During the summer of 1939, a small group of men from out of the area rented a camp just outside Narrowsburg, a small community on the Delaware River in Sullivan County, where they spent most of their time shooting rifles. Their need for such extensive practice was understandable; locals who observed the target practice described the men’s aim as “plumb awful.”
In January of 1940, those eighteen men, members of a small fraternity calling themselves “The Sports Club” were arrested in New York City just days before they were scheduled to begin practicing bomb throwing at that same Narrowsburg camp. The men were charged with plotting to overthrow the United States government.
In announcing the arrests, J. Edgar Hoover, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the goals of the group, which was also known as “The Country Gentlemen,” included eradication of the Jews in this country and the establishment of a dictatorship modeled after that which had been ruling Germany under Adolf Hitler.
The group’s leader, who gave his name as William Gerald Bishop, was addressed at the Narrowsburg camp as Fuehrer and was accorded the Nazi salute.
“The FBI chief said that the men had, in conversations among themselves, laid down a program that was to begin with efforts to recruit a larger force, to augment their store of arms and ammunition from the stores of the National Guard, to lay down a campaign of terrorizing Jews and go on to bombings of the Jewish Daily Forward, The Daily Worker, the Cameo Theatre on West Forty-Second Street, which shows Russian made films, and the quarters of the American League for Peace and Democracy in Brooklyn,” the New York Times reported in its January 15, 1940 edition. “These conversations, it was charged, also included plans for the blasting of bridges and the seizure of all utility facilities—power plants, telegraph and telephone networks—docks and railway terminals, the United States Customs House, the general Post Office and the Federal Reserve Bank in order to obtain control of the gold supply.”
The government maintained that the man calling himself Bishop, who had given his place of birth as Salem, Massachusetts, was actually a 39-year old native of Vienna, Austria named William Arneck who had three times been deported by Great Britain and three times by Belgium for subversive activities and disseminating Nazi propaganda. The other men ranged in age from 19 to 36. Several were members of the National Guard and three belonged to the German American Bund.
The arsenal seized by the FBI at the time of the arrests included twelve Springfield .30-06 rifles, one with a bayonet, one Springfield .45 rifle, four .22 rifles, one Savage .32 automatic, one 20-gauge shotgun, 3500 rounds of .30-06 ammunition, 750 rounds of Peters machine gun ammunition in three belts, 500 rounds of .22 long ammunition, fifteen partly made bombs, eighteen cans of cordite powder, fuses, flares, detonators, chemicals and pipes used for bomb making.
Hoover said the arrests were the culmination of an investigation begun the previous August into a much larger group known as the Christian Front. The Sports Club, a kind of action committee of the Front, was already in existence at the time, Hoover said, though he did not know when it had been formed, and agents had made several trips to Narrowsburg that summer, watching the men and “making motion pictures of ‘the Sports Club’ members polishing up their marksmanship at a rifle range at the camp.”
The FBI also determined that the men had plans to “blow up the whole damn (New York) Police Department” and to kill twelve members of the House of Representatives in order “to teach them a lesson” after they had voted to repeal the arms embargo so that weapons could be sold to Britain and France to fight the war against Germany.
It was later speculated that the Sports Club was hoping to rally thousands of members of the police and National Guard to seize the White House and to install retired Major General George Van Horn Moseley as dictator. It has never been made clear whether or not Moseley, a staunch and outspoken isolationist at that time, was even aware of their intent.
The eighteen men were charged with conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government and were tried in June of 1940. Nine of the men were acquitted while the case against the others, including the man claiming to be William Gerald Bishop, resulted in a hung jury. Following the conclusion of the trial, more than 3,000 people gathered in Brooklyn for a Fourth of July celebration in the men’s honor.
When the U.S. finally entered the war, Bishop was sent to Ellis Island as an enemy alien. On July 22, 1943 he was sent to Fort Lincoln in Bismarck, North Dakota and at the war’s end he was returned to Ellis Island and held with three hundred other German detainees. In October 1947 he was deported to his native Austria.
Part Two of this story can be found here.
Photo: A group of men pose with rifles at a camp outside Narrowsburg. They were among the 18 arrested by the FBI in January of 1940 and charged with plotting to overthrow the U.S. government.