Friday, February 7, 2014


Post 56 Legion Honor Guard
Organized by veterans of the First World War in 1919, the American Legion was created to promote
“100% Americanism”—defined by its founders as militant opposition to all things “radical” or “Bolshevik.” Violence quickly followed, with at least five deaths resulting by year’s end, as  legionnaires attacked unfriendly editors, suspected communists, or union strikers. The early legion plainly favored FASCISM, as witnessed by its 1923 pledge of honorary membership to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Two years later, national commander Alvin Owsley granted a newspaper interview that included threats to overthrow the U.S. government. “If ever needed [said Owsley], the American Legion
stands ready to protect our country’s Institutions and ideals as the Fascisti dealt with the destructionists who menaced Italy!” “By taking over the Government?” he was asked. “Exactly that,” he replied. “The American Legion is fighting every element that threatens our democratic government—Soviets, anarchists, IWW, revolutionary Socialists and any other ‘Red.’. . . . Do not forget that the Fascisti are to Italy what the American Legion is to the United States.”
American Legion

Nine years later, in the spring of 1934, high-ranking legionnaires attempted to carry out Owsley’s threat, operating through a front group called the AMERICAN LIBERTY LEAGUE. On the eve of World War II, legion commanders announced their plan to organize a civilian spy network, keeping track of perceived “subversives” from coast to coast. Attorney General Robert Jackson sidetracked the vigilante campaign by authorizing the FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION (FBI) American Legion Contact Program, whereby some 40,000 legionnaires were recruited as “confidential national defense informants,” reporting gossip about their coworkers and neighbors. So successful was the program, filling J. EDGAR HOOVER’s private files with much information he might otherwise have missed, that it was continued until 1966.

From the 1940s onward, legionnaires provided Hoover’s most dependable forum for speeches attacking communists, civil rights activists, antiwar protesters, and other enemies of the FBI, but collaboration was not always peaceful. The legion’s superpatriots took themselves too seriously at times, as during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s. In 1953 Hoover ordered Inspector Cartha DeLoach to join the legion and “straighten it out.” DeLoach enlisted, rising swiftly to become a post commander, department commander, and then national vice-commander. Legionnaires wanted to elect him as their national commander in 1958, but Hoover vetoed the move, deeming the top post “too political.” Instead, DeLoach became chairman of the legion’s national public-relations commission, ensuring that any public criticism of Hoover or the FBI was met by immediate protest from legion posts nationwide, scripted by ghost writers in the FBI’s Crime Records Division.