No, the Soviet and Chinese communists have not controlled American institutions for decades

In a recent interview with Fox News, conservative commentator and longtime foreign policy pundit Monica Crowley made a bold claim: Overseas communists have controlled key institutions of American life for decades.

Crowley, who served as assistant secretary for public affairs in the Treasury Department during the Trump administration, was interviewed in the June 12 edition of Fox News’ weekly “The Next Revolution With Steve Hilton.”

In the interview, she accused President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party of deliberately obliterating the United States. She said such efforts to destroy America by liberals were part and parcel of a longstanding plan hatched by the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

Crowley began by saying, “It is difficult for most Americans to understand that their President and a whole major political party in the United States are intentionally destroying and crippling the United States. But that is exactly what is happening here. And unless and until we understand this, we cannot effectively counter it.

Hilton agreed with Crowley’s analysis, then asked where the Democrats’ desire to hurt the country came from. Crowley replied

It is a long-term project of the left. It actually started in the 1930s and grew out of the KGB (the former Russian secret police agency). It was a KGB operation to destroy the country. And then after World War II, the Soviets actually changed tactics. And what they set out to do, and it’s been very effective for many decades, is to infiltrate and take over the main pillars of American life. They have taken over culture – so entertainment, movies, TV, music. They took over academia, college level and now it’s all down to kindergarten and even younger. And they took over the media.

With these pillars, they were able to inflict tremendous damage for many decades. And now we are at a tipping point where the useful idiots on the left – the Soviet Union collapsed, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) stepped in to take over this grand project of destroying the country from within – c is exactly what is happening. And now when you have useful idiots at the highest levels of power, including the White House, including Congress, you see the tipping point accelerating, to the point where we are almost at the point of no return.

We interviewed more than a dozen experts on the history of communist influence in the United States and they offered a unanimous answer: as the Soviet Union sought to control the great pillars of the United States, and while the USSR racked up a few decades of scattered success in attracting support from the United States, Crowley is quite wrong to say that the USSR or China ever controlled entertainment, education or the media, let alone less than they do today.

Several pundits told PolitiFact that Crowley rehashes arguments aired since the 1950s by the John Birch Society and other groups. On the contrary, they said his exaggeration of widespread overseas communist control of American institutions is more extreme and less accurate.

“The claim that the Soviet and Chinese Communists ever controlled or now control (such institutions) is nonsense,” said Harvey Klehr, a retired Emory University historian whose books include “The Soviet World of American Communism” and “In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage.” Klehr is an advisor to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Kevin Boyle, a Northwestern University historian and author of “The Shattering: America in the 1960s,” agreed. “The Soviet and Chinese communist governments – or any communist government – never controlled American education, entertainment, or the media. To claim that they ever did is not only false but absolutely ridiculous.

Asked about Crowley’s theory, Andrew Hartman, a historian at Illinois State University and author of “A War for America’s Soul: A History of the Culture Wars,” offered “a resounding no.” It’s nonsense and doesn’t really deserve a serious discussion.

Attempts to reach Crowley through social media and through the Richard Nixon Foundation, where she sits on the board, were unsuccessful.

Pundits have been careful to distinguish between the nefarious things the Communists did in the United States and the idea that they ever controlled major American institutions.

For example, the USSR and Communist China used spies against the United States. “Soviet spies got into the atomic bomb project, and Alger Hiss (who was charged with spying for the Soviet Union) was in the State Department,” said William I. Hitchcock, a historian at the University of Virginia and author of “The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s.

The USSR also exerted influence on the (relatively small) Communist Party of the United States, said Jon Shelton, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and author of “Teacher Strike!: Public Education and the Making of a New American Political Order”.

The most publicized battles involved Hollywood. In the 1930s and 1940s, “there were members and sympathizers of the American Communist Party who were writers, directors, and actors,” said Victor Devinatz, a labor historian at Illinois State University. During World War II, some of these figures helped make anti-fascist films, at a time when the United States was allied with the Soviet Union, and films that had working-class themes, although the films did not have not explicitly advance communist policy.

In the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy and other sympathetic members of Congress used the hearings to root Communists out of public life. Some 300 Hollywood figures who refused to cooperate – whether or not they were true communists – were blacklisted from 1950 to 1960.

One of the reasons Crowley is wrong, experts say, is that even the USSR’s limited successes in gaining American influence faded decades ago.

The Smith Act, passed in the 1940s, essentially banned membership in any organization advocating the overthrow of the government, and leaders of the Communist Party of the United States were prosecuted under it after World War II, a Shelton said. In addition, he said, the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 required any union seeking recognition by the National Labor Relations Board to ensure that its officers signed affidavits stating that they had no never been members of the Communist Party. “Most unions, including those in Hollywood, complied,” Shelton said.

But the most important factor was McCarthy and his allies. “Whatever influence (of the Communists) was gone by the 1940s,” with the rise of McCarthy-style anti-Communist efforts, Klehr said.

Ironically, the USSR had already abandoned most of its activities by the time McCarthy’s efforts were underway.

After 1945, Soviet intelligence officials became terrified that their entire network of Americans would be dragged before the FBI, Allen Weinstein, author of “The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America,” said in an interview online. 1999. “So they literally stopped all work,” Weinstein said. “Knowing this, it’s ironic to think that four to five years before Senator Joe McCarthy began his escapades, the spies had stopped their work.”

Despite this, in each of the sectors cited by Crowley, the anti-Communist reaction was swift. “Virtually every time the Communists gained any level of influence, they were dramatically suppressed, by many layers of government and civil society,” Shelton said.

In primary and secondary education, for example, “hundreds of communist primary and secondary school teachers were fired” in the 1940s and 1950s, Devinatz said. And the Communist-led teachers’ union in New York was expelled from both the AFL and the CIO, the main labor umbrella groups.

While communists existed in colleges and universities, Klehr said, “they never constituted more than a small minority. Higher education today suffers from many ills, including a stifling leftist orthodoxy, but much of it is tied to identity politics and not run by communists.

And in the media, a few journalists also lost their jobs because of their membership or alleged membership in the Communist Party decades ago, Devinatz said. Today, the idea that communists “control the academy, or the news media, is off the wall,” Klehr said.

Ultimately, even the USSR’s limited success in courting Americans in key professions should not be confused with overseas Communist “control” of these institutions, said Larry Tye, author of “Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy”. The long history of purges of so-called Communists is clear evidence that the individuals who ran these institutions were anti-Communists, not Communists.

“Crowley would claim that anyone with leftist or liberal ideas is a communist puppet,” said Jonathan P. Hunt, professor of rhetoric and language at the University of San Francisco and author of “Communists in the Classroom: Radicals in U.S. Education’, 1930. -1960. “So if I’m in favor of racial equality, or workplace safety regulations, or a 40-hour work week, or any of the hundreds of other political or social , then I must be a communist.”

Crowley said the Soviet and Chinese Communists “took control” of American entertainment, movies, television, music, college, K-12 education and media.

The USSR, and to a lesser extent Communist China, sought to influence the United States for decades, including through espionage and ideological persuasion. Some Americans in entertainment, education, and media favored these ideas, primarily in the 1930s and 1940s.

But even these examples fall far short of proving that each of these pillars of American society was directly controlled by overseas Communists. Concrete examples of communist influence are scattered and decades old. And in each of the areas cited by Crowley, the active efforts of anti-Communists have purged communist sympathizers. This could not have happened if these institutions were in fact controlled by communists.

We evaluate the Pants on Fire statement.

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.

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