Framing a Guilty Man?
Lawrence Dennis should have known that with the United States entering the war against the Axis powers, his incendiary rhetoric— if left unchecked—would lead to his indictment. Yet, he proceeded recklessly, though by his own admission he thought the idea of real civil liberties in the United States—for example, freedom of expression—was vacuous. He had attained a certain notoriety and perhaps thought it provided license: he was wrong, terribly wrong. Thus, the Washington Post said in late 1940 that Anne Lindbergh's now infamous phrase that fascism was the “wave of the future” was “first advanced” by him.1Life magazine termed him “America's no. 1 intellectual fascist.”2 But were these tributes to be welcomed when the nation was about to go to war against fascism?
By the summer of 1940, FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, was informed that “Lawrence Dennis is definitely and positively a German Agent…. this man has an unwholesome and un-American background.”3 He was a “revolutionary Nazi” who “enjoys excellent connections in Japanese, Italian and German circles.”4 By September 1941, “telephone toll calls” were “requested on Dennis's home telephone” by the U.S. authorities. There was an intense “examination” of his “income tax” returns (his gross income for 1939 was listed as $5,957.00). A “mail cover” revealed that he received mail from questionable German émigrés, the “Japan Institute” (there was an arrow pointing to this signaling its importance), the “Consul General of Japan,” and the fascist demagogue, Gerald L. K. Smith—though most of his mail came from colleges and universities wishing to invite him to speak or subscribe to his Newsletter.5
At times it seemed that the authorities were more interested in Dennis's putative ties to Tokyo than to Berlin, which made sense since Dennis's race rhetoric distinguished him sharply from his like-minded comrades in the United States but was similar to discourses emerging from Japan.