Before he became famous worldwide for the Roots phenomenon, Alex Haley was a journalist known for some of Playboy magazine’s finest interviews. Haley, who had conducted Q&As with Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Miles Davis and numerous other larger-than-life characters, really outdid himself with his 1966 session with American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell. Since Rockwell was unaware that Haley was African-American when he agreed to the interview, he decided to keep a firearm at the ready during the talk, just in case the journalist decided to assassinate him.
Rockwell’s parents were vaudeville comedians who knew Groucho Marx, and the reviled bigot was considered a class clown when he first entered Brown in 1938. But it was during those college years that he began to speak out against racial equality, a path that would lead him to being a full-blown hatemonger. Rockwell’s fears of being killed were realized the year after Haley’s piece ran, when his calls for racial violence were silenced by bullets. An excerpt from the interview’s blood-chilling opening:
“Playboy: Before we begin, Commander, I wonder if you’d mind telling me why you’re keeping that pistol there at your elbow, and this armed bodyguard between us.
Rockwell: Just a precaution. You may not be aware of the fact that I have received literally thousands of threats against my life. Most of them are from cranks, but some of them haven’t been; there are bullet holes all over the out side of this building. Just last week, two gallon jugs of flaming gasoline were flung against the house right under my window. I keep this gun within reach and a guard beside me during interviews because I’ve been attacked too many times to take any chances. I haven’t yet been jumped by an impostor, but it wasn’t long ago that 17 guys claiming to be from a university came here to ‘interview’ me; nothing untoward happened, but we later found out they were armed and planned to tear down the flag, burn the joint and beat me up. Only the fact that we were ready for that kind of rough stuff kept it from happening.
We’ve never yet had to hurt anybody, but only because I think they all know we’re ready to fight anytime. If you’re who you claim to be, you have nothing to fear.”