The Smear Terror - John T. Flynn

IX. The End—What Is It To Be?

In what has gone before I have tried to make clear how various organizations have operated around a general pool of calumny. This is a reservoir filled with rumors, innuendos, direct charges, lies and half-truths and some whole truths about a score of persons—a few important, but mostly unimportant. They are covered with the odium of fascism, anti-semitism and subversion generally. This done, the Smearers have but to wade into this odious swamp and splash around, scattering their ill-favored muck upon the forms of decent men who are their real targets, who can be charged with nothing directly, but who can be destroyed in this way.

This no American is immune. The Smearers can destroy any man in this country, however innocent, who does not yield to the intended intimidation. However, they have departed from this technique and made direct charges in some notable instances when, in the very frenzy of their hatreds, they have hungered for the quick liquidation of their victim.

The chronicle of these attempted direct character assassinations is almost unbelievable. There was the incredibly wicked attempt to defame Senator David I. Walsh of Massachusetts through the New York Post by charges so vile and so false that even Senator Alben Barkley, the New Deal leader in the Senate, recoiled from them and provided the evidence which shattered them. There was the diabolical conspiracy to eliminate Martin Dies by means of charges contained in forged documents attributed to a half-demented creature who ended in the penitentiary for his part. There was the scheme to ruin John O'Donnell, the columnist—a scheme in which President Roosevelt played a leading role—by calling him a liar for making statements which were ultimately admitted to be true by the President himself and by presenting him with an Iron Cross with the Presidential implication that he was in the service of the enemy. David Stern's Philadelphia Record collaborated in this by printing in words what Roosevelt had insinuated.

O'Donnell sued Stern, got a verdict of libel and in a new trial got a second verdict of libel—two juries, 24 citizens, agreeing unanimously that O'Donnell had been attacked with lies. I cannot in these brief pages notice all these programs of liquidation. A large volume, involving senators, congressmen, writers, business men, could not contain the shameful story. One would have to go back to the glorious days of Florentine intrigue to match some of these "projects" in character assassination. I shall mention but one—the latest and one of the most instructive—directed against Senator Burton K. Wheeler.

Senator Wheeler ran for reelection in the Montana primaries. He has a long career as a true liberal leader. But he committed the crime of opposing Roosevelt's plan to take this country into war. The same forces that have been evident in what I have been describing here were out to get Wheeler. The focus of the smear was a book, "The Plot Against America"—which throughout its filthy pages associated the honorable name of Burton Wheeler with the vilest and most disgusting behavior.

This was managed by a fellow named John E. Kennedy, a local Montana New Dealer. He wanted someone to write a book, he took no chances. He advertised in New York for a writer, drunkard preferred—unbelievable as that may seem—a drunkard trying to pull himself together. He promised a trivial reward—room and victuals, small pay and maybe, expenses. He got what he advertised for—a human being named David George Plotkin, In addition to being a drunkard trying to sober up, he had been rejected by the Army as having a "manic depressive psychosis, paranoid tendency." This means a mind alternating between mania and melancholia and tending toward systematic insane delusions. In the Missoula Hotel this creature wrote a book, Kennedy supplying the material. It is without doubt the most abominable political tract that has ever appeared in print in this country. Oddly, it not only attacked Wheeler. Plotkin, in the exuberance of his vilification turned his venoms against President Truman as well. He wrote: "Truman and Wheeler see eye to eye. They are leading the retreat from reason into the safe ventilated hell of Nazi-Fascism," Also: "Hitler's body has been resurrected and is sleeping in the White House bed." These are not samples of the book's filth, I could not print that.

Who paid for this odious adventure in calumny? Well who was interested in destroying Wheeler? A senatorial investigation of this incident, which was squelched when it got too hot, has revealed some of the names of those who contributed to the campaign to defeat Wheeler. Of the $11,000 contributed to the campaign fund, over $8,000 came from outside Montana—chiefly from New York. Following an appeal to L. M. Birkhead and to Edward Waterman of the A.D.L., we find Arthur Goldsmith sending $4,250. Who is Arthur Goldsmith? You will find his name among the supporters of Birkhead, Stout and other committees. One thousand dollars went from A. Greenbaum in the Ritz Towers. Several contributions were made by pinkish labor unions to the PAC in Montana. The book enterprise itself is supposed to have cost $13,000. The money was supplied apparently, by two small-bore persons in Montana. But there is plenty of ground for suspecting that it did not come from them but was, rather, routed to the enterprise through them. Who?

And now, behold them! Behold the brave legion of the Calumniators! Behold America's own Mata Hari and "Colonel Richard Rolling A.B. Syracuse!" Behold Lipschutz, the Belgian diamond trader held up by the Immigration Department as he seeks citizenship here; Birkhead, the church- and religion-hating preacher; Rex Stout, the evangelist of hate and suppression; Leslie, the former Baptist curate, jazz bandmaster, tin-pan alley publisher and worshipper of the Soviet god; Gailmor, the thief and Plotkin, the poet of the sewers equipped with manic depressive psychosis; and Avedis Boghos Derounian, the desk searcher and file rifler, thrice branded a liar by juries, judges, and investigators. Look them over.

Why do I waste 32 pages of good ink upon such a shabby crew? Who would believe they could do so much damage? Of course they do not and cannot save as directed and financed by stronger and smarter men. What is the power which sits off in the shadows and pulls the strings and supplies the cash which vitalizes these puppets?

Senator Johnson of Colorado said of the creature Plotkin that he should, be horsewhipped. If there is to be horse-whipping it is not upon the backs of the Plotkins and Derounians and Gailmors that the lash should fall, but upon the backs of those men who hide behind the scenes and provide the means by which these otherwise futile and feeble instruments can function with so much malignance and effectiveness; .But WE WANT NO HORSEWHIPPING IN THIS COUNTRY. There is, a better way. To deal with this grave, evil I make the following suggestions.

1. Congress must investigate the activities of all these private gestapos. Police we must have, but that is the business of the State. As for secret police, this is something even our State has not used here. Public detectives may use assumed names and even disguises to trap criminals. Even that is an extreme use of power. We trust the State in this because we assume it is responsible and can be supervised and called to account. But we have never dreamed of permitting the State to use police—secret or otherwise—as an instrument of political controversy.

To suppose that we can suffer private gestapos to operate, to steal into men's homes and offices, to open their mail, tap their telephones—this is abhorrent to our system of life. Yet they are amongst us. Derounian went to a man's home as a guest, was entertained overnight and in the morning, while the victim's wife prepared breakfast, he stole into the library to search for papers. The Anti-Nazi League planted a paid employee of its own as an employee of a reputably American organization, headed by respected citizens. As a messenger, she carried documents from its offices' to the private offices of the organization's officials. On the way she stopped at the office of the Anti-Nazi League where the mail was opened, the contents photostated before being returned to the envelopes and delivered to the lawful recipients.

Richard Rollins of the Anti-Nazi League wrote that when he took a job with a government agency he found himself handicapped in his police operations because when he wanted to see papers he had to get a warrant whereas while a private snooper he could sneak into a man's place of business and take them.

I once had three private spies planted in my office—the office of an organization of which I was a chairman—the three hired and paid by an infamous private agency which I have had no space to deal with here and which from time to time serves those smear organizations which I have described. I have had my office entered, my files examined, my telephone tapped. As a citizen I have a right to claim the protection of my government against these infamous practices. I am not particularly interested in the man or men who entered my office. But I am interested in knowing who paid them and I think my government owes to me and every other citizen the fullest protection under the Constitutional guarantee to be secure from unreasonable seizures and searches. The first step therefore, must be a full congressional investigation which will call every one of these organizations to Washington, which will compel them to reveal their methods of operations, the records and performances of their operatives and the sources of their moral and financial support.

2. The American people are entitled to protection against the use of the radio for the abuse of private citizens. The radio has been one of the chief instruments of these gestapos for spreading their smears, often through recently arrived refugees steaming with the hatreds of the feuds from which they fled in Europe, while the defamed citizen has no means of defense.

3. Most of our Jewish leaders took a step in the right direction when they withdrew their support from Kenneth Leslie's Protestant. Those in the strongest position to stop this thing are the Jewish organizations which have a right to speak for Jews. Moreover it is our Jewish citizens who are being most terribly injured by these activities.

I was heartened when I saw a public statement by Rabbi Solomon Fineberg in a recent issue of the Commentary, published by the American Jewish Committee, in which he said that most anti-semitic rabble-rousers were one-man shows, without any important following and that it was a grave mistake to treat them as if they were "great and powerful figures holding the center of the stage." These smear gestapos actually pick up these insignificant creatures and provide them with a public limelight without which they would never be heard of. Dr. Fineberg says the only people who profit by this are the Communists who want to "provide plenty of limelight for the rabble-rousers" and who want "to involve the entire American public in a quarrel."

Anti-semitism has never been able to find reputable leaders, but these smear organizations have actually made it appear that senators, congressmen, writers and other persons of importance are now leading the anti-semitic movement in America. For this reason, therefore, I urge that Jews, Catholics, Protestants be the first to repudiate the services of any smearers who pretend to speak in their names.

However accomplished, this thing must be ended. Is America to be governed by boycotters and smearers? Are public questions to be discussed in terms of libel and slander? If this is to be the method of debate, we must expect to see the other side come into the arena to challenge the smearers with their own weapons—smear against smear, boycott against boycott. What sane man in this country wants to see that? What honest lover of tolerance for all religions and all races can contemplate that without anxiety? And when the argument gets around to that pass, can anyone doubt that it will be the minority groups that will be the greatest sufferers?