The Great Sedition Trial of
1944: A Personal Memoir
I have the honor to discuss an historical event in which I played
a personal role, the notorious
Sedition Trial of 1944. As a Christian I have
long since forgiven those who were responsible
for instigating this persecution
of American citizens and I have no axes to grind with anyone.
Some of what I
have to tell is merely personal recollection while some is indisputable fact.
Historians must make these distinctions. I write here as a witness to history.
Before discussing the trial itself it is necessary
to outline some background. I've always been
idealistic and history was my favorite
subject in school. Accordingly, in my youth I was greatly
impressed by Edward
Bellamy's book Looking Backward. I became an ardent socialist and
the Socialist Party, which was then America's third largest party. Still, I was also
and supposed that socialism would be best for our country and its people.
government was not an issue and I'm sure that most of the socialist followers of
Eugene V. Debs would have opposed it. We were concerned about America and its
system, which was then about the most ruthless monopoly capitalism one can imagine.
Consequently, I was also very enamored of Franklin
Roosevelt's New Deal. In the belief
that the Roosevelt program fulfilled our
hopes (but unaware of his world government philosophy),
our California state
Socialist leader, Upton Sinclair, joined the Democratic party and ran for
I was the last remaining registered Socialist in San Bernardino County but finally
gave in and, following Sinclair's lead, joined the Democrats. For two years I served as president
of the largest Democratic Club in California. While the great depression was at its worst,
I worked for several years as a W. P. A. supervisor. I believe that Roosevelt did do some good
in emergency legislation, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, banking reforms to protect
citizens' savings, Social Security and the like.
My interest in political affairs never waned. I wanted to hear both
sides of every issue.
Accordingly, you might see me at a Communist rally, a Klu
Klux Klan conclave, a Townsend
old-age speech, a Jewish anti-Nazi gathering or
a Silver Shirt meeting. Incidentally, the
Silver Shirt leader, William Dudley
Pelley, was one of my co-defendants in the Sedition
Trial several years later,
along with two Los Angeles German-American Bund leaders.
Before the trial I had
never met Pelley personally nor corresponded with him, and had
only been introduced
to the German-American Bunders at their open meeting. Yet I was
of conspiring with them. Actually, at that time I was simply a
New Deal Democrat
interested in what was going on in the country politically.
I've always been a little slow about jumping to conclusions, but as
Chesterton once said,
"The object of opening the mind is to close it again
on something solid." Once thoroughly
convinced of the rightness of a thing,
I have jumped in on what I believe to be right with
enthusiasm. It was after
war broke out in Europe that I first began having doubts about
I had already become what is called a "middle of the roader" politically
and economically, and I now found myself more and more sympathetic to those who stood
for rugged individualism, disliked regimentation, and opposed Roosevelt's cleverly
disguised efforts to get the United States involved in a foreign war that was none of our
business. Because the President would say one thing to the people and do exactly the opposite,
I frankly came to detest the ground he walked on. Moreover, I became convinced that there
really was an international conspiracy that was using our nation as a pawn, as had been
the case in World War I. Since I had no access to the press at that time, I began
publishing a newsletter.
Politics indeed makes strange bedfellows. After Hitler and Stalin concluded a treaty,
American Communists enthusiastically endorsed those of us who opposed getting
into the European war between Germany and the British-French alliance. The
Communists even stomached the Jewish issue that some of us raised and many Jewish
Communists, who wanted the United States to join the war against Hitler, left their party.
All that changed overnight, however, when war broke out between Germany and Russia.
The Communists then turned against us with a vengeance and eagerly backed F.D.R.
and American participation in the war to save the Soviets. Those of us who had been
anti-war from the beginning were now even more set against such an adventure. England
and France were now practically out of the conflict. Now let the Nazis and Russians slug
each other while the United States remained neutral, we felt. When the smoke cleared
neither of the big European powers would have much strength left, there probably wouldn't
be any Soviet Union, and the United States would emerge unscathed with not a man lost.
We could also resolve our own domestic problems without attention being diverted by war.
I wrote one article after another and sometimes ghost-wrote speeches for visiting speakers of
the American First Committee, of which I was a member. Apart from the Democratic and
Socialist parties, it was the only political organization I ever joined. I also tried to organize a
correspondence circle of anti-war people to be called the Social Republic
Society, but it was never amounted to anything. Or so we thought.
After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, which even then many of
Roosevelt and Churchill had schemed to bring about (and which is now
America Firsters found themselves in hot water. All of our political
supporters in Congress
and elsewhere disappeared as if by magic. Even Hamilton
Fish, Robert Taft, Burton Wheeler
and Claire Hoffman were misled and carried
away by the Administration-created hysteria.
They did not even suspect Roosevelt's
skullduggery in bringing about the Pearl Harbor attack.
They all jumped aboard
the war bandwagon, except for a very few diehards, of whom I was
one. To us,
if a thing was wrong in principle before an official declaration of war by the
President, it was just as wrong afterwards. Despite our limited numbers and political insignificance,
some of us then took it upon ourselves to tackle one of the most improbable jobs imaginable -
- a Peace Offensive. We believed that although America had made a mistake in getting into
the European inferno, we could still negotiate an honorable peace and save millions of lives.
I then suddenly found myself thrust into national prominence and my name appeared in several
major newspapers. I was actually proposed as a presidential candidate by Edward Price Bell,
a retired editor of the Chicago Daily News. Although Bell was prominent in the Republican party,
he was just as opposed to the GOP's Wendell Willkie as he was to the Democrat Roosevelt.
He opposed American subservience to foreign interests as much as I did. His article
Saturday Spectator brought me directly to Roosevelt's attention
and triggered my speedy
I was quickly subpoenaed to appear before a California
State Senate anti-subversion
committee headed by Senator Jack Tenney, before
which I testified and was labeled a
"hostile witness." Years later,
after he became enlightened, Tenney personally apologized
to me. After that
subpoena a U.S. marshall served me with a "Presidential Warrant"
by Franklin D. Roosevelt which ordered me to appear before a grand jury in Washington D.C.
I tore up the warrant and told the marshal to tell F.D.R. to go to hell, where he belonged.
Roosevelt had no more authority to order me around than any other citizen. Accordingly,
a few days later a marshall served me with a proper subpoena to appear
I promptly left for Washington. I had never been in the capital before.
At the same time, Walter Winchell, Drew Pearson and a raft of others
went after me
over the radio. Pearson called me a "fascist" and Winchell
constantly demanded, "Why doesn't
somebody do something about it?" When
I arrived in the capital, the Washington Post kept
up a page-one running
attack against me as a "revolutionist." The other Washington papers
more restrained, although one headlined me as a "Jap apologist," probably because of
some things I had written in defense of Japanese-American citizens who had been rounded
up and sent to concentration camps without any semblance of legality. Being called a
"Jap apologist" didn't make me any more popular with the average American. In those
days most Americans were hysterical about anything Japanese after Pearl Harbor, not
knowing that their own President was responsible for it. I was practically without friends.
Anti-war members of Congress whom I had loyally supported pretended that they had never
heard of me. People who had known me for years were afraid to be
with me. Quite frankly, I felt depressed and disillusioned.
The Washington grand jury session was pretty fiery. A number of people
I had heard of
but had never met were there from all over the country, including
Charles B. Hudson,
Gerald B. Winrod (a minister and a spokesman for Social
Justice and Father Charles Coughlin),
Congressman Claire Hoffman of Michigan,
and many others. When I got into a row with
the federal prosecutor, William Power
Maloney, and was cited by the grand jury for
contempt, newspapers were full of
it and my home town paper, the San Bernadino
Sun-Telegram, ran a screaming
headline: "Baxter Defies Federal Grand Jury."
An interesting feature of the grand jury investigation was when a bailiff entered
room and called out several times, "Jefferson Breem." Jefferson
Breem was there, all right,
but he didn't answer. That was because he was really
a reporter for the Washington Post
named Dillard Stokes. It was Stokes
who wrote the Post stories which referred to me
as a "revolutionist"
and smeared me and other witnesses from pillar to post. "Jefferson Breem"
one of many people who had written to me to ask for copies of my writings. After all,
none of my work was secret and my writings were in some libraries. The Hoover Library
of Stanford University, for example, had requested and received my literature. Anyway,
when the grand jury later indicted about 30 of us who had been witnesses, accusing us
of sedition, it was largely on the basis of literature we had sent to Stokes, alias Breem,
in Washington. In order to try us in Washington as a group, it was necessary to establish
that a crime had been committed in the District of Columbia, thus giving jurisdiction to the
federal courts there. So the grand jury, which was obviously controlled by the prosecutor,
charged us with the crime of sedition, and then established District of Columbia jurisdiction
to try us on the grounds that a District of Columbia resident, "Jefferson Breem," had
received the allegedly seditious literature. Thus was the alleged "crime" committed in the
capital. The defendants were charged with having conspired in the District of Columbia,
despite the fact that I had never been in Washington in my life until ordered
there by the grand jury. Even then I was not allowed to have legal counsel.
After the grand jury hearing I returned to California
and tried to rebuild my small outdoor
advertising business, which the adverse
publicity had almost ruined. Even my neighbors
were suspicious of me. After the
war a railroad union official told me that some union
members had talked about
tarring and feathering me. They were dissuaded when he
told them, "I've
known Dave Baxer for years. Let him have a fair trial and if he's guilty, I
will apply the tar." As it was, two gunmen sneaked up to our house one night and
tried to bushwhack me. It was only when I suddenly leaped out on to the front porch with
a .38 caliber pistol in my hand that they fled. My wife remembers that incident very well.
She jumped under the bed.
This may be hard to believe, but the fact is that although I had come to believe firmly
that an international conspiracy of Jewish Sanhedrin-bankers existed and influenced
the President and government, I had never heard of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.
I had never had the slightest animosity against anyone because of race or creed. I had
many Jewish personal friends, whom I was convinced had no knowledge of an international
Sanhedrin. Or at least they were my friends until I was smeared as "anti-Semitic."
heard of the Anti-Defamation League when a cousin of my wife's, who worked
in the office
of a lawyer named Julius Novak in San Bernardino, one day came
to our home greatly
agitated. I had never had anything against Novak, but our
cousin said that she was in an
adjoining room when a delegation she called the
"Anti-Defamation League" conferred with
Novak and she overheard him
say, "We'll get Dave Baxter if it's the last thing we ever do."
days later my close friend, the San Bernardino postmaster, quietly leaked to me that
an Anti-Defamation League group had called on him and asked him to inspect my mail.
I then began to suspect who was behind most of my troubles and started researching
Actually, the Anti-Defamation League was the catalyst behind the entire Sedition Trial.
I couldn't prove it then but I can now. A few years ago I demanded, through the Freedom
of Information Act, that the FBI turn over to me its investigation records of my activities
during the early 1940s leading up to the Sedition Trial. I learned that the investigation
had extended over several years and covered hundreds of pages, which I now have.
The FBI blocked out the names of those who had given information about me, much
of it as false as anything could be. I was never given a chance to face these people and
make them prove their accusations. Yet everything they said went into the investigation
records. Oddly enough, in a great many cases, it wasn't the FBI that conducted the investigation
but the Anti-Defamation League, with the FBI merely receiving the reports of ADL investigators.
One can hardly tell from the reports whether a given person was an FBI or an ADL agent.
But at the time all this was so hush-hush that I didn't even suspect the web-spinning going
around me. I hadn't considered myself that important. Anyone who wishes to
FBI file is welcome to do so. It's a masterpiece of intrigue, cunning
One day my wife, Bernice, our two youngsters and I were on a fishing trip in Newport Beach.
A U.S. marshal came out from behind our rented cottage, arrested me and, without any
explanation, whisked me off to the Los Angeles County jail. Three days later, FBI agents
whom I knew well visited me there. They said that there had been a statewide manhunt for
me and that I had been indicted along with 29 others before U.S. Commissioner David B. Head
during which the charge against me was read. The federal prosecutor was Leo Silverstein,
a character who looked like a recycled transsexual. Two American Civil Liberties Union
attorneys, A.L. Wirin and Fred Okrand, visited me in jail. For some reason the ACLU had
decided to defend me. Its paper announced that while it was unusual for the ACLU to defend
"rightists," my case was a clear violation of civil liberties. So I did not obtain a private lawyer.
My bail was originally so high that I couldn't make it, but even when it was reduced I still
refused to post bond on general principles and spent several months in jail while legal
proceedings dragged on. The Justice Department had so far failed to extradite me to Washington.
I finally agreed to go voluntarily, believing that since I wasn't guilty of anything, a jury
certainly acquit me. Talk about naivete! A lawyer warned me: "If they
get you back there
they'll railroad you for sure." But I still had abiding
belief in impartial American justice and
bullheadedly insisted in going to Washington
for trial. Federal Judge Ralph Jenny finally
ordered me released on my own recognizance
and I returned home to San Bernardino
to prepare for the trip to Washington.
I was almost broke by then, so I asked the government
to pay my railroad fare.
Accordingly, I was told to report to the U.S. Marshall in Los Angeles
which I did. Two marshals reserved a drawing room on the Sante Fe railroad
accompanied me. We became quite friendly and called each other by our first names,
as we boarded the train one of the marshals shame-facedly showed me a telegram he
received from Washington which ordered: "Bring the prisoner back in chains and handcuffs."
The marshall said,"Forget it, Dave. You're no dangerous criminal." "Right," I replied,
"but you aren't going to lose your job for refusing to obey orders. You're going to do
So that was that. I never missed an opportunity, when passing
through a crowd in a railroad
station, to call out, "I'm a guest of your
President, who is also your enemy, as you will
someday find out."
sidelight at this time was when my dearly beloved wife tried to find employment
to support herself and the children after I was jailed. She was from an old San Bernardino
County pioneer family and well thought of. She had worked in the court house before
marrying me. She was hired at the San Bernardino Air Depot and was praised for her efficiency.
But shortly thereafter, Col. Adrian Cote, who commanded the depot, learned who she was
and dismissed her on the ground that she was the wife of David Baxter. He then told her in
a letter, which I still have, that if she wished to divorce me she could have her job back.
When she refused he wrote another letter telling her that she was discharged with prejudice
so that she could not get another job. All that happened before I had been tried or been
convicted of anything. (As it turned out, I never was convicted of anything.)
Yet even the school kids taunted our youngsters, "You're daddy's in jail."
After my arrival in Washington I was not permitted
freedom on my own word, as I had
been in Los Angeles, so that I couldn't find
a job to support my wife and kids. I was
hustled off to the District jail without
counsel or the opportunity to obtain a lawyer. The
jail admission officer was
a big, sloppy-appearing guy who, after asking my name,
said to me, "What's
your address? Where do you want your body shipped?" Sedition
in the jail nicknamed him "Anus" (Annas was a high priest at Jesus' trial.)
He was an ornery rascal who liked to gloatingly mention the execution chamber in the facility.
My cell was cold. My hearing was already bad
and it became worse, with earaches and
no medical attention. The food was terrible,
consisting mostly of plain bread and heavily-peppered
soup, with one cup of weak
coffee. When fellow defendant Leon de Aryan once looked out
the barred window
of the window of the dining room and remarked, "It looks like rain,"
glanced at my cup and replied, "Yeah, but it smells a little like coffee." We were finally
allowed a dish of chocolate pudding as a special diet. The U.S. Marshal's bullpen in the
District Court House basement was even worse. Defendants George Viereck, Ralph Townsend,
Bill Lyman, Edward James Smythe and I were thrown into one large room with a galaxy
of criminals and suspects of all kinds. The single toilet without a lid was covered with excrement
and cigarette butts, and a leaky old faucet was our only drinking supply. Our "dinner"
consisted of one piece of bread, one slice of baloney, and coffee.
Talk about punishment before trial -- and in our own American capital!
Bill Lyman was in England when the indictment
was issued. Instead of fleeing, he immediately
booked passage home and surrendered
himself to the authorities. But rather than allowing
him freedom to earn a living
while awaiting trial, he was handcuffed and put in leg irons in
jail. After several months in jail, Howard S. Le Roy learned that I was there and
called on me. At first he was frankly skeptical of my description of jail conditions, but after
investigating on his own he said that he had never known anything like it. Political prisoners
were usually treated more leniently and, if wealthy, were generally put under mere "house arrest."
Thanks to an old friend, Henry G. Reinsch of Tacoma, Washington, who had never disowned
me despite extreme pressure, I was released on $1,000 bond. I still didn't like
the bond idea, but it was better than spending a lifetime in jail without trial.
Now this may seem
absurd, but to this day I am thankful that my enemies were successful
persecution. The reason is that while in the Washington jail I became a convert to
Christ. You can bet your bottom dollar that wasn't in the enemy's plans. Yet, thank
God, they were actually instrumental in bringing about that very thing. For years I had been
a confirmed agnostic, although my wife was a Christian. It was while reading a Gideon Bible
left in my cell that this miraculous event occurred. As I was making notes on alleged biblical
contradictions, expecting to someday write an article about this, I found myself more and
more drawn to Christ. What He said and His apostles wrote made more sense than I had
ever imagined. He had the same enemies I had, but He certainly suffered infinitely more
than I ever did. What's more, I had to admit that I was a sinner and needed spiritual salvation,
which Jesus alone of all the prophets that ever lived provided. The shedding of His blood
now really meant something to me. Whatever happened to my mortal body, His enemies
and mine would never be able to conquer my soul. I was so happy about my salvation
wasn't long before we even had a sizable Bible class among the prisoners
during the occasional
recreation periods. A Washington missionary named Harvey
Prentice, in charge of the Gospel
Mission, was a big help during this period,
bless his soul. So I returned to California a Christian,
much to the joy of Bernice
and the kids, who ran out to meet me on the porch late one night upon
the meantime the federal courts in Washington threw out the indictment and I wound
on Los Angeles's Skid Row trying in vain to find a job. Every prospective employer was
warned against hiring me. Nevertheless, back in San Bernardino I started painting signs
for people, was welcomed by city officials who by now had their own ideas about the
cause of my trouble, spoke in churches, and soon ran a thriving sign shop. The enemy
arranged for another indictment in 1943 but the courts scuttled it. Despite that, a third
indictment was issued after Roosevelt appointed a New York lawyer named O. John Rogge
to the Justice Department as an assistant attorney general specially in charge of the Sedition
Case. Roosevelt also appointed a former Iowa Congressman, Edward C. Eicher, as Chief
Justice of the federal court in Washington with direct orders to try the Sedition Case.
Rogge was a protege of Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, who had planted his
"hot dog boys" in sensitive government positions.
Columnist Drew Pearson testified that Attorney General Francis Biddle
against the whole Mass Sedition venture from the beginning, but
Roosevelt ordered him
to proceed anyway, adding, "I will appoint the judge."
With Eicher now in place as Chief
Justice of the U.S. District Court, the trial
began on 17 April 1944 with Eicher presiding.
There were some 30 defendants,
including some of those originally indicted. I well remember
Mrs. Elizabeth Dilling,
Joseph Dilling, Joseph McWilliams, Lawrence Dennis, Robert Edmondson,
Sanctuary, Robert Noble, Ellis Jones, German-American Bunders
and Hans Diebel, Garland Alderman, Prescott Dennett, Lois de Lafayette Washburn,
August Klapprott, Elmer J. Garner, George Deathage, William Dudley Pelley, James True,
and others. My name had appeared on all three indictments, so it seemed that someone had
a special interest in wanting to railroad me into prison. Even though several of the German-American
Bundists had already been convicted in other trials, they were added to our group in an effort
to collectively discredit all the defendants as alien and "un-American." Actually,
arranged our trial did not consider us the ultimate targets. Our trial
was meant to intimidate
others and set an important precedent. After disposing
of us the people behind the venture
planned to put the leading opponents of
Roosevelt's war policy on trial, including American
First Committee spokesman
Charles A. Lindbergh, General Robert Wood of Sears Roebuck,
and congressmen, and possibly Father Charles E. Coughlin and Henry Ford.
trial was intended to be a "warm up" for trials of really prominent Americans who dared
oppose Roosevelt's policies.
As one paper wrote, "all hell broke loose" when the trial opened. It was covered
American daily newspaper. Along with the Communist sheets, Marshall
New York paper PM bombarded us on page one day after day. The
liberal press was
somewhat more restrained, including the Washington Post,
which had helped to instigate
the case. For some reason, though, their former
star reporter, Dillard Stokes, alias
"Jefferson Breem," was missing
from the courtroom. Most conservative papers assumed
a wait-and-see attitude,
although the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News
opposed the Justice Department and gave decent, unbiased coverage of the
A United Press report published in those papers in 1943 even went so far as to state:
Under pressure from Jewish organizations, to judge from
articles appearing in
publications put out by Jews for Jews, the new indictment even more than
was drawn to include criticisms of Jews as "sedition." It appeared that
purpose of the whole procedure, along with outlawing unfavorable comments on the
administration, was to set a legal precedent of judicial interpretations and severe
which would serve to exempt Jews in America from all public mention except
praise, in contrast
to the traditional American viewpoint which holds that all who take
part in public affairs
must be ready to accept full free public discussion, either pro or con.
I took Bernice and our children with me on this trip to Washington. After prosecutor
tried unsuccessfully to revoke my bond, we found what passed for an apartment
in a tenement.
Because I was short of funds, I had a court-appointed lawyer,
Hobart Little, who was a
fraternity brother of Chief Justice Eicher. During the
trial Hobart roomed with Joseph McWilliams'
lawyer, Maximilian St. George, and
after he learned the whole story about the case he took a
really active interest
in defending me. That happened in the case of other defendants as well,
to the consternation of the judge and prosecutor, who had obviously intended to make
short work of the Sedition Trial. Far from letting their clients be sacrificed, court-appointed
lawyers like James McLaughlin stormed into court and in just a few days had the proceedings
in an uproar. Mr. Little and I, however, remained calm and were careful to show respect for
an American court -- even this one. The trial got almost completely out of hand and Eicher
spent a lot of time banging his gavel. After at least a dozen attorneys were found in contempt,
they came into court wearing buttons bearing the insignia "E.C.C." When the judge asked about
the buttons, McLaughlin informed him that the initials stood for "Eicher Contempt Club."
attorneys eventually named Eicher a defendant in a suit they brought during
the trial accusing
him of holding office illegally. He was not a resident of
the District of Columbia, as the law required.
The judge once had to recess the
trial to defend himself against our lawyers in
another court. As I recall, his
case had still not been settled when he died.
The trial caused such a scandal that even the staid District Bar Association found itself
in an uproar about it. Lawyers not connected with the Sedition Trial demanded an
investigation and called the case a "judicial farce." The Bar Association finally
committee of observers to sit in on the trial. A good example of
the trial's legal high jinks
occurred when our little boy, David, came down sick
and his doctor reported that he
suspected diptheria. After spending several
hours with David, I returned to the courtroom.
Attorney McLaughlin then immediately
jumped up and said to the judge, "I move that the
defendant Baxter be seated
next to Prosecutor Rogge." That made Rogge furious, but the
pressure on him from some 30 lawyers kept him angry most of the time anyway.
was losing his case and knew it. Even the jury sometimes laughed when a defense lawyer
needled the prosecutor. Rogge spent much of his time reading from literature written by
the defendants. I could see from the jurors' faces that they were more bored than impressed,
waiting for him to present some direct evidence that the accused were actually guilty of the
charges he accused them of. He never did that. Indeed, the thing became so loose that
before long I was even on friendly terms with the male jurors I often met in the restroom,
although we didn't discuss the trial. After about a month, when Bernice and I entered the
cafeteria, some of the jurors who were having lunch called out, "Hey Dave, you and your wife
bring your trays over and eat with us." If they had voted, I doubt
that a single one of them would have convicted me.
Washington's a broiler in the summer. Our tenement was as hot as a furnace,
and the kids really suffered. I found a job working evenings after
court sessions doing art work
and lettering, but it only lasted a couple of months.
As usual, someone called on the boss and
told him who I was. We received a little
income from my California business but the fellow I
had left in charge was a
poor manager and even that source finally trickled out. The defense
unpaid but they managed to collect a few small donations now and then which
shared with us. Mrs. Dilling, Dr. Winrod and a few other co-defendants were more affluent
and they collected about $100 each from their followers for our family and others. I've never
forgotten those two $100 gifts.
Fellow defendant Elmer J. "Pop" Garner was 82 years old and very deaf. He had headlined
me in his little Kansas paper, Publicity. Garner could barely afford a cheap boarding room
and during the noon recess all he could afford for lunch was a doughnut and cup of coffee.
I wasn't in much better shape, but "Pop" and I stuck it out and even
joked during our talks.
"Pop" Garner was an old Kansas pioneer and
one of the finest men I've ever known. He
couldn't hear a word of his trial and
died after a few months. Prosecutor Rogge had his body
sent back to his widow
stark naked in a plain pine box. That really enraged not only the
but even several newspapers and many people with common decency. After
whenever Rogge mentioned old "Pop" before the jury he referred to him as
"the conspirator Garner." He never prefixed the term "conspirator" to any of us still living,
for we were there with our lawyers. At least "Pop" Garner no
longer had to endure the trial or the Washington heat.
One torrid day I came home from court and said to Bernice and our
youngsters, "Let's get
out of here for a while, board a streetcar and go
somewhere, anywhere, to cool off." So we
boarded the first trolley that
came along, marked "Cabin John." We didn't know where
Cabin John was,
or care, just so we could sit in the breeze as the car rolled along. The
eventually left the city itself and followed the track through beautiful, cool woods
along the Potomac River. Bernice had an inspiration and suggested that we get off at a stop
and walk along the river bank. We hiked along, admiring the woods and river, when we
came to an abandoned cruiser high up on the bank. It was a really nice little ship and equipped
for living. Even the engine was still in place. We played Robinson Crusoe on it for a while and
then continued our walk, coming to a fishing camp a short distance away. We talked with the
owner of the camp, a man named Crampton. When we mentioned the boat, he said that it
had belonged to a Swedish mariner who had moored it to the river bank, left and never
returned. A flood had left it high and dry, and it was now in receivership. Thinking that we might
manage a small down payment on the boat or rent it for the duration of the trial, we had
call up the receiver, who lived across the river. A short time later
he came over in a boat.
As it turned out, the receiver was anxious to settle the estate and, after some haggling,
told us we could have the cruiser for less than $200 cash. That was most of the money
we had left, but to this day I've never heard of such a bargain. We bought it on the spot.
Crampton and some other men brought over some equipment and got the boat into the
water. It was in perfect condition and so, a few days later, we left the tenement apartment
and moved aboard our new home. During the remaining months of the trial we lived in cool
comfort on the river under a big shade tree that hung out over the water. The kids went
back and forth on a gangplank and played in the woods. The fishing was excellent.
I rode to court each morning on the street car. Of course, the other defendants and their
lawyers were always welcome aboard when they could visit us and we were glad to be
able to show them a good time. It was at least a diversion from the bad time the Justice
Department was giving us in court.
After the first few months of excitement, the trial settled down to a humdrum presentation
of the government's case, which consisted of a perpetual reading aloud of defendant
literature by Rogge. The jurors were getting fidgety and finally asked how long the case
would last. They had had to neglect their business and family affairs and were obviously
bored stiff. On one occasion, while Rogge was heatedly denouncing a defendant as an
"anti-Semite," one of them glanced at me and yawned. Later, in the wash room, he
say a word to me, but shook his head, gave me a slight smile, and managed
a little wink.
I don't think that Justice Eicher ever realized what he was getting
into when Roosevelt
decided to use him. Eicher was a professing Christian --
an Iowa Mennonite -- and the case
was obviously getting on his nerves. He
became more testy as the trial droned on and finally
asked Rogge when he was
going to start presenting solid evidence. The fact was that
Rogge didn't have
any, as was later proved. The case might have gone on for years.
Then suddenly one day Judge Eicher asked me to stand up and announced
that he was
severing me from the case on the ground that I wasn't able to hear
my own trial. That was
true. My hearing had declined from the time of my imprisonment
so that I was now 85
percent deaf. I wore a hearing aid but the devices were
far from their present-day level of
near-perfection. I couldn't hear a single
witness on the stand some fifty feet away and my
lawyer had to translate for
me. What caused Eicher to make his decision is conjectural.
Several times attorney
Little had moved for a severance for me because I was deaf,
but Eicher had overruled
him. And yet, after several months, he ordered me to see a
specialist for a hearing
examination. After receiving the specialist's report he severed me
a motion from Mr. Little to do so. Later that day Judge Eicher asked to see
privately in his chamber. When we met he smiled, held out his hand, and said: "Go
back to California and forget about it, Dave." Frankly, I was glad to be through with the whole
ordeal, as were Bernice and Mr. Little, who were there with me. So I replied, "Well,
honor, forgetting it won't be easy, but as a Christian I'm glad to forgive."
sold the cruiser and were preparing to take a train to California
when Eicher again asked
to talk to me. This time he said that if we wanted to
buy an automobile and drive back he
would help, and actually handed me a whole
roll of gasoline coupons. (During the war every
motorist had to have those coupons
to buy gasoline, which was severely rationed.) All the
same, we returned by train,
but back in California we had a car and those coupons certainly
came in handy.
Judge Eicher then
began severing other defendants, even though Rogge was far
from resting his case.
The Washington Post (16 July 1944) commented editorially:
The severance of three cases from Washington's mass sedition trial is the
that has come out of this dreary affair in Justice Eicher's court. It clearly suggests
belated recognition of the mistake that was made in bringing 30 individuals of widely
varying temperaments and backgrounds to trial at the same time
and place for a series
of alleged offenses classified as sedition.
One defendant recently died. Another
is too ill to attend court sessions regularly.
A third found it difficult to follow the proceedings
because of limited hearing. A fourth
proved to be so obstreperous as seriously to interfere
with the progress of the trial.
In other words, the exigencies of human life are such as to
defeat most any attempt
to dispose of complicated criminal charges en masse with both fairness
It is a pity that the Department of Justice did not foresee this elementary
objection to mass trials before embarking on such an adventure.
that four cases have been eliminated from the trial is overshadowed, therefore,
by the larger
fact that 26 cases remain before the court. We hope that better progress
can be made but no
end to even the presentation of evidence by the prosecution is in
sight after 13 weeks. How
can the jurymen be expected to remember testimony given
many weeks before their verdict will
be rendered? How can they, in these circumstances,
distinguish the varying degrees of guilt,
if any, among the 26 remaining defendants?
We fear that whatever may be the outcome of this
trial it will stand as
a black mark against American justice for many years to come.
Such were the remarkable words of the very paper
whose own reporter had plotted with
the original prosecutor to entrap the defendants
and bring them to trial in Washington.
"Oh what tangled webs we weave, when
first we practice to deceive." As if to add insult
to injury, the Post
issued another blistering editorial some two weeks later headed
Farce." (28 July 1944). The lengthy editorial included these remarks:
We think the time has come to recognize the unlikelihood of securing any fair
approximation of justice from this unhappy experiment. The end of the Government's
testimony is nowhere in sight. Prosecutors have 4000 exhibits to offer in evidence
about one-eighth of them are in the record at present. At its present rate of
the trial may run on for several years after the war is over.
Meanwhile it is gravely undermining
confidence in American justice.
The editorial concluded:
After all, this is a trial of men and women accused of sedition, not a contest in
In our opinion the trial can continue its present course only at the
cost of serious impairment
of our judicial system and the reputation of those
responsible for this travesty.
Apparently the Post didn't consider itself
among those responsible for what it now called
"this travesty." In
any case, the paper indignantly withdrew its reporter, James Chinn, from
courtroom. Post Managing editor A.F. Jones told a PM reporter: "I'm not going to keep
a man tied up on a lot of baloney." Seeing the way the trial was going, it's clear that the
Washington Post was now anxious to obscure its own role in bringing it about. The paper
was now calling the case a "black mark against American justice for many years to come"
and a "travesty."
What remained of the ill-fated Sedition Trial ended abruptly when
Justice Eicher died
suddenly of a heart attack on 30 November 1944. That trial
could have killed any judge
with a Christian conscience and any semblance of
fairness. I felt genuinely sorry about
Justice Eicher's death. Although Rogge
was still reluctant to end the business, he
now had a new judge to contend with.
Justice Bolitha Laws, a veteran federal judge in
the District of Columbia, took
over and promptly made it clear that he was a no-nonsense
jurist who wanted definite
and purposeful action. After Roosevelt died suddenly and
mysteriously in April
1945, Rogge admitted to Justice Laws that he had a weak case,
but with the European
part of the war over, he asked for time to visit Germany to interview
and get evidence. After all, he had accused the defendants of having
with Adolf Hitler and German officials in the indictment. Laws granted Rogge's
request for a continuance in order to question former high Nazis in Germany. Several months
later Rogge again appeared before his honor. He was empty-handed. None of the Nazi
officials had ever heard of me. They knew that one defendant, George Sylvester Viereck,
had been a registered American agent for the German government before the war, when
such representation was (and is) quite legal. Most foreign governments retain
respected Americans who are registered to represent their interests.
Justice Laws repeatedly asked Rogge if he wanted
a new trial. When the prosecutor kept
hesitating and even expressed doubt about
the government's chances of winning,
Laws blasted the Justice Department for
its "lack of diligence" (in his exact words),
and dismissed Rogge for
good. The new President, Harry Truman, then fired Rogge.
It later turned out
that Rogge had been a good friend of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, was
in numerous Communist front groups, and had visited Russia where he spoke
the Kremlin and laid a wreath at the grave of American Communist Party co-founder
John Reed in Red Square. His wreath was inscribed, "In loving memory from grateful
Americans." Along with movie actor Charlie Chaplin, Rogge was an American delegate
to a world Communist "peace conference" in Paris and was a lawyer for many Communists
in trouble with the law. He was the attorney for David Greenglass, the atomic spy who
saved his own life by turning state's evidence against his sister and brother-in-law, Ethel
and Julius Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs went to the electric chair for turning over U.S.
atomic secrets to the Soviets. John Rogge, Roosevelt's choice to prosecute the
Sedition Trial and Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter's right-hand man, was thus eventually
exposed for what he was. No wonder he was so fanatical in his hatred against the Sedition
Trial defendants, all of whom were anti-Communists. After Justice Eicher severed me from
the case, Rogge met me in the deserted courtroom and called me a "fascist" to
my face. "Fascist" is a favorite term Communists apply to their enemies.
With Rogge out, an assistant attorney general
who had helped him named T. Lamar Caudle
took over. Probably prompted by the
same people who had been behind Rogge, Caudle
tried to continue the persecution
and appealed Justice Laws' decision to the U.S. Court of
Appeals. But that court
turned him down, using strong language. Caudle was himself later
"fixing" the income tax of a St. Louis merchant named Wolfe and he received
five years in the federal penitentiary.
It should be noted that during those five years and three indictments, the public was
continuously propagandized against us in radio broadcasts and best-selling books. I was
attacked in at least five books. One was the famous best seller Under Cover by John
Roy Carlson. It turned out that "Carlson" was one Avedis Derounian, a writer for
Communist Daily Worker newspaper. Radio propagandist Walter Winchell
with him on the book and then advertised it over nationwide
radio. Derounian, alias "Carlson,"
was later found guilty of libel
in United States District Court in Chicago. Trial judge Barnes
commented in sentencing
that Derounian would "write anything for a dollar" and that, after
hearing the evidence, he would not "believe anything Derounian said under oath." A similar
best-selling book of the time, warmly promoted by Winchell, Drew Pearson and then
U.S. Senator Claude Pepper of Florida, was Sabotage: The Secret War Against America.
The authors were Michael Sayers and Albert E. Kahn, later reported by congressional investigators
to be members of the Communist Party. But at the time the public was given to understand
that all these propagandists were just good American patriots exposing America's enemies.
Well, five years
of this was enough for me. I went to work, paid off all our bills, worked
the Santa Ana (California) Register for a couple of years, wrote a syndicated column,
studied theology, and thought I was through with politics. But not the real conspirators
who had all but ruined our family life and seen their court case blown to smithereens. A
couple of years after the trial, one of the Congressional spokesmen, Adolph Sabath of
Illinois, began beating the drum to start a whole new Sedition proceeding and started
pressuring the Justice Department.
So now I'll tell you why I'm not made of the stuff of heroes. I gave up. My nerves were
half shot from the five-year persecution. At that time a "friend" visited to tell
me that if I
wished to make my peace with Mr. Sabath and avoid further molestation,
I could write
Sabath a letter apologizing for my alleged "anti-Semitism"
and assuring him that because
I had become a Christian and was confining myself
to religious affairs, I would not return
to political activity. At first I strongly
rejected this "offer." Furthermore, I really wasn't
such, and felt that that point should be clarified.
(Of course, the Anti-Defamation
League was quite another matter.)
I was concerned about my children and my wife, Bernice, who begged me to ask Sabath's
mercy. She pleaded, "Dave, we can't stand any more. We don't want to die.
For my sake and our children's, please don't let us go through this again."
I caved in and
wrote the required letter to the Congressman. I received a cordial reply.
pressure on the Justice Department stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
demonstrated the terrifying power to manipulate the United States government
wielded by hidden forces. I was now out of the game, broken and disillusioned. I had
given my all to be a solid American but there's a limit to every person's endurance. I
recovered enough to become a well-known newspaper editor, theologian and writer
for many Christian magazines. And I sometimes became involved in issues requiring
that I take a firm stand one way or another. Thank God, I still have some of that spirit at
76 years of age. I have no regrets about the Sedition Trial. Bernice and I celebrated our
golden wedding anniversary in 1983. Our children are now middle-aged and successful.
We are still firmly dedicated to our Christian faith and American nationalism, with charity
toward all and malice toward none.
For the sake of the historical record I would still like to see the U.S. Congress acknowledge
that an injustice was done against 30 American citizens in the Sedition Case. Not one of us
ever received a penny in compensation for our mistreatment and expenses, much
any official acknowledgment that our government made a serious mistake.
Congressional committees have made such admissions. Yes, I would like to
Congress vindicate itself before history by at least partially erasing
what the Washington
Post called "a black mark against
American justice" and the federal courts declared
"a travesty upon
justice." I believe that God will one day bring this about.
From The Journal of Historical Review, Spring 1985 (Vol. 6, No. 1), pages 23-40.
This article is adapted from a paper presented at the Sixth IHR Conference,
Feb. 1985, in Anaheim, California.,
About the Author
Born in 1908, David M. Baxter, died in February 1989 in Morrilton,
For more about the wartime sedition trial, see A Trial on Trial: The Great Sedition Trial of 1944,
a book by the most prominent defendant, Lawrence Dennis, and his lawyer, Maximilian St. George.