American Blacklist

The Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations

Robert Justin Goldstein

Resonating with disturbing implications for the present, American Blacklist is the only full-length study of the so-called Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations (AGLOSO) and its critical role in the post-World War II Red Scare.

Although earlier versions of AGLOSO date back as far as 1903 and were wielded by the federal government during both the post-World War I Red Scare and World War II, they were not widely publicized. But beginning in December 1947, as part of the Truman administration's loyalty program, the federal government engaged in a massive effort to publicize the AGLOSO lists. In the process, it threatened, damaged, or destroyed nearly 300 organizations, all of which were listed without any notice, evidence, or hearings.

“Goldstein draws upon an impressive number of court documents, archival materials, and records released under the Freedom of Information Act to trace the rise, heyday, and fall of the Attorney Generals List. His book is an enthralling tale that may compel many readers to question similar government tactics in use in the post-9/11 era. . . . The resurgence of powerful and sometimes secretive lists for example, terror watch lists, no-fly lists, and lists of suspected terror funding groups in the post-9/11 United States highlights the political importance of Goldstein’s careful scholarship and clarifies the dangers that these lists present to the promise of democracy. This book deserves our careful attention as a cautionary tale.

—American Historical Review

“A useful and thorough accounting of the origins of the list. . . . A valuable description of the inner workings of the government agencies that formulated the list and of the battles that ensued as various groups contested the list.

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Drawing heavily on previously classified FBI, Justice Department, and other documents, Robert Goldstein demonstrates how the listed organizations and their members (including a large number of federal employees) came under suspicion, were investigated, and suffered numerous public and private penalties. These included the loss of federal tax-exempt status, the denial of passports, deportations and immigration exclusions, ejection from federally subsidized housing, and private employment bans. AGLOSO, which was dominated by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, also placed a huge damper on political dissent throughout the nation.

After 1954, AGLOSO and the Red Scare both came under increasing attack as serious violations of American civil liberties. Indeed, AGLOSO's declining significance after 1954 reflected a more general decline in the postwar Red Scare campaign itself. Both gradually diminished in impact and importance, but they left a long-lasting legacy.

As Goldstein reveals, AGLOSO's final demise in 1974 resulted from congressional opposition to President Richard Nixon's attempt to revive it via a 1971 executive order, which was severely attacked as an abuse of executive authority and an attack on civil liberties. The subsequent controversy preceded by only three months the Watergate investigation and the collapse of the Nixon presidency, events that continue to leave their unsettling mark on an equally troubled present.

About the Author

Robert Justin Goldstein is professor emeritus of political science at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. His many books include Political Repression in Modern America: From 1870 to the Present and Flag Burning and Free Speech.