“Today is really not the best day for Trump to be taking the side of Henry Ford,” Dan McLaughlin, a contributing columnist at National Review Online, tweeted.
The White House did not respond to questions early Thursday about whether Trump was aware of Ford’s bigoted views, which have been described as “the most controversial and least admirable aspect” of a career that included founding the Ford Motor Company, pioneering assembly-line production and creating the Model T.
“He really has a very dark history as far as the Jewish community and Jews are concerned,” said one Jewish leader in Florida about Ford in a 2014 Religion News Service article.
Ordinarily, name-dropping Ford when discussing cars might not draw attention, but Trump did it as he weathered backlash from Jewish leaders and organizations over his earlier comments calling Jewish people “disloyal” because of their politics. Critics argued that Trump had echoed a historic anti-Semitic stereotype that Jews have “dual loyalty,” The Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez reported.
“American Jews — like all Americans — have a range of political views and policy priorities,” David Harris, chief executive of the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee, said in a statement. “His assessment of their knowledge or ‘loyalty,’ based on their party preference, is inappropriate, unwelcome, and downright dangerous.”
In that context, some critics drew a direct line from Wednesday’s tweets to Ford’s dark ties to anti-Semitism.
Between 1910 and 1918, Ford became “increasingly anti-immigrant, anti-labor, anti-liquor and anti-Semitic,” according to the Jewish Virtual Library. He believed “the bankers” and “the Jews” were responsible for not only wars but also the rise of other things he disapproved of, such as short skirts and jazz music, the Henry Ford Museum wrote.
Ford’s antipathy toward Jews became public knowledge soon after he purchased a newspaper published in Dearborn, Mich., where his company was headquartered. In May 1920, the Dearborn Independent, which “primarily served as a forum for Henry Ford’s views,” launched an anti-Jewish series titled “The International Jew: The World’s Problem” that continued for several years, according to the museum. The articles were later compiled into a book and sought to bring attention to a conspiracy theory that Jews were plotting to take over the world.
At one point, the newspaper also printed “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a book already widely discredited as fake by that time and later dubbed “the worst piece of anti-Semitic propaganda generated in the 20th century.”
It wasn’t long before Ford and the Independent started to receive worldwide recognition, even catching the attention of Hitler. By the mid-1920s, the newspaper had reached a circulation of 900,000. Ford is the only American mentioned by name in “Mein Kampf,” Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto, according to Religion News Service. In his writings, Hitler called Ford a “great man.”
“You can tell Herr Ford that I am a great admirer of his,” Hitler once reportedly said. “I shall do my best to put his theories into practice in Germany.”
A portrait of Ford hung in Hitler’s Munich office, the New York Times reported in 1922. A table in the antechamber was also covered with translated copies of a book written and published by Ford. When a Detroit News reporter asked Hitler about the painting, he responded, “I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration,” the Dearborn Historian reported.
Ford later apologized and blamed some of the anti-Semitic propaganda on his employees. He shuttered the Independent but continued to support the Nazi Party and advocated for the United States to stay out of what would become World War II, The Washington Post’s Michael Dobbs reported. In July 1938, Ford received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest honor Nazi Germany could bestow on a foreigner.
Many recalled Ford’s history when criticizing Trump’s tweets on Wednesday.
“Henry Ford was a Nazi sympathizer who wrote a publication called ‘The International Jew, the World’s Foremost Problem,’ " tweeted Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, a liberal organization advocating for social justice causes. “He directly inspired Hitler Youth & said Jews provoke mass violence.”
The tweet continued: “Unsurprising that a man who calls Jews disloyal invokes him. You’re both antisemites.”
Another critic slammed Ford as a “fascist,” adding in a message directed to Trump, “No surprise you laud him. ”
At least one person, however, noted the possibility that Trump may have been unaware of Ford’s views.