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The United States Leviathan

Witch Hunts: from Communists to Muslims

From the beginnings of the 20th century, the United States has forged its national unity based upon the denunciation of an internal enemy. The communists occupy a privileged place among the targets of this witch hunt, which also include anarchists, citizens of Japanese descent, homosexuals and atheists. The U.S. Federal Government created gigantic structures of repression coordinated with employer militias. This constant violence against scapegoats is today aimed at Muslims.

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Beginning with the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States has registered an important increase in attacks against Muslims as well as discrimination in the hiring of Muslim, Arab or Sikh workers. In a report published in May of 2004, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), an important US-Muslim organization, registered 93 cases of racist crimes in 2003 - more than twice as many as in 2002.

The phenomenon is not new: over the 20th century, the United States has suffered waves of violence directed against supposed “internal enemies”, all with the blessing and even the complicity of the Federal Government.

In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson entrusted his former electoral campaign director, George Creel, with the leadership of the first modern organism of state propaganda: the Committee on Public Information (CPI) that defined the methods to manipulate the masses that were later applied by Goebbels in Germany and Tchakotin in the USSR.

Their mission was to convince citizens, using State media as support, that it was necessary to enter the First World War, thereby investing the nation’s entire resources.

To this end, Creel compounded a form of nationalism, submitting the country to a witch hunt against all those who could be suspected of not being sufficiently patriotic: those that for moral or religious reasons rejected the war, Americans of German origin, immigrants, communists, and those that escaped the draft. Once the conflict was over, the State xenophobia not only went against the immigrants, but also against political opponents.

The United States suffered a serious economic crisis during the reconversion of the war economy to one of peace. In January of 1919, some important strikes took place, mainly in Seattle where 60,000 workers paralyzed all activity. They were immediately qualified as “Reds” and accused of fomenting a coup d’état. The mayor of the city, Ole Hansen, announced that the town had 1,500 policemen and federal agents to destroy the movement. Under the threat of a bloodbath, the strikers returned to work.

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John Edgar Hoover
, FBI Director from 1924 to 1972

The episode introduced a new method to treat social demands and political opponents. Soon after a series of attacks attributed to anarchists in 1919, the US Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, invented the myth of the “Red Scare”. To fight against this internal threat a political police force - the General Intelligence Division (GID) whose objective was to reveal “Bolshevik plots” - was created within the FBI to identify and imprison or deport the culprits.

J. Edgar Hoover was placed at the head of this division. Thus, the State registered close to 200,000 opponents and radical organizations, ending with the arrest of thousands of people held and - in the case of foreigners - expelled from the country sometimes for simple words spoken against capitalism or against the government. And all in violation of the most elementary rights to a defense (right to a lawyer, right to a fair trial...). The policy was not only xenophobic, but was accompanied by rhetoric which recognized that those who questioned the established order were “un-American”. That was equal to considering as foreigners those that didn’t have the same political opinions as the ruling class. Two parties/unions were especially targeted: the International Workers of the World (IWW, or Wobblies) headed by "Big" Bill Haywood, and the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs - two political formations that officially opposed the First World War. At the same time, the strikes and mutinies that shook the country were qualified in the press as “crimes against society”. The generals that remained in Europe decided to create an association of former combatants to regenerate the country, renouncing class warfare and developing the values of unity and sacrifice that were triumphant during the war. On May 8, 1919, the American Legion was founded in St. Louis “to support and to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, to maintain law and order, and to begin and to perpetuate a pure and tough Americanism”.

Six months later, the organization counted more than 650,000 members, and with a million by the end of 1919. Most of them only distributed anticommunist leaflets, but the most fanatic elements didn’t hesitate in seeking fights with real or imagined communists and coordinating the actions of “strike-breakers”.

In 1933 the head of the American Legion appealed to an outstanding soldier, the former Marine commander in chief, General Smedley Darlington Butler, to transform the association according to the French pattern of the Cross of Fire (Croix de Feu), and seize power. But at the last moment (as with François de la Rocque not long before in France), the hero refused to head a fascist coup d’état [1].

The “hunt for Reds” slowly wound down in 1920. In May, based on the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian communists accused - probably in error - of having held up and murdered the cashier and guard of a factory in Braintree, twelve eminent U.S. jurists wrote a report on the violations of fundamental freedoms by the Justice Department.

The decision taken by the New York Assembly to fire elected socialist officials caused the indignation of national newspapers and important political figures. Even Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer pronounced against the decision, declaring it unjust to associate socialists and communists. On the other hand, the expulsion of foreigners quickly appeared to the eyes of the industry bosses as the disappearance of cheap manpower.

All those factors together led to a weakening of the process begun in 1919. However, the matter of the first “great Red scare” kept in mind several aspects of the anticommunism that was to continue through the course of United States’ history in the 20th century: “The intolerance, the xenophobia, the obsession with plots, the damage to freedoms on behalf of internal security, the external threat used to destroy internal opposition, the denunciations, the accusations of every kind, the brutality of the repression, and the negation of the legal rules of those considered to be seditious” [2].

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt, giving in to xenophobia, ordered the arrest without trial of 120,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese origin and their internment in concentration camps. The discriminatory measure was not applied to enemy citizens, notably Germans, but exclusively to those whose parents were Japanese [3].

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Harry S. Truman

The end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War hostility between the United States and the USSR that was to last for over forty years, reactivated the anticommunist feeling from the top. President Harry S. Truman was criticized by everyone. To the right, the Republicans accused him of being “too weak” in the face of the “communist menace”. To the left, he faced a heteroclite opposition composed of some Democrats around Henry Wallace, by the Communist Party, and also by isolated personalities such as Walter Lippman, Albert Einstein, Fiorello La Guardia, and Henry Morgenthau.

These individuals considered that “reconciliation with the Soviet Union was possible without sacrificing the national interest … that the Cold War should not be a process of militarization, and that the conflict threatened American institutions and cherished principles” [4]. These words found an echo in the population itself that, although anticommunists did not generally seek a confrontation with the USSR, much less when the idea of the “communist menace” appeared to be little more than a ghost rather than a reality. The memory of the Soviet-U.S. alliance against Nazi Germany was still alive.

Soon after the First World War, and even with rapid U.S. dominance of the world economy, the return to a peace economy presented, in the first years, some difficulties for the population. Thus, in 1946, a return to unemployment and strikes took place. The social movement raised a strong anti-union feeling that led to the success of the Republicans in congressional elections.

Immediately, thirty states adopted anti-union legislation and, in 1947, Congress voted – against President Truman’s desire who tried to veto it - the Taft-Hartley Law that had the goal “to reduce union power and eliminate communist influence specifically in the union movement” [5].

The text principally stated that all union members swear in writing “that they are not a member of the Communist Party or an affiliated party of that type and that they don’t seek the overthrow of the United States government by force or by any illegal or unconstitutional means” [6].

This nascent anticommunist paranoia was reinforced by presumed cases of espionage - in fact invented - imputed to the USSR. In October of 1946, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce published a report stating that communists had infiltrated the government - mainly the State Department – as well as the unions, and proposed “to remove all ‘subversive’ people from opinion formation places: schools and libraries, cinema, radio and television, and the written press” [7].

A little before, a report of J. Edgar Hoover, now the FBI director, affirmed the existence of a wide espionage net implanted in the United States with ramifications in the government’s own bosom. Hoover also said that he had asked his men to continue their investigations and confirmed they were working on the creation “of a list of all Party members and of dangerous people in the event of serious crisis with the Soviet Union”.

The vast campaign of disinformation bore fruit. With an eye toward eliminating the main electoral argument of the Republicans, Truman created, in November of 1946, a temporary commission charged with evaluating the loyalty of officials. On March 21, by presidential order n° 9835, the commission became permanent establishing a program to verify the loyalty of officials.

At the same time, Truman established a secret State apparatus to direct a permanent Cold War against the Soviet Union, independent of political alternation. The National Security Act of 1947 created a Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in time of peace, an omnipotent active intelligence agency (the CIA), and the National Security Council (NSC). He then discharged General George F. Keenan, the theoretician of the Soviet threat who was nevertheless in favor of conciliation, replacing him with Paul H. Nitze, who was favorable to military confrontation in outlying theatres. In 1948, Truman was re-elected as president of the United States. In fact, the movement he steered had transcended him.

In Congress, representatives had created a Congressional Commission on Un-American Activities in which Richard Nixon played an important part. The Commission was the starting point of the first “witch hunt” in the film and leisure industry with the help of Ronald Reagan, then president of the Screen Actors Guild, the Hollywood actors union [8]. In 1948, Richard Nixon urged his congressional colleagues to take an interest in the case of Alger Hiss, a high official in the State Department accused of having belonged to the Communist Party based on the not very reliable information of Whittaker Chambers, an important writer for Time. The matter strengthened the legitimacy of the anti-communist crusade and opened the road to Senator Joseph McCarthy.

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Joseph McCarthy

This mediocre politician who was elected “the worst member of Congress” in 1951 by the US Congress Journalists Association, had dinner in January of 1950 with Father Edmund Walsh, professor of Georgetown (Jesuit) University in Washington. Walsh suggested that to hold his seat in Congress McCarthy should launch an anticommunist crusade. Said and done. On February 9, 1950, Joseph McCarthy made a speech in Wheeling in which he seriously questioned Secretary of State Dean Acheson and, holding up a sheet of paper, said he had “a list of 205 names that are known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department”.

The matter caused a scandal and, as with all the speeches on the “enemy within”, McCarthy’s words had no foundation. The list didn’t exist, nor the names, except those obtained by the investigating committees and published in 1946, including former communists, fascists, alcoholics and homosexuals. In spite of the trickery, McCarthy persisted and gave a speech before the Senate on February 20 in which he mentioned the infiltration of communists in Harry Truman’s administration.

As president of the Senate Government Committee on Operations, McCarthy carried out a series of investigations in order to put under the gun responsible politicians on the basis of their past allegiances. Most were forced to resign. To others he proposed that in order to save their careers they denounce those close to the Communist Party. Artists and intellectuals were also harassed. In 1952, at the recommendation of J. Edgar Hoover, McCarthy named Roy Cohn as his assistant. Cohn had participated in the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a Jewish couple accused of spying for the USSR and sentenced to death in 1951.

The FBI played a considerable role in the anticommunist crusade of McCarthy, as William Sullivan, one of the FBI’s most eminent agents explained: “We were the ones that made the McCarthy hearings possible. We gave him all the materials he used”. Because the FBI didn’t have the means to gather these materials, an employer syndicate, the Mid-America Research Library [9] provided the more than six million files that they possessed on the political and sexual activities of their employees [10].

The ideas defended by McCarthy spread like fire and the Truman government became the target of repeated anticommunist attacks. Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State, was one of the main targets, as well as George Marshall, Defense Secretary, who was forced to resign.

Harry Truman himself, attacked in this way, gave up the presidential candidacy for the 1952 elections, which was won in a landslide by General Dwight Eisenhower. For many, the arrival of Eisenhower was expected to signal the end of McCarthyism, but this was not to be. Indeed, McCarthy launched a new attack against “anti-American culture” in books. His team discovered 30,000 books that had been written by “communists, pro communists, former communists or anti-anticommunists”.

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Malcolm X

Soon after the publication of the complete list of these works, the books were removed from library shelves. On top of this, a reference to God was added to the pledge of allegiance recited by U.S. schoolchildren and officials every morning, in an effort to detect any atheistic communists that refused to pronounce His name. However, the anticommunist crusade made a fatal error: in October of 1953, it chose to denounce communist infiltration in the U.S. Army. The Army fought back and won a vote of censorship against McCarthy on December 2, 1954. This was bad news for the anticommunist extremist J. Edgar Hoover who directed the FBI since 1924. U.S. political life was shaken by different protest movements - notably that of civil rights carried out by Martin Luther King - and later against the Vietnam War. In 1956, to fight again against this subversion Hoover created COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program). The first targets were those heading the United States Communist Party, and even the Socialist Party.

The leaders, militants and sympathizers of these parties were placed under surveillance using listening technology, taken away from the administration or denigrated in press campaigns before the election. However, the program shortly left these original targets alone in order to deal with civil rights organizations. J. Edgar Hoover explained this in an internal memo directed to all his agents on March 25, 1968, in which he stated that COINTELPRO sought “to impede the coalition of the black nationalist groups ... to impede the birth of a ‘messiah’ that could unify and electrify the black nationalist movement ... It is necessary to make the moderate black youths understand that, if they succumb to revolutionary teaching, they will be dead revolutionaries”.

Documents made public on COINTELPRO that began in 1970, make it difficult to accurately determine in detail the manner in which the FBI carried out its destabilizing operations of the civil rights movement. The simplest was in general to present the Reverend Martin Luther King and Malcolm X organizations as unpatriotic, anti-American and close to the communists.

In the United States of the 1960s, Malcolm X represented a very special danger. Converted to Islam and having broken with the Black Muslim movement, he was accused of being anti-white, anti-Semitic and a propagator of racial hatred. When the arguments were no longer enough, he was murdered on February 21, 1965 [11]. The same happened to Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968.

Thanks to these two assassinations - the investigations into which were particularly amateurish - J. Edgar Hoover’s wish was fulfilled: there would be no “messiah” capable “of unifying and of electrifying the Black Nationalist movement”. The FBI’s COINTELPRO also attacked the Black Panther movement.

The movement, founded in 1966, sought the liberation of African Americans not by means of the peaceful resistance preached by Martin Luther King, but rather by “self-defense”. In 1969, one of their members, Fred Hampton, was executed after an operation carried out jointly by the FBI and the Chicago Police Department. Another emblematic figure of the movement, Angela Davis, was accused of murder and kidnapping. She was arrested in 1970 and spent sixteen months in prison before being acquitted on all charges.

Such methods could not continue to be hidden from the general public. In spite of being continually denounced by the political opponents that were its victims, it took the Watergate scandal to get the U.S. press interested in the matter. The FBI was accused of having placed listening devices in the Democratic campaign headquarters to benefit President Nixon.

The revelations published by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein caused a series of investigations on the modus operandi of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. The paranoia of the federal agents against the “internal enemy” slowly dissipated.

However, the phenomenon suddenly resurged soon after the September 11 attacks. Nowadays, the new crusade isn’t communists or blacks, but aimed at Muslims. Daniel Pipes [12] became the point man when urging, on many occasions, for the purge of university personnel considered too sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and the dismissal of Muslim officials and soldiers.

In an article in the Jerusalem Post on November 26, 2003, he asked for the distribution of a questionnaire to U.S. Muslim officials, which was in the purest McCarthyist style. Thus, they would be asked to condemn Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, to recognize that Muslim fundamentalists were responsible for the September 11 attacks, and to accept that for security reasons they are spied upon more than any other U.S. citizen.

With this mentality, the Attorney General, John Ashcroft [13] took advantage of the shock caused by September 11 to adopt the US Patriot Act - an interminable text demanding months of preparation that was nonetheless presented only six days after the attacks.

The Patriot Act suspends fundamental freedoms in all matters linked closely, or from a distance, to terrorism. It orders that all practicing Muslims be registered by the FBI – whether foreign or national - and forces all natives of Muslim countries to present themselves every month at their local police station. It also plans the construction of internment camps, foreseeing massive imprisonment.

[1] On the contrary, the American Legion will inspire the creation, in 1939, of the French Legion of Combatants.

[2] La chasse aux sorcières, (The Witch Hunt) by Marie-France Toinet, Editions Complexe, 1995.

[3] Years of Infamy. The Untold Story of American’s Concentration Camp by Michi Weglyn, William Morrow and Co, ed. 1976.

[4] Cold War Critics, by Thomas G. Paterson, Chicago Quadrangle, 1971.

[5] “Loyalty among government employees”, by Thomas I. Emerson et David Helfeld, Yale Law Journal, December of 1948. Cited by Marie-France Toinet, op.cit.

[6] At the same time, the main U.S. unions, notably AFL/CIO, were ridding themselves of their communist elements. See “¿AFL-CIO ou AFL-CIA?”, by Paul Labarique, Voltaire, January 19 2005.

[7] La chasse aux sorcières, op.cit.

[8] «Ronald Reagan contre l’Empire du Mal», Voltaire, June 7, 2004.

[9] This employer syndicate will recruit mainly in the armaments industry and become the American Security Council. It will then be qualified by Eisenhower as “military industrial complex”. This included from the outset: General Electric, Lockheed, Motorola, Allstate Insurance, Standard Oil of California, General Dynamics, Reynolds Metals, Quaker Oats, Honeywell, U.S. Steel, Kraft Foods, Stewart-Warner, Schick-Eversharp, Central Illinois Railroad and, especially, the Be-Roebuck.

[10] Power on the Right by William W. Turner, Ramparts Press, 1971.

[11] Before dying, Malcom X requested that his secretary warn a mysterious correspondent in Geneva whose telephone number he wrote on a piece of paper. It was the adoptive father of Swiss Intellectual, Tariq Ramadan, a militant Third World revolutionary, at the present time the object of a campaign of international denigration that reminds one of that directed by Hoover against Malcolm X.

[12] «Daniel Pipes, the expert of hate », Voltaire, July 12 2005.

[13] «John Ashcroft dans le secret des Dieux», Voltaire, February 2 2004.

 
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