Red Scare Campaigns, Surveillance, Hearings, and Anti-communist Investigations
The Communist Party was under surveillance from the moment of its birth. No other organization in the history of the United States or in the history of Washington State has been subjected to the same level of official hostility, fanned by the double fear that Communists were not only dangerous radicals but also might be working for a foreign power. From 1920 through the 1960s,the Communist Party was the number one public enemy, targeted by law enforcement from the FBI to local police, targeted by prosecutors who jailed Party members by the hundreds, targeted by politicians who launched endless investigations, and by right-wing groups who encouraged violence and intimitation.
Washington State shares this history of anti-communist campaigns, beginning in the 1920s when state officials and local police took steps to supress the young communist movement. The links below lead to official transcripts of three different sets of government investigations. They provide a window into the tactics of investigators and also information (not necessarily accurate) about the communist movement and real and alleged members.
Two decades before the more notorious Congressional hearings on “un-American activities” led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, U.S. Representative Hamilton Fish organized a special Congressional committee to investigate Communism in states and cities across the nation. In October 1930, the Fish committee held hearings in Seattle. They called sixteen witnesses including representatives of the Seattle police department, King County prosecutor, and employers and timber industry officials who claimed that Communists were a threat to public safety in Washington state. In addition, the committee subpoened five members or suspected members of the Communist Party. Here are tthe transcripts.
In 1948, a joint committee of the Washington State Legislature chaired by Albert F. Canwell (R-Spokane) held public hearings intended to expose the activities of communists in Washington State. The Committee compelled testimony from more than eighty witnesses in two sets of hearings held in Seattle. The initial sessions focused on communist influence in the Washington Commonwealth Federation and the Washington Pension Union, an advocacy group that had won increased social security benefits for seniors and pensions for single mothers. Six months later the Canwell committee recovened to investigate communists at the University of Washington. Here are full transcripts and witness lists from the hearings, photographs and documents, and key oral histories including videotaped interviews with Albert Canwell and defendant's attorney John Caughlan.
U.S. Congress House Unamerican Activities Committee travelled to Seattle for three sets of hearings in the mid 1950s, demanding testimony from suspected Communists and threatening to imprison those who refused to answer questions about their own political activities and the lives of others. Here is the complete record of these investigations including testimony by Eugene Dennett, Barbara Hartle, Burt Nelson, Howard Costigan, and many others: The transcripts.
In an attempt to destroy the leadership of the Communist Party, the Justice Department initiated a wave of prosecutions under the Smith Act which made it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the US government. In 1952 seven suspected leaders of the Washington Communist Party were charged and after a six month long trial most were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms. This report by Jesse DeLauder details the trial and constitutional issues.