Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?

Donald Trump recently proposed the establishment of a database tracking system of Muslims in the U.S.  He made his original comment in response to a question about a Muslim tracking system posed during a Yahoo interview.  He said, “I would certainly implement that.  Absolutely.”  In a follow-up NBC News interview, he was more emphatic:  “They have to be — they have to be.”

His statement caused a mini-firestorm of denunciation by other Republic presidential candidates (notably Jeb Bush) as well as Democrats and the “liberal” media.  Faced with the outrage, Trump retreated.  He first denied he made the statement, then blamed the original interviewer for posing the question and then reconceived the tracking system he envisioned as comparable to the two currently operating, big-government anti-terrorist lists.

Trump’s comments may well have been the bloviating of an arrogant blowhard.  But what if Trump’s statement was really a trial balloon?  What if it was a prompt to determine how far his fellow Republicans (except Rand Paul) and Hillary Clinton (and not Bernie Sanders) would go in promoting a plank in each party’s platform backing the big-government security state?

On hearing of the assassination of Pres. John Kennedy, Malcolm X famously observed, “The chickens have come home to roost.”  For all its worth, the same can be said of Bush’s illegal invasion in Iraq and military occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq; they’ve brought about the new chickens, the Islamic State.  The Paris attack was real for Parisians and people around the globe; for Republican presidential hopefuls, the attack has been a wonderful opportunity to change the political debate.

It was only a week or more ago when the political climate concerned very different issues.  Then, inequality, police killings of people of color, climate change and abortion were the defining electoral issues.  The attack shifted the national debate, which is now all about the national security state, requiring boots-on-the ground interventions overseas and an ever-expanding police state at home.

Often unreported in coverage of Trump’s comments about a Muslim enemies list is his more reflexing warning as to what may be in the works. “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before,” he lamented. “And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule.  And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”  This was the card played after September 11th and Trump knows more then he says.

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America has a long history of enemy lists.  In the 1690s, lists of suspected witches were drawn up and defendants were mercilessly tried and punished, many by hanging.  In 1971, Pres. Richard Nixon, an increasingly paranoid Command-and-Chief, drew up an “Enemies List” consisting of ever-growing entrees of those he perceived as threats.

But nothing tops the two secret watch lists that the U.S. government currently employs as part of the post-9/11 security state.  One is the “No Fly List” operated through the Terrorist Security Administration’s (TSA) and — as a 2013 whistleblower leak revealed — consists of an estimate 47,000 people.  The “Terrorist Watch List” consists of people allegedly suspected of some involvement with terrorism and — based on a 2009 story — then had a million people on it.  All information collected for each list as well as the methodology used to place someone on either list – let alone the identity of those listed — is classified.

Enemy lists date from the earliest days of the Republic.  The Alien and Sedition Acts, signed by Pres. John Adams in 1798, was intended to restrict foreign residence requirements and voting rights of those supporting his political opponents.  It included a list of aliens pre-identified for deportation.  The 1800 electorate rejected this policy and voted for a Democratic-Republican victory that led to the Act’s repeal.

Faced with WW-I, Congress passed the Espionage Act in 1917 and followed up with the Sedition Act in ‘18.  The ‘17 Act prohibited false statements that interfered with the nation’s military or promoted the efforts of an enemy; the ‘18 Act forbade any expression of disrespect toward the U.S. government, the Constitution, the flag or the military.  During the war, the government compiled a list of around half a million “enemy alien” civilians, spied on many of them and placed about 6,000 men and a few women to internment camps.

In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled, in “Schenck v. U.S.,” against Charles Schenck, general secretary of the American Socialist Party.  The Court determined that he violated the Espionage Act by mailing 15,000 anti-draft circulars to men scheduled to enter the military.  Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the Court’s opinion, arguing that the U.S. government could limit freedom of speech when the nation faced a national-security threat, or “clear and present danger.”  After the war, 1,600 immigrants were deported, including Emmy Goldman and Alexander Berkman.  Were WW-I and the postwar round up a “clear and present danger” or merely opportunities to deal with dissidents?

The coming of WW-II prompted a new round of lists and interments.  In 1939, the FBI established the Custodial Detention Index (CDI) — aka the Custodial Detention Security List, the Custodial Detention Program and the Alien Enemy Control — to track subversives.  These were people — citizens and immigrants — who were to be considered for arrest in case of war or a national-security crisis.  FBI Director J. Edger Hoover claimed that the CDI originated as part of the FBI’s General Intelligence Division.  “This division has now compiled extensive indices of individuals, groups, and organizations engaged in subversive activities,” he said. The list was prepared without holding Congressional hearings or without an opportunity for those identified to challenge the designation.

In 1940, as fears mounted about the coming war, the U.S. government began to secretly screen federal employees for “loyalty” using a questionable program.  The government’s apparent legal basis was the 1939 Hatch Act that banned from government employment any person who held “membership in any political party or organization that advocated the overthrow of our constitutional form of government in the United States.”  During the war, 47 organizations were on this informal subversives list, most a CP-affiliated or pro-Nazi German-American Bund group.  All told, there were “12 Communist or Communist ‘front’ organizations; 2 American Fascist organizations; 8 Nazi organizations; 4 Italian fascist organizations; and 21 Japanese organizations.”  After war was declared about 110,000 Japanese-Americans were interned in prison camps.

In September 1942, in an illegal but effective action, HUAC chairman Martin Dies leaked the enemies list to the Congressional Record. The list was entitled, the “Communist Front Organizations” (aka Appendix IX) and was officially published in 1944. It consisted of seven volumes totaling about 2,000 pages and identified approximately 250 groups as Communist front organizations; the 7th volume included an index of 21,000 suspected individuals. In the face of strong opposition, the full committee ordered all copies removed from the Library of Congress and destroyed. No one knows how many copies were not destroyed.

Following WW-II and the start of the Cold War, a new era of enemies lists commenced.  In November ’46, the Pres. Harry Truman appointed a Temporary Commission on Employee Loyalty that issued a report on the threat posed by communist subversion.  In March ’47, Truman issued Executive Order 9835 that formally established the loyalty commission and created the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations (AGLOSO). The list included groups ranging from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to the National Negro Congress.  By December ’46, 449 organizations had an AGLOSO designation.

In 1950, Sen. Joseph McCarthy delivered an infamous speech in Wheeling, WV, claiming he had a list of State Department employees who were Communist Party members.  “I have in my hand a list of 205 cases of individuals who appear to be either card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party,” he claimed.  McCarthy’s list was never formally made public and he kept changing the number of alleged communist suspects depending on the audience he was addressing. The list appears to have been based on one originally prepared some years earlier by an FBI agent, Robert Lee, and known as the “Lee List.”

In 1951, HUAC came up with its own list of subversives that included many CP-front groups like the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship, the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, the American Committee for Yugoslav Relief, the Civil Rights Congress (CRC), and the American Relief for Greek Democracy. Also making the list was the Peace Information Center, an anti-Cold War group headed by W. E. B DuBois. He and four other officials were arrested and indicted in 1950 for failing to register under the Smith Act. Most remarkable, a federal judge, James McQuire, acquitted the five defendants.

Enemies lists were quickly adopted by a wide variety of public and private groups to deny employment to or discriminate against those listed. Those adopting — and modifying — the list included the Treasury Department (e.g., tax-exemption determinations), the State Department (e.g., passport and deportation decisions), and the US military (e.g., command structure) as well as state and local governments.  In addition, a growing number of civilian business sectors — e.g., federal contractors, hotel businesses, and the entertainment industries — denied employment to or discriminated against those listed.

Lists of alleged subversives spread throughout American society.  In November 1956, the Elks magazine featured an article, “What the Attorney General’s List Means,” that began, “There are few Americans who have not heard of ‘the Attorney General’s subversive list.’”  It concluded, “There is no excuse for any American citizen becoming affiliated with a group on the Attorney General’s list today.”  More disturbing, in 1934, the Legion of Decency established a blacklist and, in 1947, the American Legion began making lists of people and organizations they considered advocating radical politics. Between 1943 and ’54, the FBI contracted with 60,000 legionnaires to serve as informants for its subversives list — and did so without Congressional approval.

Enemies lists played a central role in the widespread use of “blacklists” during the Cold War.  Red Channels, a scurrilous anticommunist publication, promulgated one of the most widely used lists.  It identied 151 actors, radio commentators, musicians and theatre personalities with alleged communist affiliations.  Among the many people blacklisted were Paul Robeson, Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, Uta Hagen, Pete Seeger and Ronnie Gilbert of the Weavers, Larry Adler and E. Y. (Yip) Harburg.

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The attack in Paris provides an opportunity for Republican president candidates to beat the national-security and anti-immigration drums.  Many added venom to Trump’s call for the tracking of Muslims and his willingness to consider closing down U.S. mosques.

Some Republican candidates joined Trump with calls for prohibiting of Syrian refuges.  John Kasich called for the establishment of new big-government agency to spread “Judio-Christian Western values” and Marco Rubio invoked the mythic “clash of civilizations” to buttress his call to block foreign refuges.  And Ben Carson upped the rhetoric, comparing refugees fleeing Syrian violence “rabid dogs.“  He said, “If there’s a rapid dog running around in your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about the dog … .”


Fear of real or imaginary enemies has long played a very reassuring role in U.S. politics.  It clearly separates “us” from “them” and provides politicians with a way to proclaim their loyalty and champion a get-tough policy toward those weaker and more vulnerable.  It also provides the government with an opportunity to identify whistleblowers who’ve exposed deeply hidden secrets, like Edward Snowden, to the growing list of the new Most Wanted.  The real question remains, is Trump’s call for tracking of Muslims a trial balloon of tougher scare tactics yet to come?


David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at; check out