'The Plot Against America': The True Stories Behind the HBO Series

Despite being a work of fiction, based upon speculation on what America would have become had a far-right Republican been elected instead of Franklin D. Roosevelt getting a third term, The Plot Against America is one of Philip Roth's most personal books.

Though it tells the story of a fictional presidency undertaken by aviation hero Charles A. Lindbergh, who Roth calls a "white supremacist" in a New York Times piece, it also features Roth's own family as its main characters, including Philip himself. Now, the 2004 book is being turned into an HBO series, starring Winona Ryder, Zoe Kazan, John Turturro, as well as Azhy Robertson as a young Philip.

Writing in the New York Times about why he decided to write this story with Lindbergh at its heart, Roth said: "I came upon a sentence [which] notes that there were some Republican isolationists who wanted to run Lindbergh for president in 1940. That's all there was, that one sentence with its reference to Lindbergh and to a fact about him I'd not known. It made me think, 'What if they had?' and I wrote the question in the margin. Between writing down that question and the fully evolved book there were three years of work, but that's how the idea came to me."

In that same piece, he goes on to say of Lindbergh, who became internationally famous in 1927 after flying nonstop from New York to Paris: "Lindbergh [chose] himself as the leading political figure in a novel where I wanted America's Jews to feel the pressure of a genuine anti-Semitic threat. Lindbergh as a social force was distinguished not solely by his isolationism but by his racist attitude toward Jews—an attitude that is reflected unambiguously in his speeches, diaries and letters.

charles lindbergh
Charles Lindbergh (left, as played by Ben Cole) becomes President in 'The Plot Against America' HBO

"He was at heart a white supremacist, and, leaving aside his friendship with individual Jews like Harry Guggenheim, he did not consider Jews, taken as a group, the genetic, moral or cultural equals of Nordic white men like himself and did not consider them desirable American citizens other than in very small numbers."

Among the evidence for his white supremacist views are a 1939 Reader's Digest article (quoted in a New Yorker piece comparing Lindbergh to President Donald Trump) in which he said that the West, "can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood."

A 1941 speech is Des Moines for his isolationist group America First, meanwhile, saw him espouse a typical anti-semitic talking point. He said, "their [Jews'] greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government."

Lindbergh was also known to have admiration for Adolf Hitler, of whom he said in his Reader's Digest piece, "[he] accomplished results (good in addition to bad) which could hardly have been accomplished without some fanaticism." Awarded a medal by Herman Göring on behalf of Hitler, Lindbergh refused to return it even after Kristalnacht, when thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed and their owners taken to concentration camps.

In a letter home, he said the Nazi leader (per Esquire) was "a very great man, like an inspired religious leader—and as such rather fanatical—but not scheming, not selfish, not greedy for power, but a mystic, a visionary who really wants the best for his country and on the whole has rather a broad view."

Per the L.A. Times, Lindbergh never gave up his white supremacist views and his Nazi sympathising, dying in 1974.

The Plot Against America starts on March 16 on HBO.