“One of the unfortunate ironies of the manufactured ‘Russiagate’ controversy,” my colleague Sheldon Richman writes in his most recent column, is the perception of the FBI as a friend of liberty and justice.” He’s dead right about that, but just whom is he addressing?
He can’t mean conservatives, who, these days, are sounding like the ACLU in their increasingly radical critique of the “Deep State,” a phrase that has migrated from inside baseball accounts of the national security Establishment to the Sean Hannity Show.
I don’t know many libertarians who are fans of the feds, unless we’re talking about the “liberal-tarians” over at the Niskanen Center, who recently tweeted their determination to take it to the streets if anyone looks cross-eyed at Robert Mueller. (This may have something to do with it.) Richman may not have noticed that, but surely he’s noticed that the liberals the Niskanenites are sucking up to have become the biggest cheering squad for the FBI since the anti-Communists of the 1950s made J. Edgar Hoover their patron saint.
Richman isn’t alone in noting this trend, and registering his profound discomfort and surprise, if not shock: the small but intrepid band of left-wing commentators who remain sane in the midst of the Trump Derangement Syndrome epidemic have written (and tweeted) about the new left-wing Russophobia and their severe disappointment that it appears to be taking over the Democratic party base. Glenn Greenwald, Michael Tracey, Doug Henwood, Aaron Mate (of The Real News), Robert Parry of Consortium News have all reported, refuted, and regretted this ominous development, while managing to give the impression that this something new and unique. After all, who ever heard of a left-wing McCarthyite?!
Well, I have, for one – and so has anyone familiar with the subject of political witch-hunting in America.
To begin with, it’s more than a bit unfair to call them McCarthyites – Tail-Gunner Joe at least had some real evidence for his often extravagant accusations about Communist infiltration of the federal government. On the other hand, the “Trump is a Russian agent” crowd has not one iota of credible evidence that the elected President of the United States “colluded” with the Russians to somehow hypnotize American voters into casting their votes for him: none, nada, zero, zilch.
That doesn’t matter to the Washington Post, the New York Times, or Louise Mensch, three of the most prominent disseminators of the collusion conspiracy theory: they simply report it as fact. Nary a day goes by when the latest iteration of this continuing hoax doesn’t morph into a new variation. Paul Manafort is spilling the beans. Mike Flynn is singing like a bird. Yes, they write like that, in trite, tired phrases worn down by overuse: their imaginative powers are confined to emitting evidence-free conclusions, like that time the Post reported the Russians had hacked into Vermont’s power grid (false – they never even called the power company), or when Mensch swears half the White House staff is about to be perp-walked. All is always about to be revealed – just keep reading the Post, checking the Times, and following Mensch’s tweets!
From a seemingly successful political scam the new Russophobia is fast turning into a growing industry, with several rival conspiracy theorists and “expose the Russians” outfits peddling their wares. The politics of this is reflected in the reunion of the “centrist” liberals with the neoconservatives, like David Frum, Bill Kristol, and Max Boot, all of whom are fanatic NeverTrumpers and have joined the anti-Trump “Popular Front” advocated by liberal warhorse Michael Tomasky.
History is here repeating itself in an oddly inverted way: the neocons trace their ideological ancestry back to the “Scoop Jackson” faction of the Democratic Party. They were driven out by opposition within the party to one of their all-time favorite projects: the Vietnam war. Now they’re returning to the party of their youth on account of another war – the one against Trump, and Putin.
The neocons are no strangers to the art of the witch-hunt, but those few liberals bewildered by the takeover of their movement by swivel-eyed Menscheviks don’t know the history. Thanks to liberal Hollywood, we hear endless tales about the “persecution” suffered by Stalin’s henchmen at the hands of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). When HUAC held hearings investigating Communist groups at San Francisco’s City Hall, the proceedings were mobbed by left-wing protesters and there was considerable sympathy for the accused. What hardly anyone remembers is that the initial push for establishing “subversion control,” and HUAC specifically, was the so-called Brown Scare, a campaign carried out by the far left, with the Communists in the vanguard, asserting that an extensive pro-Nazi underground existed in America and had to be rooted out by government action.
HUAC was established in 1934 at the behest of Rep. Sam Dickstein (D-NY), who later became a New York state Supreme Court judge. He died in 1954, When the Soviet Union fell, and the KGB files were opened, documents proving Dickstein had been on the Soviet payroll for years were discovered. Dickstein used HUAC to smear Franklin Roosevelt’s enemies as fascists, and after Hitler invaded Russia he tried every means to link antiwar sentiment to Nazism. His Communist handlers code-named him “Crook” due to his unusual greed: he insisted on being paid the equivalent of over $20,000 per month for his services to “Uncle Joe” Stalin.
The Communist Party and its “anti-fascist” front groups were in the vanguard of the movement to suppress “subversion” during the Roosevelt years, and when the war came the legal tools to do so were in hand. As for the President, he continually pushed his Attorney General, Francis Biddle, to “do something” about “the isolationists.” The “sedition trial” of 1944 was a total farce, during which the Justice Department tried to prove that the 30 defendants – ranging from the New Republic writer Lawrence Dennis to one Elmer J. Garner, an 80-year-old populist farmer and anti-Roosevelt activist who was too deaf to have heard a word of the trial and who died a few weeks after the circus began with 32 cents in his pocket – had engaged in a conspiracy to provoke mutiny in the armed forces, even though most had not even met each other.
The first indictment was issued in 1942, naming a number of Congressmen, and the 900,000-member America First Committee, as well as known pro-German groups like the German-American Bund. It ended at the tail end of 1944 in a mistrial: when the New Deal judge died, the government declined to pursue the case.
This was just the most visible of the repressive measures that originated during the Brown Scare and bled over into the Red Scare: all that was required was a change in US foreign policy and a subsequent shift in American public opinion. Whereas the FBI infiltrated and reported on groups like the America First Committee, which opposed US entry into World War II, and tapped the phones of conservative leaders, such as publisher Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune, when the winds shifted they used the same methods on their leftist targets. But just remember: the left started it, and revealed the repression while they held the whip.
So you’re surprised that our “liberals” are baring their teeth and hailing the endless investigations of Russian “subversion” by a very politicized FBI? Don’t be – they’re just reverting to their historical roots.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.