, and to try to get neighborhood organizations that are both aware of this and organizing against it.

Chris Hayes: It’s by a reverend --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- by Reverend Alson J. Smith --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: We should talk about, since it’s mentioned, the title is "The Christian Front: Coughlin’s Storm Troopers," and maybe we should talk a little bit of Coughlin because he is a key figure.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah. So Charles Coughlin, I think everybody’s heard of him.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, you do get him in, again, the kind of inter-warriors 101 --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- American history.

Rachel Maddow: And also, you get him when people are sort of hyperbolically criticizing right-wing media, right? You say like, "Oh, today's Father Coughlin."

Chris Hayes: The foundational, yeah.

Rachel Maddow: There’s no such thing as today’s Father Coughlin.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: His reach in terms of his market penetration and his radicalism cannot be overstated. There were 130 million Americans in terms of our population at the time, 30 million of them every week were listening to him. Like think about what that would translate to in terms of today’s ratings. That’s like he’s a multiple of the Super Bowl every week in terms of --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- how many Americans are paying attention to him.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, yes, yes.

Rachel Maddow: And he's calling for Christians to boycott Jewish businesses and saying that America, he, as Father Coughlin, takes the path of fascism. He is encouraging America that the leaders we need to be emulating are Mussolini and Franco, and he calls for his followers to form armed militia cells to train with weapons, to go the Franco way, to go the way of fascism in this country. I mean, yeah, we’ve got really radical right-wing media, but we don’t have anything like that.

Chris Hayes: We’ll be right back after we take this quick break.


Chris Hayes: It's fascinating, there’s clips of Coughlin in the show. I would say that there’s a recognizably fascist cadence, like there’s a certain tenor and cadence and rhythm --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- to fascist incitement and then --

Rachel Maddow: Gosh, yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- you play the Coughlin, it’s like even if it was in a language I can understand, I'm (ph) like, I think I know probably what he’s ranting about.

Rachel Maddow: Did he just say Jew?

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: I think he said, yeah, exactly, yeah.

Chris Hayes: And it’s also fascinating. So here’s the thing I’m really interested in because this is another resonance. Coughlin starts out as a kind of like not quite left figure, but he is supportive of the New Deal. He hates the bankers, which then, you know, one notch past that, right? Well, then who are the Jewish bankers, right? Then, it’s them. Lundeen gets run out of literally on a rail out of his congressional district for opposing World War I, which is a very different thing than opposing World War II --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- ideologically.

And what I find fascinating about is like the ideological trajectory of these figures around this time and how people navigate through, once everything is presented is on the table, right? When you’re not on the confines of, like, well, we’re liberal democracy and what should the tax rate be, but rather how should we order all of society, fascist, communist, liberal democracy, people take this very interesting --

Rachel Maddow: Oh, yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- ideological journeys, I mean --

Rachel Maddow: But also, power corrupts, right?

Chris Hayes: That’s the other thing, yeah.

Rachel Maddow: And so I think, talking about Coughlin, I mean, his newspaper is called "Social Justice" --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- right? And here he is, like, arguing for (inaudible) --


Chris Hayes: That’s his big term --

Rachel Maddow: Yes.

Chris Hayes: -- I think like his coinage, essentially, in the proper imagination.

Rachel Maddow: Yes. And he’s effectively calling for pogroms in this country after Kristallnacht happens in November 1938. He gets on the air in the United States just after Kristallnacht, and basically says, yeah, the Jews had it coming. Like, oh, don’t worry too much about what you’re hearing about the supposed Jews being supposedly persecuted. They’re only being persecuted now as payback for all the evil things they have done, social justice.

Like, wait a second, how does this happen?

Chris Hayes: You have this detail about he reprints -- Goebbels --

Rachel Maddow: Word for word.

Chris Hayes: -- word for word Goebbels's speech in his newsletter.

Rachel Maddow: As his own, yes. And it’s a speech --

Chris Hayes: That's a hell of a person to plagiarize.

Rachel Maddow: I know, but it’s a speech about the Jews, about the evil --

Chris Hayes: Yeah, right.

Rachel Maddow: -- of the Jews. And there’s people who have done better scholarship on Coughlin that I can even sum up here, let alone try to ape. But I do think that the power that he has over his listeners and the power he has to influence events makes him fall in love with the idea of the strong man as the savior --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- in part because he thinks that he’s that.

And so one of the most remarkable things about the history of Coughlin is the end of Coughlin, which is --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- in part because his radicalism is freaking people out, but it’s mostly because the Catholic church pulls the plug on him, and he allows for that. He’s a big enough deal that had he decided to leave the priesthood and run for office and he’s --

Chris Hayes: Yeah, he’s just a parish priest.

Rachel Maddow: Yes.

Chris Hayes: He’s just a guy (ph), like --

Rachel Maddow: Right.

Chris Hayes: -- it’s wild that this happens, that this level of sort of fame and stardom and influence happens within the hierarchy of the Catholic clergy where he just literally just a literal random parish priest.

Rachel Maddow: There’s a great book called "Nazis of Copley Square" written by Charles Gallagher, who’s a Jesuit priest who teaches at Boston College.

Chris Hayes: Who figures prominently in the podcast.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah, he’s a great interview --

Chris Hayes: Yeah, he’s awesome.

Rachel Maddow: -- but it’s a great book. But he writes from an interesting perspective about the theology of Coughlin --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- and the sort of struggle in the church in terms of when they were going to pull the plug on him and why. And he’s very, you know, honest about the fact that antisemitism was not a sin in the Catholic church --

Chris Hayes: No.

Rachel Maddow: -- for a lot of the time that he was arguing this. And also the theology around tyranny and sedition, being a nuanced thing that Coughlin was very cognizant of and was playing with, even as his followers were being put on trial for sedition for having them what he told them to do. So that idea of accountability, like there is a role for institutions like the church. There’s a role for journalism, there is a role for activism. I mean, the stories about Jewish community activists in Los Angeles organizing infiltration of pro-Hitler German-American groups to then expose what those groups were doing even as the local police in California and the FBI had no interest in doing anything with what they were finding, I mean, what they did is they got newspaper articles written about it, and they got magazine articles written about it. They wrote their own books about it.

And then they orchestrated using agent provocateur. They orchestrated civil lawsuits between different pro-fascist groups suing each other in order to expose all their dirty laundry to the world because law enforcement didn’t care, right? You know, are you the bishop who asked to decide what to do about Coughlin? Are you the local activist who’s worried about people getting beat up outside this sort of antisemitic street meetings? Are you Dorothy Thompson or Drew Pearson, one of these nationally syndicated, incredibly powerful journalists who has to decide where you’re going to train your fire power? Are you a prosecutor working in the southern district of New York who’s, you know, deciding whether or not the FBI that’s not interested in these things could be trusted to infiltrate these groups or whether or not you’re going to tap these outside activist groups and take their information to build your prosecution around?

I mean, there’s a role to play for all these different kinds of Americans who bring their whole civic selves to this fight. And that, to me, is energizing and exciting, and it opens up all these other lines of inquiry, like, one of the things Charles Gallagher writes about in his book is this character Francis Sweeney who tragically dies very young, who played this incredibly intrepid role in exposing the Christian Front in Boston, which was taking funding from the Hitler government, which was showing German military propaganda movies, which was running pogrom-style violence against Boston Jews.

And she’s just this devout, young Catholic woman who’s disgusted by it, who infiltrates them, starts on newspaper, pressures the police, gets them raided and takes it on herself, and then --

Chris Hayes: Wow.

Rachel Maddow: -- like dies of a heart ailment in her early '40s.

Chris Hayes: Wow.

Rachel Maddow: And it’s like, you know what, Francis Sweeney, you know, I don’t know if there ought to be a statue to you, but I definitely want to read a lot more about you and know --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- your story and learn it. And I want to learn your sort of lessons about how to live in the face of these kinds of threats.

Chris Hayes: You’re right, it’s very empowering because I do think that when I come back to this theme of the criminal justice system being ill-equipped, which I think, you know, very much brings us to the present day like, at some level when you look at January 6th and what Donald Trump did, if it’s not a crime then nothing is --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- in a non-technical and non-legal sense, right, and just like the moral force of the word "crime" like a transgression, a violation of right and wrong in the established order --

Rachel Maddow: Trying to take power by force.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. So it’s like if that’s not a crime, then nothing is. But at the same time, like, could you get a successful seditious conspiracy prosecution against Donald Trump with all the evidence we have? Not clear that you could, really not clear.

Rachel Maddow: Really not clear that you’re going to be able to get against the Oath Keepers?

Chris Hayes: No.

Rachel Maddow: It’s a big swing the Justice Department is taking in this case. It’s hard.

Chris Hayes: Well, the thing I was going to say is it’s hard for good reasons, too, which gets this point of like what liberal democracy is and why we cherish it. I think you and I cherish it, not everyone does, but that there’s some really important lines here about you can write a pamphlet saying Donald Trump should. You can have fascist feelings.

Rachel Maddow: You can express them, and you can --

Chris Hayes: Exactly.

Rachel Maddow: -- form fascist organizations even.

Chris Hayes: Exactly, that’s right.

Rachel Maddow: You can do that.

Chris Hayes: Yes, exactly.

Rachel Maddow: And your country will respond to you not necessarily by declaring your behavior illegal because it may not be --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- because you have free speech, but you ought to be recognized as a political actor and for the political threat you pose to our system, and there ought to be a response.

Chris Hayes: But that’s why, to me, your focus here on the sort of civic antibodies are so key, right? And I have, I feel it emotionally, right, that like the criminal justice system should be able to sort this out and issue some definitive declaration about what is and isn’t in bounds, what is and is not a transgression.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: But when you’re dealing with something this existential and this core to both the life blood of what liberal democracy is that that system may not be that well-equipped to do it.

Rachel Maddow: Yes, it’s a piece of it --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- and it’s not the end all, be all. I mean, there’s a couple of things here. I mean, so the German American Bund is --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- sort of a bit player in this story and they’re actually supported by the Hitler government.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: They’re running, literally, Hitler youth summer camps --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- around the country.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: And, you know, they’re organizing rifle clubs, and it’s as confrontational as you can get in terms of being an overt pro-Hitler movement designed to destabilize the United States.

Fritz Kuhn is the head of the German American Bund, and he does get locked up as the U.S. is heading toward war in World War II. And he gets locked up for embezzling from the German American Bund because, I mean --

Chris Hayes: That is truly perfect.

Rachel Maddow: -- one of the historic truths that you keep bumping up against is that a lot of people who have fascist and authoritarian impulses and move in these directions, they’re also grifters and --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- and freaks and crooks and, you know, people who don’t pay their taxes. It ends up being very handy. Like, over the generations actually, the people who are the worst actors in this ultra-right sphere of American politics are thieves. They’re not sending their best.

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Rachel Maddow: And so, you end up with all sorts of ways that the criminal law can be engaged against some of these leaders, you know, and that’s not definitionally true, just historically recurring.

But on the sedition front, I said something about this on the air the other night, I’m not sure it made sense to anybody who hasn’t been thinking about this as intensely as I have. But if you think about a sedition trial like sedition is trying to overthrow the government by force, if you succeeded in your seditious plot --

Chris Hayes: There would be no trial.

Rachel Maddow: You would not be on trial.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: So the fact that you --

Chris Hayes: It’s a real shoot the Moon strategy.

Rachel Maddow: -- if you are on trial, it means you --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- attempted --

Chris Hayes: That’s right.

Rachel Maddow: -- to overthrow the government and failed and the extent government is now trying you for having tried and failed to do it. And as such, your failed plot is a failed plot and can be minimized as unserious --

Chris Hayes: Exactly.

Rachel Maddow: -- and unthreatening. And sedition is, therefore, very hard to prove because anybody who’s on trial for sedition --

Chris Hayes: It didn’t work.

Rachel Maddow: -- did not have an effective --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- seditious plan. And that’s just always going to be true. There’s other nuances but --

Chris Hayes: I mean --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- you know, I mean, Hitler literally led a mob against the seat of government --

Rachel Maddow: Yes.

Chris Hayes: -- and was arrested and tried for and imprisoned for.

Rachel Maddow: Yes.

Chris Hayes: You know, so there are these attempts that fail where it’s like, no, you can’t do that.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah, yeah, and then he got a five-year prison sentence. He served like nine months, wrote Mein Kampf --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- perfected his ideas of propaganda as being the way to not just seize power but hold power, came out, took him 10 years, and within --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- 10 years he was chancellor.

Chris Hayes: The hearts and minds part of it, too, is fascinating. And the demand, I am very obsessed in the notion of like the demand side for fascism as opposed to supply side --

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- because it’s like at some level the comforting story to tell ourselves is that Coughlin is the kind of key instrument or whoever today.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah, people want to --

Chris Hayes: A lot of people really want it, and they like it.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: And they like to hear fascist rhetoric. They really like fascist rhetoric. There are parts about fascist rhetoric that are compelling in their own twisted terrible way.

Rachel Maddow: It’s about there being a bad guy, that bad guy not being you --

Chris Hayes: Yes, exactly.

Rachel Maddow: A bad guy needing to be opposed by force to save you, your family and all that you hold dear. That’s a very compelling story.

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Rachel Maddow: That makes for a good country song.

Chris Hayes: Yeah --

Rachel Maddow: That makes for a good booze ballad.

Chris Hayes: -- it’s a very good compelling story.

Rachel Maddow: That makes for a great political speech. And that was part of what was hard about drafting the podcast because you could do the whole thing on Coughlin and the Christian Front, right? You could do the whole thing on William Dudley Pelley in the Silver Shirts, which is a crazy story. You could do the whole thing on, you know, the German agents who were getting the Lindberghs and the other --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- isolationists to move in, right?

You can focus on any one of them. It’s, to me, a bigger truth to realize there was a whole lot of them, and they were all meeting those needs in different ways. It is a fascist myth to believe that you need a strong man to lead a fascist movement where you need is people who have an appetite.

Chris Hayes: Grassroots fascism.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, I mean --

Rachel Maddow: Who will appoint the necessary strong man?

Chris Hayes: Right, right. You know, I always think of him like a standup comedian where, you know, good standup comedians that go up and they get feedback from the room, and they iterate. A joke kills, they keep it. A joke dies, they cut it. They do that over and over in the workrooms and the app gets better and better and tighter and tighter, and the really good ones come up with something amazing that they could show up at any room across the country and kill.

And Trump has that instinct.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: He really does, one of the genuine talents he has is sort of terrible in everything else. And a lot of the most fascist stuff comes from what it gets in the room. It’s like, oh, yeah, they like that.

Rachel Maddow: I just took this long-haul train trip with my family as our family vacation. We put it off a million times for COVID, and then we finally did it. And we’re on the train leaving New Orleans heading towards Texas, and we’re growing across the Huey Long Bridge. And I was like we’re on the Huey Long Bridge, let’s play some Huey Long. And I just go, "This is what it’s like to go on vacation."

Chris Hayes: Yeah, exactly. It’s a real party.

Rachel Maddow: Exactly. Hey, mom, yeah, but I did. You know, and so we’re like I’m playing YouTube clips of Huey Long speeches. And everybody is like --

Chris Hayes: Right, because --

Rachel Maddow: -- nodding along. You know what I mean? Like yeah, what Huey Long is saying right there would work now. And then you talk about somebody you seen as like running the ideological member line, right?

Chris Hayes: Exactly. He’s the ultimate example of that kind of --

Rachel Maddow: Yes. And who did FDR fear more than any other rising leader in the United States was Huey Long. Huey Long, of course, was assassinated, which is what put an end to his political career. And it’s interesting after Huey Long was assassinated, he had left behind in Louisiana a political machine that still ruled in dictatorial terms over Louisiana politics sort of share our wealth --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Rachel Maddow: -- and was profoundly both popular. I mean, they were in control but also profoundly corrupt. And the justice department in the wake of Long’s assassination sent a prosecutor down to Louisiana basically to go bust up Hue Long machine to root out not only his vestiges of dictatorial power, but also bust all the corruption that he had left behind, which was profound.

And they sent a sort of wunderkind prosecutor down to Louisiana. He took months and months and months, and it was very, very dangerous work because of what he was doing. It kind of worked and he kind of broke it up. And the next thing they sent him to do was the Christian Front trial --

Chris Hayes: Wow.

Rachel Maddow: -- which failed. And then fast-forward from the Christian Front trial in 1940 to 1944, 1944 when the great sedition trial finally gets going, and this is in later episodes of the podcast, there’s so many powerful members of Congress and members of the Senate who are implicated in this plot and in this investigation that has led to this trial, that they come in and, you know, witch hunt, hoax. They go absolutely crazy against the justice department, threaten the justice department, go to the attorney-general, tell him that you fired these prosecutors get rid of this thing, and they do. Justice Department caves, fires the prosecutor. And who do they bring into that cleanup? The Huey Long guy who lost the Christian Front trial.

And the great sedition trial in the end doesn’t work for all sorts of amazing reasons, and he ends his career at the Justice Department. He gets fired by going rogue and saying, "We didn’t get a conviction, but I’m going to tell you what our evidence was.

And the Justice Department, you’re the Justice Department, you can’t do that.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: James Comey, right? Justice Department can only speak through its actions in court. Court actions do not work against this seditious plot involving members of Congress in the Hitler government. Prosecution does not work and that prosecutor, having been through all those different of the ringer ends up breaking all the rules. He goes to Germany. He interviews guys on the Nazi side of the plot to say, in fact, were you working with these Americans and gets them on the record from their cells at Nuremberg saying yeah, these were the Americans who we are working with. These are ones we are paying, and he publishes it and gets fired from the Justice Department for doing it.

Chris Hayes: Is that an episode, I hope?

Rachel Maddow: Don’t tell anybody though. I want people to listen.

Chris Hayes: Oh, that’s so good.

Rachel Maddow: Yeah

Chris Hayes: Wow.

Rachel Maddow: I mean, is that a story about the limitations to the critical law? Is that a story about authoritarianism? Is that a history about Hitler? Is that a story about American fascism? Is that a story about, you know, how populism and fascism and accountability can crash in ways that are very troubling in terms of the actions of the Justice Department? I mean, it’s all of those things.

Chris Hayes: Do you think we have the right antibodies now?

Rachel Maddow: I think we are capable of generating them. I think that American journalism is strong and has all the right instincts and can lead. I think that American activism waxes and wanes and is maybe less robust on this front than it was in the '30s and '40s, in this time that I’m writing about. I think there needs to be a bigger, broader anti-fascist movement where people actually have work to do every day and trying to --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Rachel Maddow: -- fight fascism and save the country. I think that our professional and civic and religious institutions can be strong but can also be heard. I think we’re capable of it. I just think we need some energy in it, and I’m hoping, in some ways, that learning the history of other Americans who have done it well can give us some energy.

Chris Hayes: The podcast is called "Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra." You can get the first two episodes now wherever you get your podcasts. You can also watch "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Monday nights.

Can we do this again sometime?

Rachel Maddow: Yes.

Chris Hayes: All right. That was awesome.

Rachel Maddow: Thanks for being so nice. Thanks for being so kind. You made me meet me half the feelings.

Chris Hayes: OK. Once again, my great thanks to my dear friend and colleague, master of all media, Rachel Maddow. What was that Howard Stern bit (ph)? Right --


Rachel Maddow: I was going to say, we're going to get a call from Mr. Stern, yeah.

Chris Hayes: Howard Stern, yeah. We love your feedback, so tweet us the hashtag #WITHpod, e-mail Doni Holloway will be checking those and sending me the good ones, screening out anything critical. Be sure to follow us on TikTok. Search us for WITHpod. Search it up, that’s what my kids say. They say, search it up, "Dad, can you search that up?" Search us up on TikTok by searching for WITHpod.

“Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by Doni Holloway and Brendan O'Melia, engineered by Bob Mallory, features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to the video version of this conversation on Peacock here.

Tweet us with the hashtag #WITHpod, email Follow us on TikTok by searching for WITHpod. “Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by Doni Holloway and Brendan O'Melia, engineered by Bob Mallory and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to