The Absurd Adventures of the American Youth CongressBeau Albrecht
The American Youth Congress was a largely-forgotten but very unique activist organization in the history of the New Deal era. Formed in 1935, it experienced tremendously rapid growth. Within four years, it became a massive nexus, somehow converging 413 youth groups encompassing nearly 4.7 million young Americans. Flexing the muscles of its influence, it started endorsing some odd positions, such as supporting the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the USSR’s Winter War with Finland. What did faraway matters of foreign policy have to do with the daily concerns of young people struggling through the Great Depression? These items also happened to agree with the Party Line at the time of the Communist Party USA. Well, then. . .
Grand-sounding but innocuous name, check. Far-reaching umbrella group, check. Has hidden agendas, check. This should be pinging the “front group” radar by now. For one more checkbox, it turns out that the top leadership of the American Youth Congress was made up of CPUSA members and sympathetic allies. That’s more than merely passing the “Duck Test.” This led to a Congressional investigation, causing the group’s rapid demise. In that regard, this was one of the USA’s most dramatically effective instances of stopping Marxist subversion.
Although short-lived, the AYC was one of the largest front groups ever assembled, poised to represent themselves as the voice of their generation. Millions of young Americans were in danger of falling under the spell of a massive top-down structure headed by a tiny radical Leftist leadership cadre capable of pipelining propaganda while knowing nothing or next to nothing about the forces behind it. (This scenario didn’t happen again until the Carter administration created the Department of Education.) At first glance, the potential implications were grim.
On the other hand, front groups occasionally turn out to be funnier than a barrel of monkeys. In a long history of Marxist intrigue that gripped the world during the USSR’s days, the AYC business certainly turned out to be one of the most hilarious episodes. It’s even better than the Soviet embassy cryptographer Igor Gouzenko’s Office Space moment in Ottawa, eh?
Couch surfing at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue
This strange front group had an even stranger top supporter — none other than the First Lady, who did her utmost to support the AYC, and much more. At the DC train station, Eleanor Roosevelt met the leaders called to testify about their activities. To the surprise of observers, she soon had half a dozen radicalinskis in tow, headed to the White House for a dinner invitation. This was merely the beginning of a long episode, with a longer epilogue.
To get the full impact of the many shenanigans during FDR’s very long administration, it helps to consult the sources of the time. John T. Flynn’s The Roosevelt Myth (New York: The Devin-Adair Company, 1948) is one of them. It exposes heaps of dirty laundry, including the AYC business. Book 3 Chapter 2, “The White House Goes Into Business,” details this particularly surreal happening.
And all through 1939 Mrs. Roosevelt was tireless in promoting the friendships of these Communist groups. One of the Communist outfits was the American Youth Congress. It was dominated by Communists through the Young Communist League and a group of workers including William W. Hinckley, Joseph Cadden who succeeded him as executive secretary, and Joseph P. Lash, one of the leaders of the movement. The Dies Committee began investigating these organizations, although the President had sent for Martin Dies and ordered him to quit investigating the Communists.
When the Un-American Activities Committee was investigating the American Youth Congress, a crowd of adolescent pinks marched into the committee room. They were headed by the wife of the President of the United States, and there they put on a three-ring circus, hopping about, distributing pamphlets, buttonholing congressmen, and making themselves generally a disgraceful nuisance. Joseph P. Lash, who was the executive secretary of the American Student Union, put on a show. He sang a little song for the benefit of the committee from a skit which the little pinks had put on in New York.
He sang a couplet modified a bit from the original lyrics in this impromptu performance:
“If you see an un-American come lurking your way
Why, alkalize with Martin Dies and he will disappear.”
Score one for the Young Pioneers; that was cute! Who says Congressional hearings have to be grim and boring? Somehow, it’s hard to imagine Oliver North being that creative, or tobacco executives breaking into song while being grilled in 1994. “Harry Waxman will make Big Tobacco go up in smoke like a pack of Camels” wouldn’t have been quite the same.
This was delivered to little squeals of joy from the assembled pinks and pinklets in attendance and to the smiling approval of their impresario, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. At this very moment, Joe Lash was living in the White House as Mrs. Roosevelt’s guest, while Joe Cadden and Abbot Simon were occasional boarders there. When the show was over, Mrs. Roosevelt led all of her young guests into two White House cars and carted them back to the White House for entertainment. The next day in her newspaper column she gave the Dies Committee a good going over. She went so far as to send for one of the members of the committee privately and ask him to see that the American Youth Congress was not branded as a Communist-front organization. Here was the wife of the President of the United States, a separate department of the government, using the White House as a lobbying ground for a crowd of young Commies and Pinkies against a committee of Congress.
In short, the top brass of the AYC were called to testify before the Dies Committee concerning their Communist ties. They didn’t have to pay for a hotel, because Eleanor Roosevelt invited them to use the White House as a crash pad while under investigation. She even had them chauffeured. Sweet!
If rolling out the red carpet for the Reds weren’t absurd enough, she attended the hearings, heckling the proceedings, and ushering in other young troublemakers to do so. Priceless! It’s not clear what form her interruptions took. Various sources generally indicate that she made herself a pest; pro-Eleanor renditions spin that into a protective role. Outside the proceedings, she even had a word with one of the Committee members, and (as noted earlier) the President himself called in Martin Dies and told him to back off. That was highly unethical; rather like someone having a private chat with the judge outside of court during a trial involving a friend.
After the hearings
Concerning events leading up to this, the book describes the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The secret part of the treaty included plans to divide Poland. I’ll add that border tensions had been worsening and it was pretty clear that things were going to come to a head. Meanwhile, Churchill had a secret war guarantee to Poland, not that the British were in the best position to come to their rescue, or had any business intervening in a distant territorial dispute. (Secret alliances contradicted international law, but nobody was following the rules by then.) This war guarantee emboldened the Polish government to get froggy, unfortunately not realizing they’d been set up.
Back in America, this brief red-brown alliance caused a flurry of resignations in the CPUSA — unsurprising, given its demographic composition. Joseph Lash was one of those whose faith in Communism was shaken by that, eventually turning toward other forms of radicalism like many others, though he stood by his AYC comrades nonetheless. The Party Line promoted pacifism during this time, but reversed course in June 1941 for obvious reasons.
They reunited after the Dies Committee hearings, and FDR tried to talk his former guests into denouncing all forms of totalitarianism. This was, of course, before he was biting the pillow full-time for his “Uncle Joe” Stalin.
The war in Europe had already begun when Mrs. Roosevelt made a spectacle of herself with her adolescent revolutionists in the House office building. In the Spring of 1941, the American Youth Congress held a convention in Washington where Justice Jackson and other officials addressed them. They ended with a get-together on the White House lawn. Germany and Russia were still allies at this time. The President, from the White House porch, addressed these young philosophers spread out on the lawn. Referring to Germany and Russia he asked them to condemn all forms of dictatorship and at this point, to his amazement, the assembled young philosophers gave the President and Mrs. Roosevelt a hearty Bronx cheer. And now, of course, Mrs. Roosevelt felt they were Communists, although she had rejected all of the overwhelming evidence before that. Booing the President suddenly turned them into Communists.
A couple of details may be inaccurate. Other sources date this badly-received reunion in February 1940, a picnic at the invitation of the First Lady, about three months following their antics at the Dies Committee. If this became a personal epiphany for her about the nature of their ideology, it seems she didn’t mind very much. She penned the article “Why I Still Believe in the Youth Congress” the following April.
Still, the basic details are confirmed in other sources. After using the White House as a free motel, while under Congressional investigation for subversive activities, as the First Lady heckled the proceedings, these kids had the nerve to jeer at their former hosts when they met again. That’s at least an 8.5 on the Chutzpah Meter. What a bunch of ungrateful punks!
But wait! There’s more!
Still, one of them apparently had arranged for an extended stay by then.
Her protege, Joe Lash, was now in a terrible position. Obviously he could not continue with an organization that had booed his host and hostess for he was living rather regularly in the White House. Mrs. Roosevelt therefore sponsored a new organization called the International Students Service. Joe Lash, the Commie stooge, turned up under her sponsorship as the secretary of that at $4200 a year.
That’s about $74K and change in 2020 dollars. That was a nice racket, especially during the Great Depression! It would be interesting to know what his official duties were, what the rest of the budget for the International Students Service was, what this obscure New Deal TLA outfit actually was doing, and how it was supposed to benefit the country.
Then the book flashes back to the earlier couch surfing episode during the Dies Committee testimony:
A member of Congress, an ardent New Dealer, visited the White House one morning. While there he saw Abbot Simon of the national board of the American Youth Congress, come out of one of the bedrooms. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He asked the White House usher if he was mistaken. The usher assured him he was not, that this little Commie tool had been occupying that room for two weeks and sleeping in the bed Lincoln had slept in.
The Lincoln bedroom too? Sweet! I wonder if any of them got to chat with Harry “The Hop” Hopkins, someone who used 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue as his permanent flophouse until the end of his days. He soon would be in charge of channeling vast quantities of food, armaments, and equipment to their Soviet buddies. For now, though, pacifism was still the Party Line.
Lash still continued in the White House as a guest and as a symbol to every Red in America. Some time later the American Peace Mobilization, another Communist-front organization, began to picket the White House. Joe Cadden, who had been sleeping in the White House only a short time before, was now parading with the picketeers outside his old boarding house while Joe Lash, parted from his old buddies, looked out at the pink peace mobilizers and his friend Cadden from the security of the White House windows.
The bad taste parade just went on and on. Although FDR was notoriously soft on Communism to the point of gross negligence, he should’ve refused to get involved in their nonsense from the beginning.
Eleanor’s busy thighs
The First Lady’s personal life figures into this saga. She wasn’t much of a looker, but word has it that she got around. Early on, after she caught FDR cheating, she might’ve figured that two can play that game. Gossip persisted about relations with her personal bodyguard Earl Miller, despite great pains taken to discourage the story. Evidence in the form of personal correspondence has been destroyed since then, so this case is difficult to evaluate conclusively.
Unlike the feeding frenzy surrounding the Clinton administration, details about the Roosevelts were more of a slow buzz. It’s hard for the press to resist a juicy story these days, even for ideological reasons. Back then, they went to great lengths to cover up many details about the administration, and few broke ranks. For one thing, the public was kept unaware of the rather innocuous fact that the President couldn’t walk without assistance.
Another possible affair was with Bernard Baruch; if it’s true, she was really taking one for the team. He was a very tricky high finance type and a globalist cutout, sometimes called “the unofficial President of the USA,” which perhaps wasn’t entirely an exaggeration. Colonel Curtis B. Dall explains Baruch’s role in how our Deep State political kabuki theater began in Franklin Delano Roosevelt My Exploited Father-In-Law (Tulsa, Christian Crusade Publications: 1967).
By 1914, Bernard Baruch had developed two unusual qualities. First, those of an able financier, a man with an alert, broad vision. Secondly, he was one who had gained the confidence of important world politicians and world money powers. This combination of talents caught the “eye” of world money and the “ear” of world political leaders, those who actually groom and select the candidates for President and Vice-President in advance, for both the Republican and Democratic Party slates.
There’s a pretty plausible case that she was a switch hitter. There were rumors of a relationship with her personal secretary Malvina “Tommy” Thompson. A more definite case was their friend Lorena Hickock, a reporter whom FDR called a “he-she.” Eleanor’s own gushingly affectionate correspondence confirms that at least some kissyface took place with the butch journalist, but it’s unknown if things progressed further. (The integrity of the press sometimes leaving something to be desired is hardly new.) Imagine if during the Clinton administration, Cupcake had made out with NPR’s Cokie Roberts; that would’ve created a conflict of interest.
Finally, there was Joseph P. Lash, named here as the “alkalize with Martin Dies” guy. He was one of Eleanor’s favorites from the beginning — awarded the International Students Service sinecure, and allowed an extended residence at the White House. She found a match for him too, someone with an interesting history of her own, but scuttlebutt began that he was Eleanor’s plaything. If there was something to that, then his role as a White House resident drawing a hefty salary from the ISS might be better described as being a live-in rent boy. Moreover, a First Lady literally in bed with someone having profoundly radical views and connections would indicate at the very least a profound lack of good judgment.
One journalist, Westbrook Pegler of WaPo, broke ranks with the media blackout and hinted about the “young campus cutie who had been infected by the Moscow principles.” Eleanor retaliated, pulling strings with the FBI to have Pegler investigated. Way classy!
Their long-term house guest wanted a Naval Reserve commission, but this fell through despite Eleanor’s personal intercession. During wartime, he was drafted into the Army and became a sergeant, but stayed stateside. Word got around in Army circles, apparently up to high levels, about his alleged activities with the First Lady. For example, Colonel John Bissell’s career was hamstrung because he knew too much, causing him to lose a promotion to Brigadier General. This led to an investigation in March 1943. Lash’s room was bugged at the Urbana-Lincoln Hotel of Illinois, during which time Eleanor was staying next door. (What a coincidence!) They brought the tape directly to FDR. According to the FBI memo concerning the incident:
This recording indicated quite clearly that Mrs. Roosevelt and Lash engaged in sexual intercourse during their stay in the hotel room. Forney advised Bissell that after this record was played Mrs. Roosevelt was called into the conference and was confronted with the information and this resulted in a terrific fight between the President and Mrs. Roosevelt.
The following morning, FDR gave an order that Lash should be sent promptly to a combat zone in the South Pacific. He lucked out and was posted as a weather observer, remaining a pogue as before. The President also murderously ordered that anyone else knowing of this was to be sent to fight the Japanese until killed. Dirty deeds beget dirty deeds. . . The suicide missions were unable to be arranged because, as the report indicates, “there were too many of them to be treated in this manner.”
To the end, Lash himself denied the tawdry tale of a May-December affair with the First Lady. If true, he understandably might’ve been too embarrassed to confess to cheating on his fiancée and cucking the Commander-in-Chief whose signature was on his paychecks. The incriminating tape probably no longer exists; FDR surely would’ve wanted it destroyed. Could it have been mistaken identity, contrary to the findings of the investigators, and Lash was in bed with his own future wife in that particular recording? It’s arguable, but FDR would’ve recognized Eleanor’s voice, even if the tape had more moaning than verbal conversation.
That’s an awful lot of strange stuff for there not to be any hanky-panky. The Roosevelt Myth doesn’t discuss any of her sex scandals. For all the dirty laundry that reached the author, he was unaware of that. There were heaps of dirt not yet uncovered about this, along with much worse topics related to the FDR administration. Even so, the drama of the First Lady’s questionable relationship with the young radicalinski spilling over into military matters during wartime wasn’t quite over yet.
Lessons not learned
A little later, the book does reveal another whopper, shedding further light on the Lash business. It discusses Eleanor journeying to the Pacific Front and back in a four-engine bomber, unnecessarily burning vast amounts of fuel. (It was a five-week tour beginning in August 1943, covering seventeen destinations.) This was while the public was under rationing, exhorted to conserve gas and restrict travel for sake of the war effort. It doesn’t mention if any fighter escorts were diverted from combat duties to protect the VIP voyage near the Pacific hot zone, which would’ve been due diligence, but as for the flying fortress itself:
Her trip consumed the equivalent of 138,000 A coupons or 185 trips across the continent in your car. The plane was remodeled inside and fitted with a comfortable bed for the lady and while she was in the Pacific she made a special trip to an island to visit her political protege, Joe Lash.
Following that, it describes Her Majesty’s public appeal to limit deliveries to save fuel; essentially “do as I say, not as I do.” The chapter wraps up discussing her expensive gifts from foreign dignitaries. The author, unaware of the covered-up sex scandal, didn’t catch the full implications about the “special trip” to her “political protégé.”
FDR surely didn’t know what the complete agenda was either. Especially given his murderous intentions five months prior, he certainly wouldn’t have approved of an island detour to visit someone he was thoroughly sick of by then — the banished rival for his affections now monitoring the weather. If the President had caught wind of the full details, a typhoon would’ve unfolded back at the White House. That story probably never reached him, since Lash survived the war without being ordered to take point on the Pacific War’s several meat-grinding island invasions, no “accidents” like General Patton, or similar hazards to his health.
Now that the pieces have been put together, there’s one final speculation remaining that might tantalize historians about Eleanor’s reckless bonus excursion to see her favorite radicalinski: was it a quickie, or did the two join the Mile High Club?
Eleanor Roosevelt remains a somewhat iconic figure, but her character left much to be desired. She comes across as having a bad case of limousine Leftist syndrome, didn’t think the rules applied to her, exhibited an irresponsible personal life, and with all this failed to uphold the dignity of her position. As a side note, she frequently commercialized her position as First Lady to do radio advertisements. (Say what you will about Michelle Obama or Cupcake, neither touted soap products and so forth while The Lightworker or Slick Willie held office.) That’s not the greatest of her shortcomings, though. Much more troubling were her many associations with Marxists and globalists. She toned down some of that later in life, but not completely.
In 1958, she visited the Highlander Folk School, another front group. (This is the same place where the famous 1957 “Communist training school” picture with MLK was taken. Rosa Parks was a 1955 attendee at this obscure but influential Marxist activism academy.) Didn’t Eleanor learn anything from her earlier experience about tricky outfits like that? As for the First Lady’s thoroughly absurd support for the American Youth Congress, that was definitely going above and beyond to give aid and comfort to our enemies.
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