Between the Lines

Justice Entrapment

When I was very young, I often explored my grandfather’s library, inhaling the musty secrets of tomes not opened for many years.  It was on one such visit that I first came upon John Roy Carlson’s Under Cover.

Published in 1943, Carlson’s best-selling book—enticingly subtitled My Four Years in the Nazi Underworld of America—purported to be an exposé of the anti-interventionist movement.  Carlson invented a new identity and started publishing a weekly mimeographed hate sheet called the Christian Defender, which repeated every antisemitic canard in the most offensive manner possible.  Carlson’s book quoted obscure cranks and American Nazis as if they represented such leaders of the antiwar America First Committee as John T. Flynn and AFC chairman Gen. Robert E. Wood.  The book was relentlessly promoted in the interventionist media, especially by the gossip columnist Walter Winchell.

John Roy Carlson was in the employ of the “Friends of Democracy,” a front group for the Communist Party, which was hankering for an American version of the Moscow Trials.  The Carlson book was a dress rehearsal for a sedition indictment, and this is exactly what the President had in mind.  As Attorney General Francis Biddle put it in his memoirs, FDR “was not much interested in the theory of sedition, or in the constitutional right to criticize...

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