FDR's patriot purge. (Cover Story History).
In an Oval Office conversation that took place in 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to persuade Congressman Martin Dies of Texas to call off his investigation of Communist subversion in the U.S. government. Dies, chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA), was puzzled by this request. After all, FDR had personally urged Dies to take the HCUA post in order to investigate the activities of suspected agents of National Socialist (Nazi) Germany.
Dies eagerly dug into his task, which he understood to be investigating and exposing the efforts of all agents of foreign subversion -- both Nazi and Communist. With the arrival of the pro-Soviet New Deal "Brain Trust" in 1933, scores of Communist foreign nationals had arrived on our shores to organize and direct subversive efforts. In 1935, prior to becoming HCUA chairman, Dies introduced a measure to deport Communist foreign nationals. Although the bill quickly passed the House, a coalition of Senate leftists, led by socialist Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin, prevented it from reaching the Senate floor.
In his memoir, Dies observed that "Fascism, Nazism and Communism were ideological bedfellows" -- all of them alien to our nation's founding philosophy. "Americanism is the recognition of the truth that the inherent and fundamental rights of man are derived from God, and not from Government, societies, dictators, kings, or majorities," wrote Dies. He was not at all surprised when Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, supposedly irreconcilable enemies, signed the August 1939 non-aggression pact preparatory to their gang rape of Poland.
"The dictators, Stalin and Hitler, are alike in many ways," wrote Dies in his 1940 expose, The Trojan Horse in America. "Long before Hitler cynically abandoned his anti-communist pretense and entered into an alliance with Stalin, the Nazi dictator had appropriated almost all of the tactics of the communists. In no other respect is this similarity between the red and brown dictators more striking than in their common use of Trojan Horse methods of conquest."
Prior to the Hitler-Stalin pact, the Kremlin-directed Communist Party U.S.A. had vociferously urged American military intervention against Nazi Germany. But once Moscow and Berlin became allies, the American Communists became just as passionately "isolationist," for purely cynical reasons.
At the time of Dies' White House conversation with FDR, the American Reds were not only overtly allied with the Nazis, but also seeking to obstruct U.S. involvement in the European war. They, of course, abandoned this position in June 1941, after Hitler double-crossed Stalin by invading Russia. Determined as FDR was to entangle America in a European war, he was just as determined to protect his Communist friends and allies - even though the Moscow-line American Communist movement was actively sabotaging our defense industry.
"In the days of the Stalin-Hitler pact, the program of the Communist Party called for a determined opposition to our national defense program," recalled Dies. "In early 1941, as our preparedness program was getting under way, a wave of sabotage strikes in [Communist-infiltrated] defense industries ... reached its peak. From the beginning, the [HCUA] had pointed out that these work stoppages were led by known Communists, and that the Party's program called for such interference with our military and industrial preparedness. Damage was incalculable."
Dies and his fellow HCUA investigators had anticipated this seditious campaign, and had warned FDR about it by the time of Dies' 1940 Oval Office confrontation. Nonetheless, FDR used that encounter to brow-beat Dies for his supposedly excessive concern about Communist infiltration.
"The President was furious," Dies wrote in his memoir, The Martin Dies Story. "I was surprised at his anger. He called me 'Mr. Congressman' -- he had called me 'Martin' before -- 'Mr. Congressman, you must see a bug-a-boo under every bed.' 'No, I never look under the bed,' I replied. 'Well,' he said, 'I have never seen a man that had such exaggerated ideas.... I do not believe in Communism any more than you do, but there is nothing wrong with the Communists in this country. Several of the best friends I have are Communists.'"
For the seven years he headed the HCUA, Dies was given free rein to investigate Nazi and Fascist front groups. But the Roosevelt administration impeded every effort Dies undertook to expose Communist espionage, sabotage, and infiltration of government, academe, the defense industry, and unions. FDR's allies in the press mocked and defamed Dies, and the IRS subjected the congressman to a harassing audit. He was even offered the vice presidency if he would call off his investigation. In 1945, weary and heartsick, Dies retired from political life.
Seven years later, while dining at Harvey' s Restaurant in Washington, D.C., Dies was approached by Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was contemplating his own counter-subversion investigation. Drawing on his experience as HCUA chairman, Dies advised McCarthy "to move cautiously until he was sure of his footing; to beware of unsupported charges that would soon be flooding his offices, and never to underestimate the cleverness and resourcefulness of the Communists and their fellow travelers." Most importantly, Dies warned McCarthy that he could expect "abuse, ridicule, and every known device of 'character assassination' and mental torture" to be used against him and his family.
In issuing that warning to McCarthy, Dies undoubtedly had in mind not only his own experience, but that of other patriotic Americans targeted for harassment and persecution during the FDR era. In dealing with patriotic dissent, the Commie-coddling FDR administration used many of the brutal tactics that have since been falsely associated with Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist efforts.
Bear in mind that Senator McCarthy's investigations focused entirely on the actions of people employed by the U.S. government. While he was an ardent anti-Communist, McCarthy never sought to criminalize membership in the American Communist Party. FDR's attempted political purge, by way of contrast, focused almost exclusively on private citizens, beginning with people associated with disreputable pro-Nazi organizations but expanding to include law-abiding, patriotic citizens whose activism posed a threat to his ambitions.
From the beginning of FDR's reign, federal investigators "were free to devote a great deal of energy and attention to the tax records and finances of politicians who sought to use anti-Semitic appeals to attack the Roosevelt administration," notes Professor Benjamin Ginsberg of Johns Hopkins University in his book The Fatal Embrace. After Pearl Harbor, "The Roosevelt administration [decided] ... to take even more decisive action against anti-Semitic, pro-German forces in the United States. These were, for the most part, destroyed through indictments, arrests, and, in some cases, deportations."
But FDR and his minions weren't simply uprooting pro-Nazi front groups; the administration was much more interested in shutting down opponents of its war plans, particularly the leaders of the "America First" movement. Although the America First movement officially ceased operations after Pearl Harbor, many of its leaders -- such as journalist/author John T. Flynn -- continued to criticize FDR's duplicity.
Flynn provoked FDR's wrath in 1939 by publishing a series of Yale Review essays critical of the president-for-life and his Brain Trust. In a personal letter to the Yale Review's editor, FDR condemned Flynn as "a destructive rather than a constructive force" whose work "should be barred from ... any presentable daily paper, monthly magazine or national quarterly." Shortly thereafter, Flynn -- a well-respected and widely read commentator -- found himself effectively blacklisted by almost the entire publishing industry.
FDR similarly tried to destroy famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, who was among the America First movement's most prominent and effective advocates. After Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh offered his services to the military, only to learn that FDR had issued orders forbidding the aviator to enlist. Military contractors Curtis Wright, Pan Am, and United Aircraft sought out Lindbergh for his aviation expertise, but FDR ordered them to keep the "Lone Eagle" off the payroll.
Determined to serve his country, Lindbergh took an unpaid position at Ford's Willow Run facility, where he contributed significantly to the design and production of military aircraft. Despite FDR's enlistment ban, Lindbergh also went on to fly 50 combat missions in the Pacific on behalf of the Navy. However, Lindbergh - the most admired man in America during the 1 920s and early 1930s - was relentlessly smeared by the FDR administration and its media flacks as a Nazi sympathizer, an undeserved stigma that continues to this day.
In dealing with its political enemies, the Roosevelt administration used various networks of private informants. The most influential of these vigilante groups was the so-called Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization supposedly devoted to fighting anti-Jewish bigotry. In his study The Watchdogs, political historian Laird Wilcox points out that the ADL "has labored long and hard to ingratiate itself to federal law enforcement authorities, ostensibly as 'experts' on their own enemies." The ADL's enemies list historically has included not only anti-Semitic and racist groups, but also patriotic organizations whose views the ADL rejects.
During the Roosevelt era, notes Professor Ginsberg, "the ADL often employed investigative agents who secretly penetrated isolationist and anti-Semitic organizations and collected potentially damaging or incriminating information. Information secured by the ADL was often turned over to federal agencies such as the FBI and the Immigration Bureau for possible criminal action. The ADL also worked closely with such sympathetic newspaper columnists and broadcasters as Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson [who] used their columns to publicize and attack the activities of isolationist and proNazi groups and politicians, relying heavily upon the information supplied to them by ADL investigators."
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) conducted similar quasi-official surveillance of "isolationist" and anti-Jewish groups, and "over a period of five years compiled a card index listing fifty thousand individuals who had some association with these organizations. This index was frequently used by the FBI and army and navy intelligence offices."
Note that the indices compiled by the ADL and the AJC indiscriminately commingled intelligence about pro-Nazi groups with information about patriotic groups opposed to U.S. entry into World War II. This was a preferred tactic of the Roosevelt administration and its far-left allies. One particularly notorious example was provided by "Friends of Democracy" (FOD), a Marxist group created in the 1930s to agitate for early U.S. entry in the European war. FOD hired an Armenian immigrant named Avedis Derounian to act as a spy and agent provocateur within the America First movement.
Using the pseudonym, "John Roy Carlson," Derounian published two scurrilous exposes of the "isolationist" right: Under Cover and The Plotters. In those books, comments historian Justin Raimondo, Derounian/Carlson "used the old trick of focusing on the activities of marginal bigots who are then quoted as expressing agreement with the anti-war arguments" of the America First Committee. Derounian's best-selling books equated "all criticism of the New Deal and FDR with treason and support for Hitler."
Derounian's writings, many of which had been published serially in the Communist press before being compiled in book form, described a vast right-wing conspiracy, supposedly loyal to Berlin. The "Brown Conspiracy" supposedly included anti-interventionist politicians like Senators Burton Wheeler and Gerald Nye, both of whom supported the America First movement - which Derounian called "a spearhead aimed at the heart of democracy."
FOR's Show Trial
The lurid charges made in Derounian's books tuned the atmosphere for a Sovietstyle purge of the administration's critics - something FDR had been seeking since coming to power.
In early 1942, Roosevelt ordered Attorney General Francis Biddle to prosecute journalists and activists who criticized the administration. "Biddle started receiving notes from FDR, attached to scurrilous attacks on the president's leadership, asking: 'What are you doing to stop this?'" writes historian Thomas Fleming in The New Dealers' War. FDR "was not much interested in the theory of sedition or in the constitutional right to criticize the government during wartime," Biddle later admitted. "He wanted this anti-war talk stopped."
Some of Roosevelt's more militant comrades literally wanted blood. A March 1942 meeting convened by the Overseas Writers Association (OWA), attended by several prominent members of FDR's "Brain Trust," singled out newspaper publishers Robert McCormick (Chicago Tribune) and Joe Patterson (the New York Daily News) as traitors. McCormick and Patterson loathed and condemned the Axis powers, and they had just as little use for Roosevelt, whom they perceptively denounced as a petty tyrant made of the same material as Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini.
The OWA meeting prefigured the "Two Minutes' Hate" later described in Orwell's 1984. "Roosevelt advisors ... applauded lustily such declarations as: The important thing is to put an end [to criticism of the Roosevelt administration] by whatever means may be necessary -- be as ruthless as the enemy," recorded one contemporary account. Referring specifically to McCormick, one speaker urged: "Get him on his income tax or the Mann Act. Hang him, shoot him or lock him up in a concentration camp."
The derogatory material about FDR's critics gathered by the ADL, AJC, and Derounian/Carlson eventually found its way into an indictment assembled by Justice Department attorney William Power Maloney. Attorney General Biddle had assigned Maloney to prosecute FDR's critics for treasonous sedition. In July 1942, after tantalizing the press with leaks suggesting that "isolationist" congressmen might be arraigned, Maloney announced the indictment of 28 writers and activists accused of Axis sympathies. When Maloney was found incompetent, Biddle replaced him with a more capable attorney named O. John Rogge.
But it didn't matter who was handling the sedition trial, since the public -- despite its understandable desire to defeat the Axis abroad, and root out its agents on the home front -- became nauseated by the spectacle of innocent, upright Americans being prosecuted for their political views. Notes Fleming, "Critics of FDR's sedition trial began referring to the prosecutor as 'Vishinsky,' a reference to the prosecutor in Stalin's Moscow show trials of the 1930s. After the presiding judge died of a heart attack, a mistrial was declared, and Biddle quietly closed the case -- FDR's ardent desire to imprison or perhaps even execute his critics notwithstanding.
When Joseph McCarthy's critics retail lurid stories of the supposed "reign of terror" conducted by the senator, their charges more accurately reflect FDR's methods to marginalize and harass his political opponents. Senator McCarthy, despite his occasional errors, legitimately used his congressional powers to expose Communist subversion in our government. Roosevelt, acting like a dictator, perverted the powers of his office to squelch criticism of his pro-Communist policies.
It says a great deal about the current state of our nation that McCarthy is vilified and FDR lionized.