Ernest Lundeen, Communist Nazi Liberal

Senator Ernest Lundeen of Minnesota is the most interesting American politician you’ve never heard of. He served 9 years in Congress, first as a Republican and later as a member of left-populist Farmer Labor Party. He mostly supported FDR on domestic policy and could be called a liberal for that reason, but it was not entirely unreasonable (as rightwinger did) to call him a Communist, since his 1934 Social Security Bill (which included domestic workers and farm laborers, both of whom tended to be black, and which was rejected by Congress in favor of a weaker bill) received strong Communist support and may actually have been written by Communists.

Later as an isolationist he worked closely with the American Nazi George Sylvester Viereck and had contacts with the German embassy, so the Nazi accusation is not entirely slanderous either. It’s as if somehow our neat political categories aren’t always entirely useful (though of course, for neoliberal neoconfederate neocons, “Liberals=Communists = Nazis” is just common sense).

That’s far from all. Lundeen was a frontiersman born in Dakota territory two years after Little Bighorn and a Spanish-American War veteran, and he had been a member of the 1909 national championship rifle team. When the time came for the US to adopt a new service rifle, the relative virtues of the Johnson and the Garand rifles were debated at length in the Senate, and it was Lundeen who clinched the deal by shooting 28 consecutive bullseyes at 300 yards using a Garand, 6 million of which ended up being made. The Johnson supporters didn’t give up immediately, though, and some suggested that Lundeen’s known German sympathies might have caused him to recommend an inferior weapon for the American military. (Amusingly, some of the participants in this debate seemed to believe that the service rifle should resemble their favorite squirrel gun).

And that’s still not all. Right when his German ties had started to come under attack, Lundeen died in a mysterious plane crash along with the FBI man who was tailing him — just as the inconvenient Senator Bronson Cutting had died a few years before, and just as the inconvenient Senator Paul Wellstone would die decades later. (Let’s be paranoid, OK?)

Minnesota today is a nice liberal state, but in the olden days Minnesota politics was pretty hairy, with organized crime, Communists, Trotskyists, and German sympathizers all factors that had to be taken into account. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota’s Fifth District, bless her heart, may be the most extreme member of the present 117th Congress, but she has a long way to go before she’ll match some of her illustrious Minnesota forebears.


Jamelle Bouie on the Lundeen, etc.

Official SSA report on the Lundeen bill

People’s World on Lundeen

Lundeen a Communist tool?

Brief bio mentions his marksmanship championship

New York Times reports Garand debate

Congressional Garand debate transcript


Nazi infiltrators and Garand debate

“Nazi Hydra in America” on Lundeen and his death

Plane crash