Great Sedition Trial

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The Great Sedition Trial of 1944 was a political show trial engineered by the American Jewish Committee, ADL,[1] and B'nai B'rith[2] with the purpose of imprisoning anti-communist patriots who opposed FDR and his schemes to bring the country into World War II. The Smith Act of 1940 was used to prosecute the defendants. The case was designated as United States v. McWilliams where the defendants were charged with conspiracy to aid in establishment of a National Socialist form of government within the United States and attempting to demoralize the armed forces of the United States. A conviction carried a $10,000 fine and ten years imprisonment.[3] The entire case was declared a mistrial after the presiding judge suddenly died. Months later another judge dismissed the charges against the defendants and called the case "a travesty on justice."[4]

Grand jury indictments

The trial was staged in Washington DC thanks to Dillard Stokes an investigative reporter working for the Washington Post. Before the indictments Stokes solicited allegedly seditious publications from the defendants and had them mailed to his residence in the District of Columbia. This tactic allowed the government to put the defendants on trial in one location and to break them financially, removing them from their employment, family, and homes.

In total 42 people and one newspaper, The New York Evening Enquirer, were indicted by three separate grand juries. The first two indictments issued in 1942 and 1943 failed to come to trial. By the time trial began on April 17, 1944 with the third indictment, there were 30 defendants: 28 men and two women. The trial was held in Washington's Federal District Court building in a small air conditioned courtroom (40 x 38 ft.) and lasted seven months.[5]

Jewish Pressure

Jews played an instrumental role in pressing for the indictments. A United Press report stated,

Under pressure from Jewish organizations, to judge from articles appearing in publications put out by Jews for Jews, the new indictment even more than the first was drawn to include criticisms of Jews as "sedition." It appeared that a main purpose of the whole procedure, along with outlawing unfavorable comments on the administration, was to set a legal precedent of judicial interpretations and severe penalties 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.

The first indictment was a total Jewish affair with prosecuting attorney William P. Maloney in constant contact with the ADL and coordinating the investigations.[6]

First indictment: July 21, 1942

Court Asher, David J. Baxter, Otto Brennemann, Howard V. Broenstrupp, Oscar Brumback, Prescott F. Dennett, C. Leon de Aryan, Hudson de Priest, Hans Diebel, Elizabeth Dilling, Robert E. Edmondson, Elmer J. Garner, James F. Garner, William Griffin, Charles B. Hudson, Ellis O. Jones, William Ernest Kullgren, William R. Lyman Jr, Donald McDaniel, Robert Noble, William D. Pelley, Eugene Sanctuary, Herman M. Schwinn, Edward J. Smythe, Ralph Townsend, James C. True, George S. Viereck and Gerald B. Winrod

Second indictment: January 4, 1943

Court Asher, David J. Baxter, Otto Brennemann, Howard V. Broenstrupp, Oscar Brumback, Prescott F. Dennett, C. Leon De Aryan, Hudson de Priest, Hans Diebel, Elizabeth Dilling, Robert E. Edmondson, Elmer J. Garner, James F. Garner, William Griffin, Charles B. Hudson, Ellis O. Jones, William Ernest Kullgren, William R. Lyman Jr., Donald McDaniel, Robert Noble, William D. Pelley, Eugene Sanctuary, Herman M. Schwinn, Edward J. Smythe, Ralph Townsend, James C. True, George S. Viereck, Gerald B. Winrod, Frank W. Clark, George E. Deatherage, Frank K. Fernenx, Paquita de Shishmareff (Leslie Fry), Lois de Lafayette Washburn and The New York Evening Enquirer. In addition, twelve other publications and thirteen organizations were named, but unindicted, on a list of "agencies employed."[7]

Third indictment: January 3, 1944

Garland Alderman, David J. Baxter, Howard V. Broenstrupp, Frank W. Clark, George E. Deatherage, Prescott F. Dennett, Lawrence Dennis, Hans Diebel, Elizabeth Dilling, Robert E. Edmondson, Ernest F. Elmhurst, Frank K. Fernenz, Elmer J. Garner, Charles B. Hudson, Ellis O. Jones, August Klapprott, Gerhard Wilhelm Kunze, William R. Lyman Jr., Joe E. McWilliams, Robert Noble, William D. Pelley, Parker Sage, Peter Stahrenberg, Eugene Sanctuary, Herman M. Schwinn, Edward J. Smythe, James True, George S. Viereck, Lois de Lafayette Washburn and Gerald B. Winrod.

Notably absent from the indictments were two popular and influential clergymen both known for their anti-Semitism: Reverend Gerald L. K. Smith and Father Charles Coughlin. Smith was investigated three times by the FBI finding no apparent foreign "fascist" connections.[8] Also missing from the indictments were any Italian-American Fascist or Ku Klux Klan leadership.[9]

The strategy the prosecution decided to use was to prove all of the defendants had psychologically joined Germany’s National Socialist movement.[10] The intent of the prosecution was to show things said by the defendants were similar to things said by the "Nazis"; therefore they were part of the world conspiracy.


The defendants were a collection of American nationalists, isolationists, socialists, pacifists, nativists, anti-Semites, and German American Bund leaders with an ideological attachment to the New Germany. The final indictment included five groups of individuals. One group consisted of Washington lobbyists and registered agents for Germany. Another group were authors who had written books in support of fascism or political treatises that connected the Jews to Communism. Publishers were another group--some with a small newsletter circulation, others such as the magazine The Defender had a monthly readership of over a hundred thousand. Also indicted were the leaders of various nationalist organizations -- again some with limited influence, but groups like the Silver Legion of America lead by William Dudley Pelley were well organized on a national level. The final group was the German American Bund members, the two top leaders Kunze and Klapprott, along with three from the California branch on the west coast. Elizabeth Dilling's lawyer quipped the Germans were added to give the jury a “sauerkraut” flavor to the trial.[11]

With the exception of Lawrence Dennis, Prescott Dennett, and George Viereck all were anti-Semites to one degree or another. James True, Frank W. Clark, and Lois de Lafayette Washburn favored the death of Jews. Others like William Dudley Pelley favored restricting Jews to certain geographical areas within America or isolating them to one city per state.[12] Reverend Winrod saw “bad” Jews who should be condemned and “good” Jews who could be converted.[13] Most of the defendants viewed the Jews as untrustworthy and carriers of the political virus of Communism.

Several of the defendants Ellis Jones, Robert Noble, William Dudley Pelley, George Viereck, Franz K. Ferenz and Gerhard Wilhelm Kunze were in prison for previous sedition convictions or violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. At the time of the trial, Hans Diebel and Herman Schwinn were being held as enemy aliens. One elderly defendant, Elmer J. Garner, died three weeks after the start of the proceedings. James True and David Baxter were severed from the trial due to health reasons and physical ailments. Robert Noble was severed from the trial for unruly conduct. The trial lasted 119 days with a two-week summer break.[14]

Defense lawyers

All but four of the twenty-four lawyers who represented the defendants were court appointed and unpaid.[15] A few of the defendants wanted to act as their own lawyers. The trial became a chaotic farce with defense lawyers competing among themselves with objections. The judge denied about five hundred motions for a mistrial.[16] Seven defense lawyers were fined over one thousand dollars for contempt and two lawyers were thrown out of court.[17]

One of the defendants, Robert Edmondson, would go on to call these twenty court-appointed lawyers "The Twenty Immortals…who went far beyond the Call of Duty in behalf of The Constitution."[18] The defense lawyers put their lives and livelihoods on the line when they took the case of their clients. Attorneys St.George and Little were fired upon when a bullet passed through the windshield of their car. Attorney Powers was beaten by five thugs and placed an hospital for four days.[19] Attorney Henry Klein removed himself from the case a few months into the trial after receiving a number of death threats from fellow Jews.[20] Other attorneys saw their legal practice begin to fade away.

During the trial and its aftermath the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)--which at the time was essentially a Communist front organization--did nothing to aid the defendants.[21] [22] Ironically, one of the defendants, Ellis Jones, was an Executive Committee member of the southern California chapter of the ACLU.[23]

The press and public opinion

The trial started with 40 reporters covering the proceedings, but as it dragged on fewer of them appeared in the courtroom. The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune initially had their reporters at the trial. In addition, two communist and far-left newspapers the Daily Worker and PM covered the proceedings.[24]

However by July, the third month of the trial, many of the major papers considered the proceedings a circus and withdrew their reporters from the courtroom. By October only a handful were in attendance. Representatives from the Washington Star , United Press and International News Service were the few who remained reporting on the trial.[25]

Public opinion began to turn in favor of the defendants. Newspaper editors like Joseph Patterson of the New York Daily News openly defended the accused seditionists and said they were just "publishers of small anti-Administration sheets."[26]

A few Washington officials were untroubled by the hostile press coverage and openly supported the defendants. Senator William Langer of North Dakota visited the defendants often in jail and escorted Elizabeth Dilling to and from the courtroom.[27]


The presiding judge, former Iowa Congressman Edward C. Eicher, died suddenly of a heart attack on November 29, 1944. Bolitha Laws, a federal judge in the District of Columbia, took over and asked the prosecutor, O. John Rogge, if he wanted to start a new trial. Realizing the prosecutor had no real evidence to prove sedition, Judge Laws declared a mistrial on December 7, 1944.

On June 30, 1947 the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the dismisal of the indictments.[28]


The Sentinel an English-Jewish paper in Chicago was sued by ten of the defendants in 1947 for libel. Four of them collected $24,100 in damages.

The 30 defendants

Below is a list of the organizations, publications, and books associated with the defendants up to the time of the trial in 1944. Those after 1944 associated with the defendants are not listed. Known attorneys representing the defendants at the trial are listed as well as attorneys representing the defendants in the 1946 motions to dismiss.

Washington lobbyists

Name Organizations Publications Books Attorneys
Prescott Dennett Make Europe Pay War Debts Committee,

Islands for War Debts Committee,

Citizens Committee to Keep America Out of the War

Frank J. Kelly
George S. Viereck German American Fellowship Forum Today's Challenge, The American Monthly Ben Lindas

Author's group

Name Organizations Publications Books Attorneys
David Baxter Social Republic Society The Corporate State: A Practical Plan for American Nationalists W. Hobart Little, Ira Chase Koehne
Lawrence Dennis Weekly Foreign Letter, The Awakener, Is Capitalism Doomed?, The Coming American Fascism, The Dynamics Of War And Revolution himself as attorney and Floyd Lanham, Joseph C. Turco
Elizabeth Dilling Patriotic Research Bureau The Red Network, The Roosevelt Red Record, The Octopus Floyd Lanham, Dellmore Lassard, Albert Dilling J. Austin Latimer
Ernest F. Elmhurst Pan-Aryan League The World Hoax Ira Chase Koehne, James J. Laughlin, W. Hobart Little, M. Edward Buckley, Orville Gaudette, John Hillyard
Eugene N. Sanctuary American Christian Defenders Tocsin Publishers The Roosevelt Saga, The Talmud Unmasked, * Are These Things So? Henry H. Klein, M. Edward Buckley, Marvin F. Bischoff, George B. Fraser

Publisher's group

Name Organizations Publications Books Attorneys
Robert E. Edmondson Edmondson Economic Service American Vigilante Bulletin Ethelbert B. Frey
Elmer J. Garner Publicity Marvin F. Blachoff
Charles B. Hudson America in Danger Frank H. Meyers, Elizabeth R. Young, James A. Davis, Thomas X. Dunn
Joe McWilliams Christian Mobilizers, American Destiny Party The Christian Mobilizer The Serviceman's Reconstruction Plan Maximilian St.George, W. Hobart Little
Edward J. Smythe Protestant War Veterans Association Our Common Cause James J. Laughlin, Ethelbert B. Frey, M. Edward Buckley, John B. Gunion
Peter Stahrenberg American National-Socialist Party National American L.J.H.Herwig
James True America First, Inc. Industrial Control Reports J. Austin Latimer
Gerald B. Winrod Defenders of the Christian Faith The Defender E. Hilton Jackson, John W. Jackson, George Siefkin

Nationalist leaders

Name Organizations Publications Books Attorneys
Garland Alderman National Workers' League Nationalist Newsletter Harry A. Grant, of Washington DC
Howard V. Broenstrupp Silver Shirts The Gentiles' Review Ira Chase Koehne M. Edward Buckley
Frank W. Clark National Liberty Party, League of War Veteran Guardsmen himself as attorney and M. Edward Buckley, Ira Chase Koehne
George E. Deatherage Knights of the White Camellia, American Nationalist Confederation, National Workers' League News Behind the News J. Austin Latimer
Ellis O. Jones National Copperheads,

Friends of Progress

Copperhead Notes himself as attorney
William Lyman National Workers' League Frank J. Meyer, Elizabeth R. Young
Robert Noble Friends of Progress James J. Laughlin
William D. Pelley Silver Shirts The Galilean, Liberation, Roll-Call William J. Powers, T. Emmett McKenzie, W. Hobart Little
Parker Sage Black Legion, National Workers' League Nationalist Newsletter Harry A. Grant
Lois de Lafayette Washburn National Liberty Party, National Gentile League, American Gentile Protective Association Ira Chase Koehne, M. Edward Buckley

German American Bund leaders

Name Organizations Publications Books Attorneys
Hans Diebel German American Bund Aryan Bookstore Claude Thompson, William A. Gallagher
Franz K. Ferenz German American Bund Hitler Joseph H. Bilbrey, Rees B. Gillespie
August Klapprott German American Bund Charles E. Morganston
Gerhard Wilhelm Kunze German American Bund P. Bateman Ennis, Arthur Carroll
Herman Schwinn German American Bund Claude A. Thompson, William A. Gallagher

Government witnesses

Further reading

  • The Sedition Case: Jews vs. Gentiles in court in the District Court of the United States for the District of Columbia by George E. Deatherage (1944)
  • A Trial on Trial: The Great Sedition Trial of 1944, by Lawrence Dennis and Maximilian St.George, (1945) National Civil Rights Committee, (1984) Institute for Historical Review

See also

External links


  1. "FDR's patriot purge", The New American, June 16, 2003
  3. Newsweek May 1, 1944
  4. The Sedition Case, page 122
  5. "U.S. At War: The Curtain Rise", Time, May 1, 1944
  6. The Smear Campaign by Joseph P. Kamp
  8. 'The Truth About Gerald Smith: America’s #1 Fascist, page 15
  10. A Trial on Trial, pages 105, 106
  11. Trial on Trial: The Great Sedition Trial of 1944, page 181
  12. Right-wing populism in America: too close for comfort, by Chip Berlet and Matthew Nemiroff Lyons, p. 133
  13. American Political Trials, by Michal R. Belknap, page 185.
  14. Newsweek December 11, 1944, p 44
  15. A Trial on Trial, page 13
  16. AMERICAN JEWISH YEAR BOOK 1945/1946 page 271
  18. I Testify Against The Jews, by Robert Edmondson, page (D)
  19. The Sedition Case, page 88
  20. The Sedition Case, page 89
  21. Confronting Right-wing Extremism and Terrorism in the USA, by George Michael, page 137
  22. "U. S. Indicts Its Two Top Fachists", Life, January 17, 1944, Vol. 16, No. 3, page 15
  23. Free speech in the good war, By Richard W. Steele, page 148
  24. American Political Trials, by Michal R. Belknap. pages 181, 191.
  25. A Trial on Trial, page 22
  26. The Propaganda Battlefront, April 29, 1944
  27. Our Own Felicity: We Make Or Find, By C. L. Corey, page 85
  28. [1]