The Return of the Witch-Hunters

During the cold war era, an entire cottage industry grew up around the alleged threat of the "international Communist conspiracy," one that proved lucrative for those entrepreneurs who took advantage of it as well as politicians who profited politically from it. Numerous right-wing groups sprang up whose only apparent function was to catalogue and "expose" manifestations of the Commie Menace operating in our midst. From anti-Semite Elizabeth Dilling‘s "Patriotic Research Bureau," which issued the classic Red Network in 1935, and on to Red Channels in the 1950s, to any number of amateur sleuths and mini-J. Edgar Hoovers whose job, as they saw it, was to keep tabs on attempts to "radicalize" unsuspecting Americans and otherwise subvert US national security.  

It needs to be said, before I get into the history of these efforts, that "McCarthyism" – as it is now known, after the most infamous of its practitioners – was preceded by a left-wing effort to demonize – and prosecute – elements of the political right, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then no one can doubt the sincerity of Tail-Gunner Joe and his epigones. In the run-up to World War II, and afterwards, the political left in this country launched a crusade to link conservative opponents of US entry into the war with Hitler and Nazi Germany. The best-selling book Under Cover, by pro-Communist John Roy Carlon, a.k.a. Avedis Derounian, was a crude and highly effective smear against the anti-interventionist movement, using every trick in the book to tie in antiwar activists affiliated with the conservative America First Committee with the German American Bund and other pro-Nazi groups. Congressional hearings were an important prop in this pro-war, anti-conservative campaign: indeed, the first manifestation of the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which became famous for its efforts purporting to expose Communist activities in the US, was the "Special Committee on Un-American Activities Authorized to Investigate Nazi Propaganda and Certain Other Propaganda Activities," chaired by the left-wing Rep. Samuel Dickstein (D-NY). Dickstein took his show on the road, traveling to cities across the United States where testimony was heard implicating prominent conservatives in a number of fantastic plots, including the "Business Plot" – a purported scheme by big business to instigate a military coup against Franklin Delano Roosevelt. These activities culminated, in 1944, in the trial of 30 right-wingers for plotting to overthrow the government of the United States in tandem with Nazi Germany, the so-called Sedition Trial, which ended in a fiasco.  

The conservatives, licking their wounds, waited for their moment, and it finally came at the beginning of the 1950s, with the dawn of the cold war. Dickstein’s Special Committee morphed into HUAC, which took out after the left with a vengeance. Investigations into the alleged Communist influence in Hollywood, in publishing, in virtually every aspect of American life were launched, with "experts" such as ex-Communist Benjamin Gitlow and others, the featured speakers at these propaganda-fests. J. Edgard Hoover’s FBI, acting in concert with HUAC and "private" anti-Communist groups, such as Red Channels, engaged in a massive witch-hunt, in which anyone who questioned the cold war or challenged political orthodoxy was smeared as a "red."  

These private groups, by means of their close association with governmental agencies such as HUAC and its investigators, achieved a kind of quasi-governmental, semi-official status, which imbued them with a penumbra of authority – and, indeed, they did manage to weasel their way into the governmental apparatus itself by means of the "ideological struggle" against Communism then being waged by Washington. Such cold war institutions as Radio Free Europe, and, later, the National Endowment for Democracy, were established that put these "experts" on the government payroll, and endowed them with a completely bogus air of legitimacy.  

During the "Brown Scare" of the 1930s, epitomized by the Dickstein "Special Committee" and the literary career of Carlson/Derounian, the cooperation of the Justice Department, Hoover’s G-men, and the left-wing "extremist"-hunting groups, such as the "Friends of Democracy," and the investigatory arm of the Anti-Defamation League, was such that the "privateers" might have been considered a third arm of law enforcement – "private" police agencies whose task it was to provide the official agencies with vital leads as well as buttress support for the witch-hunt among the people. And, as Thomas E. Mahl documents in Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-1944, foreign intelligence agencies played a key role in the campaign to demonize war opponents. The KGB, acting through its American agents, principally the Communist Party, were hard at work directing and subsidizing the "anti-fascist" fight to pass Lend-Lease Act, get the US involved in the war, and save the "worker’s fatherland."

The same pattern emerged, albeit in reverse, when the cold war froze US-Soviet relations and the commie-hunters took center stage. The professional anti-communists, many of them ex-Communists of one sort or another, created a cottage industry out of their disillusionment: they wrote books, went on lecture tours, set up a multitude of organizations, and made lucrative careers out of the cause. Their ultimate goal, to get on the government payroll, was achieved in all too many instances. 

The national security apparatus, which was then beginning to burgeon into its present bloated size, was primed to absorb them, with such ex-leftists as Jay Lovestone, former national secretary of the Communist Party, going to work for the CIA. The anti-Communist propaganda apparatus that sprang up in the wake of the cold war deployed platoons of embittered ex-Communists and former Trotskyites and gave gainful employment to an entire generation of embittered ex-leftist intellectuals who, otherwise unemployable, would have ended their days sitting in the corner bar, drowning their memories of disillusion and betrayal in drink. Those who didn’t manage to weasel their way into government jobs were taken in by right-wing think-tanks, and magazines such as National Review – whose chief editorial contributors, from the very beginning, were recruited from among this league of tattle-tales and turncoats. 

With the sudden implosion of the Soviet Empire, all these people were out of business: like many real estate agents in the wake of the housing bust, these former "experts" in a field that no longer had much money in it had to find other work – a new bubble, and a new scam, with which to entice a fresh crop of suckers customers.

The first years of the post-cold war era were not promising, and they were indeed lean years for the witch-hunters. There was no enemy, no Satan-with-a-sword, with enough stature or menace to constitute a credible threat – and, therefore, no internal "fifth column" to vilify, hunt down, and prosecute. What’s a witch-hunter to do?  

The 9/11 terrorist attacks solved that problem for them quite neatly. The new Enemy: Muslims. The Fifth Column: the many Muslim organizations, and the several thousand mosques in the US, along with the entire Muslim-American population. The witch-hunt was back on, and there was more money in it than ever. 

An entire "homeland security" industry grew like kudzu, fed and carefully nurtured with lucrative government contracts and the post-9/11 hysteria that gripped the nation and validated a veritable flood of federal dollars poured into projects with little or no congressional oversight. That industry is still growing by leaps and bounds, perhaps the only sector of the economy which is experiencing a boom at this point.

Most of these corporate entities are involved with the development of various hi-tech snooping devices, "cyber-warfare," and recruiting mercenaries, but a vital and growing subset are the propaganda outfits. These often assume an air of semi-objectivity, like Steven Emerson’s "The Investigative Project on Terrorism," whose very name combines the imagery of both journalism and law enforcement.  

Others are openly ideological, like the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, whose founder and director, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, was Rep. Peter King’s star witness at the anti-Muslim show hearings which opened on Thursday. In his testimony,  Dr. Jasser singled out his rivals among the various Muslim groups as little more than a jihadist fifth column: 

"[They] disagree on a great deal but they share the distinction of remaining silent about the threat of the ideology of political Islam (Islamism) and in fact many of the ideas they employ utilize Islamist methods of engagement of Muslims and non-Muslims." 

This is always the method of the Grand Inquisitors: create a fifth column within the alleged "fifth column." During the "Brown Scare," John Roy Carlson infiltrated the anti-interventionist movement by posing as an anti-Semitic pamphleteer and implicating prominent America First supporters. During the Red Scare, such ex-Communists as Benjamin Gitlow, Elizabeth Bentley, and most famously Whittaker Chambers were star witnesses at the anti-Communist show trials of the 1950s. Today, the anti-Muslim witch-hunters have Dr. Jasser, and the whole list of wannabe "experts" and grand strategists of the anti-Muslim jihad, a good number of whom will testify at Rep. King’s three-ring circus.  

While repeating his talking points, he kept coming back to one particular point: how "we" (i.e. the government) have to come up with the "resources" (i.e. tax dollars) to conduct the "war of ideas" against the Bad Guys. His testimony was rife with such thinly-veiled fundraising appeals: "We need a solutions oriented paradigm in this nation to address the radicalization problem," he declared, and while claiming that he didn’t want "you" [the government] to do it, averred that:  

"I want us, Muslims to solve this but there has been no drive, no resources, no political will to do so. You shouldn’t do it, but you can drive it and give us a long overdue platform. Without that reform there will always be an antagonism for the identity of Muslims between political Islam and our secular constitutional republic based in liberalism. Our Muslim Liberty Project instills in young Muslims these values of liberalism, self-critique, and empowerment to challenge imams and clerics who tell them liberalism is not Islam. It teaches them to internalize the ideas of the Enlightenment without losing their personal Islamic relationship with God, their devotionalism, and spirituality." 

Give us the "resources," give us the "drive" and a "platform" – and that is precisely what the King hearings aim at, aside, of course, from instilling in the public the idea that Muslims are a dangerous fifth column who may one day have to be interned and at the very least closely watched. Jasser’s "Muslim Liberty Project" sure could use some of the billions in federal dollars going to "protect" us from ourselves, and the propagandistic aspect of this is a potentially big pot of gold waiting to be found at the end of the Homeland Security rainbow. 

As in the past, foreign influences and interests figure in the witch-hunt. Dr. Jasser, besides being Rep. King’s star witness, was the star of a film entitled "The Third Jihad," which purports to "prove" that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated all aspects of American life, and poses a serious threat of installing an Islamic government in the United States, with shariah law as the law of the land. The film, along with another one, "Obsession," was financed by the Clarion Fund, a "charity" run by Aish HaTorah, which Nation writer Sarah Posner describes as "one of Orthodox Judaism’s most successful outreach programs." The group, international in scope, has its headquarters in Jerusalem, where the Israeli government has awarded it 40 percent of the land facing the Western Wall. On one of its web sites, dedicated to preventing intermarriage between Jews and people of other faiths, Aish HaTorah notes:  

"As one Israeli official explained why Aish HaTorah was chosen to receive these two prestigious locations, ‘Unless we get today’s youth to identify with our heritage, who will make Aliyah, who will buy Israeli bonds, who will support the Federation drives? Aish HaTorah is doing the job!’" 

The Israeli government funds Aish HaTorah’s extensive "outreach" programs, as well as its international headquarters, including its propaganda activities in the US. No doubt the extremist government now in power in Tel Aviv considers the anti-Muslim sentiment stoked by Jasser and his ideological bedfellows to be a fertile field indeed, to be harvested for all it’s worth. The King hearings are a propaganda triumph for the Israeli government, and the Israelis are in the background of this movement, encouraging and even indirectly funding it, as in the case of the Aish HaTorah-Clarion Fund connection. In this way, some of the $3 billion a year we ship to Israel is being used to shape American public opinion and government policy. 

What with the Park 51 controversy and the recent uptick in anti-Muslim rhetoric by such finger-in-the-wind opportunists as Newt Gingrich (whose film, "America at Risk," also featured Dr. Jasser), the witch-hunt has been gathering steam in recent days. The King hearings are the culmination of a well-planned and well-financed campaign by foreign interests to foist a ridiculous conspiracy theory on the American public – a conspiracy theory, I’m sad to say, that has resonance with all too many Americans.  


In the past I’ve neglected my Twitter account – it actually took me a while to figure out how the heck it worked – but now I’ve gotten used to it, and, although I don’t use it to get in conversations with people I don’t know, I do indeed use it to broadcast random thoughts by no means always related to the foreign policy field. If you’re interested, go here and sign up.  

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].