The story of anti-communism in California schools is a tale well and often told. But few scholars have appreciated the important role played by private surveillance networks. This article examines how privately funded and run investigations shaped the state government’s pursuit of leftist educators. The previously-secret papers of Major General Ralph H. Van Deman, which were opened to researchers at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., only a few years ago, show that the general operated a private spy network out of San Diego and fed information to military, federal, and state government agencies. Moreover, he taught the state government’s chief anti-communist bureaucrat, Richard E. Combs, how to recruit informants and monitor and control subversives. The case of the suspicious death of one University of California, Los Angeles student – a student that the anti-communists claimed had been “scared to death” by the Reds – shows the extent of the collaboration between Combs and Van Deman. It further illustrates how they conspired to promote fear of communism, influence hiring and firing of University of California faculty, and punish those educators who did not support their project. Although it was rarely successful, Combs’ and Van Deman’s coordinated campaign reveals a story of public-private anticommunist collaboration in California that has been largely forgotten. Because Van Deman’s files are now finally open to researchers, Californians can gain a much more complete understanding of their state bureaucracy’s role in the Red Scare purges of California educators.

NOTES

1.

Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), Ralph Van Deman Papers, 1929–52, Record Group 46: Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives Special Collections, Washington D.C, Boxes 77 File R-10320-10329.

2.

Senate Fact-finding Committee on Un-American Activities, “Un-American Activities in California: 6–7 1951–53” (Sacramento, 1951–53), 87.

3.

Here are but a few titles aimed at telling the story of anticommunism: Edward L. Barrett, Jr. The Tenney Committee: Legislative Investigation of Subversive Activities in California (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1951); Bob Blauner, Resisting McCarthyism: To Sign or Not to Sign California's Loyalty Oath (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009); Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi, Where There's a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California (Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 2009); Stuart J. Foster, Red Alert!: Educators Confront the Red Scare in American Public Schools, 1947–1954 (New York: Peter Lang, 2000); Richard Hofstader, The Paranoid Style in American Politics (New York: Vintage Books, 1965); Lionel S. Lewis, Cold War on Campus: A Study of the Politics of Organizational Control (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1988); Alfred W. McCoy, Policing America's Empire: The United States, The Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009); Nathan Miller, Spying for America: the Hidden History of U.S. Intelligence, (New York: Marlowe & Company, 1989); Martin H. Redish, The Logic of Persecution: Free Expression and the McCarthy Era (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005); E. Merrill Root, Brainwashing in the High Schools: An Examination of Eleven American History Textbooks (New York: Devin-Adair Company, 1958); E. Merrill Root, Collectivism on the Campus (New York: Devin-Adair Company, 1955); Seth Rosenfeld, Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals and Reagan's Rise to Power (New York: Picador, 2012); Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998); Ellen Schrecker, No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism & the Universities (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); Robert Smith, From Blackjacks to Briefcases: A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003); Shelton Stromquist, ed., Labor's Cold War: Local Politics in a Global Context (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008); Roy Talbert, Jr., Negative Intelligence: The Army and the American Left, 1917–1941 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991); Steven Michael Thompson, “The Bolshevik? The Faymonville Controversy in the 1930s and 1940s” (master's thesis, Texas State University-San Marcos, 2012): https://digital.library.txstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10877/4183/THOMPSON-THESIS.pdf?sequence=1; Ralph H. Van Deman, The Final Memoranda: Major General Ralph H. Van Deman, USA ret., 1865–1952: Father of U.S. Military Intelligence (Wilmington, DE: SR Books), 1988.

4.

M. J. Heale, “Red Scare Politics: California's Campaign against Un-American Activities, 1940–1970,” Journal of American Studies 20 (April 1986), 30–31.

5.

“California's Lonely Secret Agent,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1967, A33.

6.

Ibid.

7.

Senate Internal Security Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, 1951–1975, Executive Session transcripts: March 13, 1953–March 31, 1953 (Record Group 46: Box No. 20, March 20, 1953).

8.

“California's Lonely Secret Agent,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1967, A33.

9.

Seth Rosenfeld, Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals and Reagan's Rise to Power (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), 40.

10.

“California's Lonely Secret Agent,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1967, A33.

11.

Rosenfeld, Subversives, 49.

12.

Heale, “Red Scare Politics,” 14.

13.

Ibid., 27.

14.

Alfred W. McCoy, Policing America's Empire: The United States, The Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009), 77.

15.

Ibid.

16.

Nathan Miller, Spying for America: the Hidden History of U.S. Intelligence, (New York, Marlowe & Co., 1989), 184.

17.

McCoy, Policing America's Empire, 294.

18.

Ibid., 296.

19.

Roy Talbert Jr., Negative Intelligence: The Army and the American Left, 1917–1941 (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1991), 234.

20.

Ibid., 249.

21.

Ibid., 235.

22.

McCoy, Policing America's Empire, 332.

23.

Ibid., 321.

24.

Talbert, Negative Intelligence, 271.

25.

McCoy, Policing America's Empire, 343.

26.

Ibid.

27.

“California's Lonely Secret Agent.” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1967, A33.

28.

Ibid.

29.

McCoy, Policing America's Empire, 334.

30.

Ralph Van Deman Papers, 1929-52, Box 68 File R-9040-9049.

31.

Ibid.

32.

Ibid.

33.

Senate Fact-finding Committee, “Un-American Activities in California,” 101.

34.

Ralph Van Deman Papers, 1929–52, Box 68 File R-9040-9049.

35.

Ibid.

36.

Ibid.

37.

Ralph Van Deman Papers, 1929–52, Box 73 File R-9780-9789.

38.

Ralph Van Deman Papers, 1929–52, Box 68 File R-9040-9049.

39.

Senate Fact-finding Committee, “Un-American Activities in California,” 127.

40.

Ralph Van Deman Papers, 1929–52, Box 68 File R-9040-9049.

41.

Ralph Van Deman Papers, 1929–52, Box 73 File R-9740-9749.

42.

Ibid.

43.

Ralph Van Deman Papers, 1929–52, Box 80 File R-10870-10879.

44.

Senate Fact-finding Committee, “Un-American Activities in California,” 127.

45.

Ibid., 103.

46.

Hearing transcripts, 1941–1958, California Un-American Activities Committee Records, 93-04-12, California State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento, California, 24–26.

47.

Ibid., 26.

48.

Ibid., 102–3.

49.

Ibid., 102.

50.

Ibid., 103.

51.

Ibid., 103.

52.

Ralph Van Deman Papers, 1929–52, Box 73, file 9740-9749.

53.

Hearing transcripts, 1941–1958, CUAC Records, 10.

54.

Senate Fact-finding Committee, “Un-American Activities in California,” 103.

55.

Ibid.

56.

Ibid.

57.

Ralph Van Deman Papers, 1929–52, Box 73 File R-9740-9749.

58.

Ibid.

59.

Senate Fact-finding Committee, “Un-American Activities in California” 115.

60.

Ibid., 118.

61.

Ralph Van Deman Papers, 1929–52, Box 73 File R-9740-9749.

62.

Hearing transcripts, 1941–1958, CUAC Records, 90-91.

63.

Senate Fact-finding Committee, “Un-American Activities in California,” 133.

64.

Ibid., 121.

65.

Ibid.

66.

Ibid., 122.

67.

Ibid.

68.

Ibid., 123.

69.

Hearing transcripts, 1941–1958, CUAC Records, 10–11.

70.

Ibid., 11.

71.

Ibid., 12.

72.

Senate Fact-finding Committee, “Un-American Activities in California” 125.

73.

Hearing transcripts, 1941–1958, CUAC Records, 93-04-12, California State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento, California, 12.

74.

Ralph Van Deman Papers, 1929–52, Box 73 File R-9740-9749.

75.

“Body of UCLA Student Found in Furnace Pit,” Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1948, 2.

76.

“Red Link Probe in Second UCLA Death Ordered,” Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1950, A8.

77.

“Unspeakable Fear of Reds May Have Killed Student,” Los Angeles Times, December 9, 1950, 3.

78.

“Fear of Reds May Have Killed Youth,” Los Angeles Times, December 15, 1950, 2.

79.

Ibid.

80.

E. Merrill Root, Collectivism on the Campus, (New York: Devin-Adair Company, 1955), 126.

81.

E. Merrill Root, Brainwashing in the High Schools: An Examination of Eleven American History Textbooks, (New York, 1958), 263.

82.

Root, Collectivism on the Campus, 127.

83.

Ellen Schrecker, No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism & the Universities (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 279.

84.

Rosenfeld, Subversives, 53.

85.

Heale, “Red Scare Politics,” 26.

86.

Senate Fact-finding Committee, “Un-American Activities in California,” 210.

87.

Rosenfeld, Subversives, 59.

88.

“California's Lonely Secret Agent,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1967, A33.

89.

Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics (New York: Vintage Books, 1965), 31.

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