Review: Under Cover, by John Roy Carlson

Imagine for a moment that in America there are millions of people who don’t like foreigners or people of colour, who are often fundamentalist Christians, who label all their opponents “Marxists” and who have made friends with the KKK. Imagine that those people also support a foreign policy based on America sticking up for its own interests — which they proudly call “America First”. Sound familiar?

I am describing, of course, the world inhabited by pioneering investigative journalist John Roy Carlson. The year is 1943 and this book, Carlson’s first, is a runaway best-seller. Over the course of four-and-a-half years, Carlson infiltrated the American far Right — organisations like the German American Bund, the America First Committee, the Christian Front and more. He got close to the followers of the notorious Catholic priest Charles Coughlin and the pioneering aviator (and Nazi sympathiser) Charles Lindbergh, as well as many others who are long forgotten.

I first read this wonderful book many years ago, as it had been owned by my father, but in re-reading it now, with a proud proponent of “America First” in the White House, with Nazis and Klansmen hailed as “good people”, the book has a special resonance. Too bad it’s not currently in print, except in some libraries and — if you get lucky — a used copy.