How did video footage of a shirtless, 18-year-old Rahm Emanuel demonstrating in the summer of 1978 in a Chicago city park during a neo-Nazi rally manage to stay buried for 36 years?
It defies explanation, really. Now, though, thanks to the Chicago Reader, America can catch a glimpse of a bronzed, bushy-haired, generally angry-looking Emanuel as he appeared when he was taking on literal jackbooted thugs wearing swastika armbands.
The scene was Marquette Park on Chicago’s southwest side on July 9, 1978 — a balmy Sunday.
Dressed in real, actual brown shirts, members of the National Socialist Party of America led by founder Frank Collin had scheduled a city-approved rally at the park.
A number of white supremacists gathered to hear Collin’s standard neo-Nazi, racist fare, which focused largely on his desire to keep black people out then-predominantly white neighborhoods.
A much larger number of demonstrators also showed up to object to Collin’s message. Many of these protesters were Jewish.
Police showed up in droves (and riot gear) to keep order.
Prolific Chicago filmmaker Tom Palazzolo was on hand to document the events. He made a short film called Marquette Park II about the rally and the corresponding counter-rally.
The whole film is a stunning slice of late 1970s Americana that feels relaxed and largely unedited — as if you, the viewer, are some time-traveling anthropologist. There’s the woman who yells “Death to the fuckin’ Nazis!” as she leans calmly on a police sawhorse. There’s the greasy, bearded, tatted-up people who appear to support the neo-Nazis. Everybody — everybody — smokes.
Emanuel shows up at the 23:56 mark of the video. The general contours of his face are unmistakable. His shock of black hair is definitely a surprise, however.
Emanuel’s cameo lasts all of about five seconds.
“Of course he’s talking,” the future mayor can be heard to say, his voice cracking like a teenager’s.
(He in this case is Collin, the neo-Nazi leader who is giving his white supremacy spiel in the background.)
Emanuel then briefly stares at the camera and looks away.
“Can you please get out of here, man?” Emanuel declares scornfully. And that statement marks the end of his appearance in the film.
A spokesman for the mayor confirmed to the Chicago Reader that the guy in Palazzolo’s film is, in fact, Emanuel.
Palazzolo told the alternative weekly that he has no recollection of being firmly asked “to get out of here, man” by a person who would eventually succeed Richard M. Daley as Chicago mayor.
The irony in this whole story is that Emanuel, now a gray 55, doesn’t speak publicly about any history of political activism, despite the fact that he faced down neo-Nazis. Meanwhile, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Emanuel’s opponent, has made his own political activism a centerpiece of his campaign.
Emanuel is in the fight of his electoral life as he battles to win a second term in a runoff election against Garcia, a Mexican-born, impressively mustachioed Democrat who stands for a minimum wage $15 per hour, increased low-income housing and expanded services and protections for immigrants. (RELATED: RAHM ON THE ROPES: Chicago Mayoral Race Heads To Runoff)
Emanuel won 35 out of 50 city wards in the first round of the election, which featured five candidates. Garcia was able to keep pace largely by winning huge swathes of the vote in heavily Hispanic wards.