Press and Sun-Bulletin/December 17, 1946
Oswald Garrison Villard, of New York, one of the genuine liberals on the original roster of the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League, strongly disapproves the secret police activities in which the league boastfully revealed itself in the attempt to purge a small organization called the Columbians, in Atlanta.
In this coup, the Anti-Nazi League planted a New York woman as a secretary in the office of the Columbians and obtained photographs of the Columbians’ correspondence by means of a camera disguised as a fountain pen. The expose amounted to nothing more than publicity for the Anti-Nazi League and against the Columbians at the time of the denunciation: for no formal charges were made of illegal action by any individual and no person was arrested.
IN THE REACTION, however, the Anti-Nazi League stood self-disclosed as a secret, snooping organization and dispatches from Atlanta said that when the Columbians had caught their breath they swore out warrants against James H. Sheldon, the directing chairman of the league, and two secret agents, including the woman secretary, charging them with making investigations illegally.
Mr. Villard does not recall precisely why he quit the league but he said he “supposed” he did so because of general dissatisfaction with “the way it was going.” He withdrew several years ago.
“We didn’t do anything of that kind,” Mr. Villard said. “It was purely an anti-Hitler movement. I was very much astounded by what I have read of sending people south and acting as detectives and trapping people. All I can say is that no action of that kind was taken when I was in it. Actions of that kind never were considered. I think the whole thing must have changed very much.”
IN A BOOK called “I Find Treason,” published by William Morrow in 1941, an author calling himself “Richard Rollins” wrote:
“During February, 1939, the executive secretary of the Anti-Nazi League called me. The league was about to develop a large department of investigation. He wanted me to head it. I liked the possibilities for more action and power. The secretary had not exaggerated when he described the league as the world’s greatest anti-Nazi organization. Over 500 organized groups—fraternal, religious, industrial, labor, educational—made up its more than 2,000,000 membership. In March the league appointed me its national director of investigation. The department was my responsibility—to run exactly as I thought best.”
“Rollins,” as the author calls himself, said this meant the broadening of the scope of the league’s investigations. He kept his “old operatives,” added new members and moved into new offices.
“ROLLINS” CLAIMS for the league and himself considerable credit for anti-Nazi work, including the conviction of Fritz Kuhn, the leader of the Nazi Bund who was run down and convicted by district attorney, now governor, Tom Dewey, and his authorized professional staff.
In developing his claims “Rollins” puts the league into association with privately conducted secret organizations in other countries, a form of espionage in which some New York labor unions of European leanings also took part, even levying assessments on their members for “underground” work, the nature of which never was explained. The danger to the nation of free-lance international espionage, ostensibly in the national interest but privately directed, was pointed out occasionally in these essays during those days.
“Rollins” writes that he began as an individual snooper, spying on an American organization in New York called “the Order of 76.” He says “the Order of 76″‘ was anti-Semitic and tells proudly of robbing sailors’ lockers aboard a German ship in the harbor.
He writes that Samuel Dickstein, then a member of Congress and chairman of the House Immigration Committee, engaged him, informally, and without putting him on the government payroll to “see what you can find.”
IN ACCEPTING the help of the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to “investigate” the Columbians in Atlanta, Eugene Cook, the attorney general and E. E. Andrews, the solicitor general, may not have considered the implications of this endorsement of irresponsible espionage by private organizations.
An efficient, energetic public official with a small staff of intelligent investigators could have done at least as well under official conditions.
Now these officials find themselves in a compromising association with an outfit whose former chief investigator proudly tells of feats of theft, burglary and smuggling, and boasts of the league’s collaboration with secret, private foreign spying groups and whose treasurer, an alien refugee, is “doing a gigantic job for the Anti-Nazi League, having turned his vast business organization into what is virtually an adjunct of the league.”
Uneasy as they may be over the activities of the Columbians, the citizens of Georgia may be no more complacent over the invasion of their privacy and their rights by the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League.