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Who is Elizabeth Dilling, and Why is Glenn Beck a Fan?

During the June 4 edition of Premiere Radio Network’s The Glenn Beck Program, Glenn Beck endorsed and promoted Elizabeth Dilling’s The Red Network: A “Who’s Who” and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots, self-published in 1934 as an exposé of communist front activity in the United States. Beck lauded the work as an example of Americans in the 1930s “doing what we’re doing now,”—the patriotic service of targeting radicals within the United States. Unfortunately for Beck, and perhaps unclear to him at the time of his endorsement, Elizabeth Dilling is known largely for two things, as Media Matters tells us: her trial for sedition in 1944, and her public anti-Semitism and red-baiting.

This article seeks to provide a brief account of the facts surrounding Dilling’s background, so that we might find historical clarity amidst the obscurity that partisan media hype often provokes.

Born Elizabeth Kirkpatrick in Chicago, Illinois, Dilling was raised by her widowed mother as an Episcopalian. From an early age she adopted a strict and literal reading of Bible scriptures, inspired by her years at a Catholic girls’ school. She enrolled in the University of Chicago in 1912, but left without obtaining a degree, battling with loneliness and depression.

According to Glen Jeansonne, professor of twentieth century American history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who studied Dilling and her allies while writing Women of the Far Right: The Mother’s Movement and World War II, Dilling considered herself a “professional patriot.” She expressed diehard loyalty to both the flag and the cross, a loyalty that she felt was threatened by the burgeoning support for New Deal policies and their growing liberal Democratic support base.

It was her 1931 month-long tour of the Soviet Union with her husband, Albert (whose surname she adopted in 1918), that had the most jarring effect on Dilling, inciting a passion for anti-communism. “The Soviet experiment with communism appalled her,” Jeansonne wrote. Her aversion towards communism, Jeansonne continued, arose mainly because of the ideology’s rejection of Christianity, to which Dilling subscribed with fundamentalist zeal.

As her association with fundamentalism and conservative Catholicism grew, so did her sympathy for the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini. In fact, Dilling praised Germany for the opposition it posed to communism in the 1930s. She even seemed to absolve Hitler, later declaring in The Red Network that the “problem of the large number of revolutionary Russian Jews in Germany doubtless contributed toward making Fascist Germany anti-semitic [sic].” As an admirer of Father Charles Coughlin, Dilling believed that Christianity served not to spread religious tolerance, but was instead a “fighting faith,” the only force that “could defeat communism,” whose atheistic tenets Dilling found anathema.

Upon her return from the Soviet Union, Dilling engaged in intensive study of communism and began spreading her message over the radio waves, lecturing to church groups, women’s clubs, veterans’ organizations, Rotary Clubs, and the like.

Encouraged by anti-communist mentors like Iris McCord of the Moody Bible Institute, Dilling soon realized that she could reach more of the population through writing. In 1934, she self-published The Red Network: A Who’s Who and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots, a 352-page book which started out as a pamphlet aiming to expose communists, anarchists, socialists, and pacifists residing in the United States. This work, endorsed by Beck on June 4, was divided into three sections: “miscellaneous articles” describing communism and communist activity, information on over four hundred fifty organizations claimed to harbor subversive activity, and a list of over thirteen hundred individuals—labeled indiscriminately by Dilling as “Reds” —and their affiliations.

Among the prominent groups and people singled out as subversive and thus dangerous to American liberty were labor unions and federations like the AFL, women’s groups, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Senator Robert M. La Follette, Mahatma Gandhi, Chiang Kai-shek, and Clarence Darrow. For Dilling, the New Deal figured most prominently in the communist conspiracy. She warned that the 1934 congressional elections may be the last opportunity to vote out FDR’s “socialist” administration; the Roosevelt administration’s strong link to communism was in fact the topic of her second major work, The Roosevelt Red Record and its Background. The Ku Klux Klan and the German-American Bund assisted with sales and distribution of The Red Network, and officials of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion endorsed the work. As Jeansonne’s work noted, many readers pointed to falsifications, prejudices, and holes in Dilling’s research.

In a comment he provided to HNN, Jeansonne asserted that Dilling was “the most prominent of a group of anti-communist, anti-Semitic American women during the 1930s and 1940s.” As such, Jeansonne stated that she is “not a reliable source for information about communism. She believed Jews inspired communism...” In fact, one of Dilling’s own works, The Jewish Religion: Its Influence Today, originally titled The Plot Against Christianity, strongly suggests that anti-Semitism was a key component to Dilling's ardent anti-communist ideology. "Marxism, Socialism, or Communism [sic] in practice are nothing but state-capitalism and rule by a privileged minority, exercising despotic and total control over a majority having virtually no property or legal rights,” Dilling wrote in 1964. “As is discussed elsewhere herein, Talmudic Judaism is the progenitor of modem Communism and Marxist collectivism as it is now applied to a billion or more of the world's population."

Dilling’s third book, The Octopus, published in 1940, was written under the pseudonym Rev. Frank Woodruff Johnson, and emphasized the Jewish-communist conspiracy more than her previous works had. Based even more on her own readings of the Talmud than The Jewish Religion was, the work targeted the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith as the engineer of a communist coup in the United States. Marx was a “descendent of a long line of rabbis,” the work read (Octupus, 67).

As Adjunct law professor at Cornell Law School and General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress Menachem Rosensaft noted in an opinion piece for the World Jewish Congress’s website, Dilling’s The Plot Against Christianity is featured on the web site of David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the KKK, along with her “assertions that the Bolshevik Revolution was ‘heavily financed by outside Jewish financial and banking houses,’ and that ‘This Jewish control still exists, despite propaganda to the contrary, designed to delude and deceive non-Jews.’”

As the debate over America’s involvement in World War II evolved, Dilling became active the Mother’s Movement and the America First Committee as an extreme isolationist. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, Dilling was indicted under the Smith Act of 1940 for sedition and other acts of conspiracy. The indictments amounted to the Great Sedition Trial of 1944, which notoriously ended in a mistrial.

While this report has attempted to present only the facts regarding Dilling’s background, given this evidence, it is hard to ignore accusations that point to Dilling’s anti-Semitism and its intricate link to her anti-communist crusades. Therefore, it remains difficult not to include such characterizations in such an objective account. Regardless, we hope that this brief account has provided some context that our readers may take into account in their own assessments of the issue at hand.