Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
The Fear Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial Hardcover – April 12, 2011
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
"Starred" review in Publishers Weekly
"In his cogent, nuanced account of the 1949 prosecution of American communists under the Smith Act, former Los Angeles Times staff writer Scott Martelle sees this case fitting into a troubling pattern... He writes, 'The United States has a habit of convulsing with fear during times of stress, and in the process undercutting the very freedoms of speech, political belief and religious expression that Americans profess to hold dear.' The concerns that prompt this fear are real, Martelle stresses: There were communist spies in the 1940s, and there are terrorists at the turn of the 21st century. The steps taken to deal with them have generally been hasty and ill-considered, giving the government broad powers with unintended consequences." --Los Angeles Times
Star-Ledger Entertainment Desk -- Reviewed by Josh McMahon Americans love their freedoms and love talking about how the Constitution guarantees them. They’re essential to the American way of life — except in cases when we feel threatened, such as after 9/11, when Congress swiftly approved the Patriot Act, restricting some of those cherished freedoms. Scott Martelle’s new book looks in depth at another shameful episode in our history when paranoia trumped the Constitution. It was the 1940s and the “Red Scare” was infecting the nation. Commies were everywhere, even in the government. Armed with the constitutionally suspect Smith Act, the feds fought the Red philosophical monster. It rounded up 11 Communist Party leaders and put them on trial for what they believed — not for what they had done. Martelle, a first-rate storyteller, unfolds the nine-month trial and, in the process, puts a face on all the defendants, their lawyers, the prosecutor and the judge. He also places the trial in its historical context, when the fear of Communism wafted in the wind from the White House to even the New York Times. Although the Smith Act trial of 1949 generated much attention at the time, it has been conveniently forgotten by Americans who like to tout their freedoms. “The Fear Within” forces us to remember.
From the Author
I dove into this project because I found the story fascinating, and relatively unexplored outside the realm of Cold War historians. The Smith Act Trials stand with the Palmer Raids of 1919-1920, the internments of Japanese Americans and others during World War Two, the FBI's Cointelpro activities in the 1960s, and the 9/11-spawned USA Patriot Act as examples of how the U.S. government reacts to external stress by undercutting the principals it professes to be fighting to preserve -- in this case, freedom of speech and assembly, among others.
The 11 convictions were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court just after the Korean War broke out. But a change in the makeup of the court, and a lessening of the Red Scare passions, led the court six years later to effectively reverse itself and gut the 1940 Smith Act. But by then the men had each served five-year sentences (some more for going on the lam; some less for good behavior).
It's a fascinating story, complete with spies, riots, legal chicanery and intriguing characters. And while it is specific to the time, it also resonates through the years as an example of our darker national impulses.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The starting point of the whole affair was after Elizabeth Bentley and Igor Gouzenko(in Canada)who were former communists, opened a Pandora box by revealing to what extent the USA government was riddled with Communist adherents and possible spies.
However, as Mr Metelle makes it clear, "the United States has a habit of convulsing with fear during times of stress, and in the process undercutting the very freedoms of speech, political beliefs and religious expresiion that Americans profess to hold dear".
The whole trial became a great farce under the auspices of judge Harold Medina, who grew extremely enraged by the tactics of the defendants' lawyers and, as a result, condemned them to jail for contempt.
Mr.Martelle offers the reader a fascinating and riveting story about all the trial proceedings and the things which followed it.
On June 17,1957, the Supreme Court, under Justice Earl Warren, reversed a California Smith Act conviction on techical grounds and this was the beginning of the USA commitment to civil rights.
This is one of the best books which is not only an excellent history of American society, history and mentality during the Cold War, but it also serves as a warning flag showing to what extent human basic rights can be fragile. Highly recommended.
Scott Martelle is a former ‘Los Angeles Times’ staff writer, veteran journalist, and author of a book on the Ludlow Massacre. He is a journalism instructor at Chapman University in Orange California. This 2011 book has a ‘Contents’, thirteen chapters, ‘Notes’, ‘Selected Bibliography’, and ‘Index’ in its 296 pages. There is no index to the thirteen photographs embedded in the text. In times of stress the United States shows fear and attacks freedoms of speech, belief, and expression (‘Preface’). The USA “Patriot Act” gave government officials freedom to secretly investigate the lives of ordinary people. Examples are given from the 18th century to modern times. This book re-examines the trial of twelve Communist leaders for violating the Smith Act.
In 1940 Congress passed the Alien Registration Act (the Smith Act). Parts of this law violated the First Amendment (Chapter 1). Chapter 2 has the life and career of Elizabeth Bentley. Her fears of fascism led her into the Communist Party where she became a spy. In 1945 she not longer was a believer. In Canada an employee of the Soviet Embassy sought refuge with the Canadian government and told about spying. The US government indicted twelve leaders of the CPUSA for violating the Smith Act by advocating the overthrow of the government. The top leaders of the CPUSA were arrested (Chapter 3). They all had lawyers to defend them. Chapter 4 has the history of Judge Harold R. Medina, an Ivy League lawyer who ran a very successful business tutoring students for the bar exam. A radio commentator noted the twelve were not charged with an overt act but membership in a political party (Chapter 5).
The defense lawyers objected to the method of picking jurors. Judge Medina rejected this argument and would question potential jurors. Chapter 6 tells about the beginning of the trial and the background of one of the accused. The first government witness was Louis Budenz (Chapter 7). He trained as a lawyer and worked for unions. He disliked Moscow’s control of American Communists and quit the party in 1945. Herbert Philbrick testified (“I Led 3 Lives”). Other prosecution witnesses appeared (Chapter 8). FBI informants testified for the government. The defense asked for the charges to be dropped because the alleged actions were not a “clear and present danger” (Chapter 9). The actions of some defendants led to their being remanded. Demonstrators protested and there were counter-demonstrators.
The comments from one juror caused a problem (Chapter 10). A fund raiser for the defendants was planned at Peekskill NY, this led to counter-demonstrators and a riot. Lawyers made closing statements as the trial ended (Chapter 11). The jury quickly decided on guilt. Their defendants’ lawyers were jailed for contempt. The defendants were given a five year sentence except Robert Thompson who got three years (p.221). Appeals were filed. The contempt charges were upheld on appeal and the lawyers went to jail (Chapter 12). There was an appeal against the convictions. The Korean War created a new crisis. The Supreme Court affirmed the convictions. Four of the defendants went underground (p.243). A new Supreme Court decision in June 1957 ended the Smith Act prosecutions (Chapter 13). The rest of this chapter tells of the future lives of the twelve defendants.
This book explains the era and trial that is now mostly forgotten. The author wonders what could have happened if this political persecution had never happened (p.253). Probably not much different given the realities of that era. Will we ever see again a time where there are allegations of Russian influence in the White House? Or does that seem too fantastic?