“Had observers known in the 1950s what they have learned since the 1970s, when the Freedom of Information Act opened the Bureau’s files, ‘McCarthyism’ would probably be called ‘Hooverism.'” History professor Ellen Schrecker
During J. Edgar Hoover’s long tenure as Director, the FBI was very successful at spying on organizations hostile to the interests of the United States, including the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi and Communist parties. Hoover is demonized in mainstream history books because the left wing activists who write most of the textbooks resent his efforts against one of those three organizations.
For some unknown reason, College professors and other left wing extremists tend to be anti-anti-Communists, implacably hostile to anyone who ever fought against Communism in any capacity. That being the case, J. Edgar Hoover would get much more sympathetic treatment in the history books if he had restricted his anti-subversive efforts to the KKK and the Nazis.
Counter-Espionage in WWII
The FBI has a long history of breaking up secret societies hostile to American interests. Before the US was even at war with Nazi Germany, for example, the FBI had discovered and infiltrated the Frederick Duquesne spy ring, and even had an FBI mole operating the short wave radio station through which the Nazi spies communicated with their bosses in Berlin!
When President Franklin Roosevelt issued his infamous Executive Order 9066, forcing American citizens of Japanese ancestry into internment camps, the move was supported by liberal icons like Earl Warren and Hugo Black, and opposed by J. Edgar Hoover.
Hoover told the President that the great majority of Japanese-Americans were loyal Americans, and that if they’d been disloyal, he would have known about it. The internment order was unnecessary, he said, because his agents had identified those Japanese-Americans and German-Americans who represented a threat to the US long before the war started, and arrested virtually all of them within 48 hours of the Pearl Harbor attack.
When Spying is a Bad Thing
Don’t expect left-leaning history teachers to give Hoover any credit for opposing Japanese internment. His “crimes,” in the eyes of the typical gray-ponytailed college professor, are too great to allow for any mitigation.
Professor Eric Foner, for example, complains in his freshman history textbook that Washington DC in the 1950’s was a city plagued with “spying, suspicion, and defamation by rumor;”1 and when he says “spying,” it’s not the widespread Soviet spying of that era that he’s complaining about. In the 1950’s FBI agents and informers were spying on the Communist Party while Communist Party members were spying on the US government. Left wingers like Dr. Foner bitterly resent the FBI for spying on the spies.
Professor Ellen Schrecker has described Hoover’s FBI as “the single most important component of the anti-communist crusade,”2 and she doesn’t mean that as a compliment. Like most history profs, she condemns Joseph McCarthy for conducting a “witch hunt,” supposedly without any evidence of Communist spying; and then condemns Hoover for providing McCarthy with exactly the evidence that she claims McCarthy never had.
And Hoover provided plenty of evidence.
The FBI and the CPUSA
The FBI got information on the anti-American activities of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) from many sources. FBI agents had access to the Venona Project decrypts of messages between the Soviet Government and its network of spies in the US. They worked closely with defectors from the CPUSA, including ex-spymasters Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers. Most impressively, FBI agents and collaborators were able to infiltrate the Party and monitor its activities from the inside.
The tactics that allowed the FBI to infiltrate and monitor Nazi spy rings during WWII worked equally well against the Communist Party. In 1942, for example, the FBI recruited a beautician named Mary Markward to infiltrate the Washington DC branch of CPUSA. Markward quickly rose through the ranks to become the Party’s treasurer, which gave her access to the party’s membership rolls and other records.
For several years every dues check and Daily Worker subscription in the DC area went through Mrs. Markward’s hands, including several from Government employees, who were forbidden by federal law to be Communist Party members. She spent seven years as a mole in the Party before health problems forced her to retire. Two years later she testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
And it wasn’t just the local Party offices that were infiltrated; Hoover had spies inside the national party headquarters as well. Morris Childs, the most noteworthy example, was a charter member of CPUSA who grew disillusioned with the party as he learned of Stalin’s various atrocities. In 1947 Childs suffered a debilitating heart attack, and the cold response of his Party comrades made him ripe for recruitment as an FBI agent.
In the mid-1950’s Childs’ health improved, and he resumed his activities in the Communist Party, while secretly reporting to the FBI. By the early 1960’s Childs was the number two man in CPUSA, reporting directly to Party Chairman Gus Hall. He traveled frequently to Moscow before and during the Vietnam War to meet with high ranking Soviet officials including General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev.3 During his tenure he and his brother Jack smuggled thirty million dollars in Soviet money into the United States for the CPUSA. J. Edgar Hoover, of course, received reports detailing every dollar of it.
Hoover also got reports on Soviet support for the Communist forces fighting Americans in Vietnam, on the communications between Brezhnev’s government and Communist-controlled “Peace” groups in the US, and on every other Cold War era subject of any interest to the American side.
What the Files Reveal
Hoover’s agents kept detailed files on Communist agents operating in this country. Many of these files have now been released to the public in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, and some of them contain information painfully embarrassing to college history professors and other leftwing activists.
Frank Marshal Davis, for example, was a political activist who served as a political mentor for current US President Barack Obama. Davis’ relationship with the young future President has been confirmed both by right wing critics of the President, and by left wing supporters like Gerald Horne and Professor John Edgar Tidwell; as well as by the Associated Press.4Many leftists portray Davis’ connection to the Communist Party as mere rumor-mongering by right wing zealots, but the undeniable truth is right there in Davis’ FBI file. Frank Marshal Davis was a Communist. He carried Communist Party membership card #47544. His wife Helen’s membership card was #62109.
Professor Howard Zinn, to cite one more example, wrote the million-selling history textbook A People’s History of the United States, which is, unfortunately, required reading for students in high schools and universities around the nation. Professor Foner has praised Zinn’s cartoonish book as a masterpiece written “with an enthusiasm rarely encountered in the leaden prose of academic history,” and said more specifically that Zinn’s thirty-four pages of slander against the Vietnam era US military “should be required reading for a new generation of students.”5 Professor Zinn was a Communist Party member for most of his life, as his FBI file clearly shows.
It’s no wonder that anti-anti-Communists in this country have always hated J. Edgar Hoover. His agents and their tactics were a Communist’s worst nightmare.
1Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty (Volume II, 2006 edition), p. 801
2Ellen Schrecker. 1998. Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Boston: Little, Brown p. 239
3Paul Kengor, Dupes, ISI Books 2010, pp. 282, 283
4Ibid., pp. 446-452
5Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, Harper Perennial Modern Classics 2003, back cover