While the activities of that particular pro-Nazi organization in the region may be debatable, there is no question that a small group of men charged with plotting to overthrow the U.S. government and replacing it with a Nazi style dictatorship spent much of the summer of 1939 in Sullivan County.
In January, 1940, the men were arrested by the FBI and a cache of weapons and ammunition seized. In announcing the arrests, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover detailed the men’s activities at a camp just outside Narrowsburg, NY where they fired rifles and practiced making bombs. Hoover said the arrests came just days before the men were to begin bomb throwing practice at that same camp.
The purported Narrowsburg connection sent enterprising reporters from several newspapers to the small community on the Delaware River, each looking for some unusual angle for a story.
The New York Times ran a story by “a staff correspondent” in its January 16, 1940 edition outlining some of the accused men’s activities in the Narrowsburg area.
“Incredulous amazement that rebellion was being fostered here and the expression of a general belief that the plotters, whatever their other abilities might have been, were very poor rifle shots was the reaction in this community of 700-odd all-year residents to the disclosure that the Narrowsburg area had been a center for Christian Front activities,” the Times reported.
The article went on to relate that two of the men arrested, John Albert Viebrock and John F. Cassidy, were “regular summer and weekend visitors to Narrowsburg in the last few years” and a third, alleged plot ringleader William Gerald Bishop, had been identified by residents through photographs as a companion of the two on several of their most recent visits to the Hillside Inn in Narrowsburg.
The Times cited two incidents that might have indicated the men were more than just causal visitors. The first came early in the fall of 1939.
“Viebrock and Cassidy, who had never expressed any previous interest in firearms, went with a group of ten of twelve other men, none of them local residents, to a rifle range built by the National Rifle Association just outside the village limits. For several hours they held rifle practice. Some residents watched and returned to the village to snicker. The members of the rifle group, as one local resident described it, were ‘plum awful.’”
The second incident that gave pause to locals occurred in October of 1939 at the Peggy Runway Lodge in Pennsylvania, just across the Delaware River from Narrowsburg. It was recalled that Viebrock, Cassidy and about a dozen other men were at the Lodge’s bar that particular night when they suddenly began “carrying out drill formations.”
“Becoming more excited, individuals in the group made impromptu speeches,” the Times reported. “According to Miss Gertrude Wilbert, then a reporter on a local newspaper, and who was present with a companion, the speeches were ‘Nazi in tenor.’ The group, she said, kept referring to what they would do when ‘our kind of people are in control of the government.’
“Miss Wilbert objected to some of the remarks and an argument followed. It was quieted, however, and Cassidy, Viebrock and the group left. Little attention was paid to the incident, and the police and residents could remember no other gatherings of the group. Except for those two occasions, Viebrock and Cassidy spent their time as do most vacationists, so far as local residents could remember.”
It was discovered that while visiting Narrowsburg, Viebrock and Cassidy had made no secret of the fact that they were members of the popular anti-Communist group, the Christian Front, which most locals dismissed as “some sort of Catholic organization.”
The FBI alleged that Viebrock, Cassidy, Bishop and the others were actually leaders of an action committee of the group, which alternately called itself “the Sports Club” or “the Country Gentlemen.” Their goal, according to authorities, was to eradicate American Jews, overthrow the U.S. government and install a Nazi regime in power.
Eighteen of the alleged plotters were put on trial in Brooklyn Federal Court in 1940, but the government was unable to gain a single conviction, despite presenting motion picture evidence of the men shooting and marching at the Narrowsburg camp as well as sound recordings of them planning “a campaign of sabotage” in the event the United States entered the war against Germany.
During the trial it was revealed that while Bishop and Cassidy had originally belonged to the same group, with Cassidy as leader, Bishop had then split, taking some of the men with him, because, in the words of Viebrock, “Hitler and Mussolini had definite programs, but Cassidy did not.”
Bishop was the only one of the accused plotters detained by the government. Once the U.S. entered the war, he was arrested as an enemy alien and imprisoned, eventually being deported to his native Austria.
Photos: Above, 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; middle John F. Cassidy; and below, William Gerald Bishop.