Our Man in Arlington

August 29, 2017 12:22 PM0 comments

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I hate to think the founder of the American Nazi Party would take satisfaction knowing he influences Arlington 50 years after his assassination.

The racist and anti-Semitic “commander” George Lincoln Rockwell was gunned down on Aug. 25, 1967, while doing his laundry at the Dominion Hills shopping strip on Wilson Blvd. It made world news.

Aware from years of research that the 50th anniversary was coming last week, I visited current-day merchants at the strip days earlier. I asked that they phone me if any neo-Nazis – galvanized perhaps by the recent clashes in Charlottesville – showed up.

They did. Six white-shirted members, one female in black, descended on the shopping center to display a swastika flag and wreath, sing and salute. They were later confirmed by the Washington Post to be from this area’s chapter of the “New Order.” Their rushed ceremony was captured on camera by Tom’s Barber Shop customer Matt Garcia and by its owner, Mr. Chi.

I was there earlier helping an NBC News 4 crew reconstruct the drama of how Rockwell – who lived across the street in what today is Upton Hill Regional Park – was shot by a disgruntled follower from the rooftop. Witnesses chased the culprit through the neighborhood. The man eventually convicted, John Patler, waded into Four Mile Run to hide his pistol. Police captured him on Washington Blvd.

The NBC crew took footage at Upton Hill’s family recreation center, once the home of Nazi barracks nicknamed “Hatemonger Hill.” We visited the Rockwell headquarters of the late 1950s on Williamsburg Blvd. Current owner Ronald Fowler said the home’s past “was not in paperwork” when he bought it, and his views on race are the “the opposite” of Rockwell’s.

We sped to Taylor and Randolph streets in Ballston, the latter site (now a high-rise) having been the ramshackle house that bore the infamous “White Man Fight” sign. We drove to the Java Shack in Courthouse, a building Nazis occupied from 1968-83. Co-owner Chase Damiano told me that during the 2016 election, social media targeted his coffee shop, falsely calling it a “center of the alt-right.” The shop serves everyone, he said, but Nazis are “a legacy tied to us.”

Carrying a photo of Rockwell and followers in 1960 picketing the Jewish-owned Mario’s Pizza, we stopped there. My friend Alan Levine, its longtime owner, recalled that his dad refused to serve Nazis if they wore swastikas. The police “looked the other way” as his dad sprayed the picketers with a hose.

We got the frantic call that current Nazis had arrived at Dominion Hills, we raced back but just missed them. We published the photos. Then Justin Greene, who lives nearby, took to Facebook and called for a 7:30 neighborhood rally.

Some 70-80 showed up, including children with signs saying “Love wins.” Greene said she felt rage after years of living in a community that values diversity and inclusiveness. Neighbor Gay Mount described once hearing Rockwell speak at the University of Washington. One impassioned speaker said her parents fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s; another lost family in the Holocaust. Max Scruggs decried the tone set by President Trump. Former County Board Member Walter Tejada said, “We can’t change what happened 50 years ago, but we can control the tone of our neighborhood.”

The crowd sang “God Bless America.”

***

Two elderly stand-out subjects of this column left us this month.

Martha Ann Miller, 106, whom I profiled after she published her Arlington memoir on fighting to improve schools and libraries, died Aug. 16. As a math and home economics teacher at Stratford Junior High in the 1950s, she helped with integration of the school’s first four African American students.

Leonard “Doc” Muse, 94, the seven-day-a week anchor of the Green Valley Pharmacy he founded in Nauck in 1952, died the weekend of Aug. 19-20. He worked for decades through a period when blacks weren’t allowed in our independent and chain pharmacies. His shop continues to pass out free bread.

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