Commentary, Guest Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

A surprising portion of our citizenry appears unfamiliar with the grim legacy the American Nazi Party left during its militant presence in Arlington,1958 —1983.

   Its charismatic, nationally dreaded leader George Lincoln Rockwell was assassinated at the Dominion Hills Shopping Center on Aug. 25, 1967. The man convicted of that murder was an on-again-off-again follower, a Greek-American who went by the Hitlerian name of John Patler.

       I was recently reminded that Patler gave a rare, jailhouse interview back in 1971. The scoopy journalist was 18-year-old Bob Oganovic, then a senior in the Washington-Lee (now Liberty) High School. Oganovic shared with me an archive of his meaty article on the Nazis published in the school literary magazine, the Penman.

       The 50-minute Patler interview, April 5, 1971, was arranged by Sheriff J. Elwood Clements. The inmate was awaiting a Supreme Court appeal of his conviction for shooting Rockwell from the shopping center rooftop as the leader sat in his 1958 Chevrolet preparing to wash clothes at the laundromat. After a chase through the neighborhood by employees of Tom’s Barbershop, Patler was arrested at a bus stop on Washington Blvd. A discarded raincoat and cap were found in a yard on N. Larrimore St., and an Arlington policeman waded into Four Mile Run to find a German pistol.

   Commonwealth’s attorney William Hassan sought the death penalty, while Patler’s attorneys—among them former school board member Helen Lane—argued that at the time of the shooting he had been running errands near his home (2522 Lee Highway, now a Langston Blvd. dental office). On Dec. 15, 1967, before Circuit Court Judge Charles Russell, the jury found Patler guilty. He was sentenced to 20 years.

      Oganovic wrote vivid background on how Patler’s mentor Rockwell became enamored of Hitler’s ideology of hatred for Jews and blacks, and his founding of the American Nazi Party. During seven years with him, Patler befriended another New Yorker and Nazi follower, Dan Burros, who would commit suicide when it was revealed that he was Jewish.

     The W-L reporter described Patler as “five foot eight, with wavy black hair and penetrating brown eyes. His voice is soft…. He smiles frequently as he talks.” The cell shared with four or five other men had Patler’s cartoons and paintings on the wall, and books on peaceful change. Patler showed the high schooler the kitchen where he worked as a cook from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Patler drew pictures of his visitor.

“There were no questions I asked which he did not answer in a frank, informative manner,” Oganovic wrote. “He looks upon his time with the Nazi Party as a disease, the disease of racism, which infected his mind.” The prisoner wanted to study art. “One hopes Patler will receive justice in the truest sense of the word.”

    Patler lost his appeals, but was paroled after less than 10 years.

  Having changed his name back to Patsalos, he is 84, reportedly a freelance cartoonist in New York City. When the Washington Post contacted him in August 2017, Patsalos refused interviews. But online the reporter found his pro-Trump musings.

  Oganovic, a precocious writer, became a musician in Minneapolis, and an information technology staffer for the Office of Personnel Management.

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    The Sept. 20 appearance of author Nikole Hannah-Jones at Washington-Liberty High School prompted skeptical coverage in the conservative Daily Wire. The 45-minute talk by the force behind the New York Times best-selling 1619 Project—criticized for highlighting slavery as a primary cause of the American Revolution—cost $40,000.  “The talk was a program of the Arlington Public Library, and the cost was so enormous it spurred tension between the library and the Friends of Arlington Library,” wrote reporter Luke Rosiak.

       “We are fortunate to have a robust Friends of Arlington Public Library,” I was told by library Communications Manager Anneliesa Alprin. The nonprofit sells used books and “pays for Arlington Reads programs, which includes speakers’ fees. Fees range in amounts, and national award-winning authors are paid the going rate. No county funds are used.”