Surveillance—Dossier—Exposé: The Infrastructure and Technique of the Anticommunist Blacklist
Part one explores the origin of the “Spider Web Chart” (1924), a graphic visualization purporting to map the putative connections between various Communist front organizations and voluntary associations. The chart, an infamous example of "guilt-by-association" anti-Communist activism, represented nearly a decade's worth of political surveillance conducted by the federal Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation and U.S. military intelligence. Next, the paper turns to the intricate interplay between dossier compilation and file indexing pioneered by state and federal legislative investigative committees and popularized in the 1930s and 1940s by private detective firms. Through a comparison of the private/public file systems collected by J. B. Matthews and Karl Baarslag, this section illuminates the techniques of inscription and file structure necessary for assembling the dossiers used for political blacklisting. The paper culminates with a discussion of the commodification and democratization of blacklisting at the height of the Cold War. Through the public activities of a number of right-wing activists, the techniques of surveillance and dossier building developed into do-it-yourself hobbies popularized by manuals marketed by anti-communist religious organizations in the 1950s and 1960s.
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