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'Prequel' from Rachel Maddow looks at how WWII could have played out differently

Stories abound of American patriotism and bravery during World War II: fighting against Nazi Germany across Europe, and making sacrifices at home to help in the war effort.

But, a new book details a very different, and lesser known story from that time. "Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism" is about efforts in the U.S. to have the country align with the Nazis, among other goals.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow is the book’s author. The Show spoke with her about how she came to find out about this story, in which things could have gone very differently.

"I ended up getting interested in this because I was looking at the American origins of Holocaust denial and really rabid anti-Semitism. We're seeing a very worrying upsurge of that in our era right now," Maddow said.

"But more recent scholarship has shown that a lot of these armed super, ultra rightwing paramilitary groups who were implicated in this stuff not only were very well armed and well trained and organized, but in a lot of cases they actually had direct help from Nazi Germany," she added.

Interview highlights

On why Maddow thinks people don't know more about the stories in her book.

Well, when when look back at the World War II era, it is a great story to be able to say that we were the good guys over here and they were the bad guys over there, and we went over there and fought them and beat them, and it was over. And to a certain extent, that overall story is true.

I think it is less comfortable, it's less the way we like to think of ourselves at that time to acknowledge that there were a lot of Americans at the time here who either didn't want us to fight in World War II, or more specifically who wanted us to fight on the German side.

But I do think it's really relevant, and I actually don't find it depressing. I find it heartening because learning that there was a big, strong movement of that kind in our country means that it was beaten.

It was defeated by Americans who fought back against it. And those stories, I think, that's kind of the real "Prequel" that I'm alluding to in the title - those stories about Americans who fought this back then.

I think it's just fascinating stuff.

On what the battles were like in the U.S. to try to keep American aligned with the Allies and not the Germans during WWII.

It's the central question of the book and it's a multivariate answer, but the short answer of it is that it was everything.

It was mainstream politics. It was interventionists arguing against isolationists.

When you had people who were just beyond politics, and they were plotting the violent overthrow of the U.S. government and the installation of a fascist dictator here. That is sedition. And dozen of Americans were put on trial for sedition of were tried for being Nazi agents, for being agents who were working with the German government.

But you also had stuff outside the government, outside politics.

You had regular citizens who are working as journalists to expose them; as activists to infiltrate them and then to tell law enforcement what they were doing.

You had regular people who didn't see themselves as, I think, agents of the American government, didn't see themselves as having an official role, who nevertheless played a big part in beating these folks back in the politics sphere and elsewhere.

On what the feeling from the national press perspective is about Arizona in the 2024 election.

Arizona is in a singular place just because of the crucible that your found yourselves in around the 2020 election results.

I mean, it is pressure enough to be a swing state in this day and age.

But to be a swing state with not just the top of the ticket but multiple races, statewide races and otherwise, be so hotly contested by people with such widely divergent ideological projects; to have the parties be so far apart and to have energies be so hot in the state.

Arizona, I don't think anyone envies you in terms of what's going on in your politics right now, how hard it is to cover it, but also how hard it is to try to get the state to come out on what you see in the right side of these things.

So Arizona, I think, is gonna be right in the middle of it."

She'll be in Phoenix on Wednesday, Oct. 25, to talk more about the book at an event sponsored by Changing Hands Bookstore.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.