Joseph Hansen

Christian Front Trial Portends the Wide
Government Use of Agents Provocateurs

(27 April 1940)

Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 17, 27 April 1940, p. 6.
Transcription/HTML Markup: 2019 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2019; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

J. Edgar Hoover, chief of the FBI, arrested and indicted 17 members of Father Coughlin’s Christian Front last January for “conspiring to overthrow the government of the United States by force, the theft of munitions and other government property.”

The trial is now on – and its real meaning and purpose are becoming apparent. It is preparation by the U.S. government, as part of its war plans, for an intensified drive against labor. It is preparation to accustom the public to the use of provocateurs as an official method of the FBI.

Avoiding an attack against the real fountain-head of the Christian Front, Father Coughlin and his financial backers, the FBI is cunningly making a bid for favorable publicity for its infamous use of that most perverted and degenerate of human beings – the agent-provocateur. Thus the FBI is laying the basis for similar use of provocateurs in the trade union movement, where it has doubtlessly already planted them by the hundreds, as indicated by their use in the WPA strikes in Minneapolis. It is therefore of first importance to study the trial of the Christian Fronters – despite the fact that these defendants are the mortal enemies of labor – in order to see more clearly how the FBI practises provocation.

So far, the government has utilized the testimony of only one provocateur, although the FBI agent in charge of the case, Peter J. Wacks, admitted on the witness stand that at least 15 more agents were employed.

His Father One, Too

This provocateur is Denis A. Healy, an expert machine-gunner of the National Guard in his spare time, by profession a junior civil engineer of the New York Central Railroad. He was born in Ireland 36 years ago, came to this country in 1926. His father, he has admitted, was a sergeant in the Irish Royal Constabulary often assigned to do secret service “for the British Government.” Healy himself has “ten or fifteen friends” in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The story as to how Healy joined the Christian Front is not clear. According to one admission he was invited to join and serve as a machine gun instructor by one of the leaders of the so-called Action Committee, the name used to designate the 17 defendants. According to other admissions, he was sent in by the FBI. Both versions may be true. On the witness stand he reported that after joining he got in touch with the FBI, that he reported to his superior in the railroad company that he was doing work for the FBI. Whatever the circumstances the FBI paid for his initiation fee and the company cooperated by giving him a leave of absence.

Was Well Paid

For his services, the FBI paid him expense money (about $25 a week) and $75 every two weeks during his leave of absence, and paid his wife $34 a week to compensate her for taking a leave of absence from her job with the Queens Electric Light and Power Company – in all avowedly about $1,300.

Healy, however bought himself a Packard and later a Mercury automobile. He is also buying a new house for $5,960.

Provoked Fascist Moves

Healy’s technique was to gain the confidence of the members of the Christian Front, to get them attached to him as a bosom friend and then to provoke them into some action or declaration which was recorded by agents of the FBI hidden nearby.

With expense money furnished by the United States government, Healy bought his “friends” roast pheasant at $2.50 a plate, liquor for parties, invited them to dinner at his home where the FBI agents were hiding.

In constant touch with the FBI agents, Healy arranged methodically for them to gather their evidence. He often invited the Christian Fronters to his home where he served wine and food paid for by the government while he engaged them in leading conversations as FBI agents listened through dictaphones and made recordings of the conversations. FBI agent Wacks testified that he was hidden in the attic of Healy’s house listening through a device called the detectaphone while Healy talked in the basement with Claus Ernecke. On another occasion, testified Wacks, he and Special Agent Charles Gannon listened through a device known as a “contact mike” to a meeting of the Christian Fronters in the dining room of Healy’s home.

Joined Target Practice

When Healy went with the Christian Fronters to Narrowsburg, New York, for target practise with rifles, FBI agents hidden in the shrubbery of a nearby hill made motion pictures of the defendants with the aid of a camera equipped with a six-inch telephoto lens. Wacks testified also that they had made sound recordings of the conversations at which Healy talked with his “friends” about a “campaign of sabotage in the event the United States should enter the war.”

At meetings of the Christian Fronters where the FBI were apparently unable to install their listening and recording devices, Healy took down notes on his cuffs as to the names of those present, the subject discussed. These notes he transferred to a notebook to which he referred constantly during the heavy cross-examination from the attorneys of the defendants.

The extent to which Healy inveigled the Christian Fronters into incriminating actions is shown by the note which Ernecke left in the basement where he hanged himself. According to the police, this note mentioned that Healy had given him one gun and told him where another could be bought for $1.

The FBI apparently instructed Healy on every move.

Agent Helped in Robbery

When some of the Christian Fronters plotted to steal some ammunition and equipment from the locker of John F. Cook, one of the defendants, the FBI instructed Healy to go along with the others.

“I knew they could not succeed,” he hastened to explain, “because all the things they had sought had been removed from Cook’s locker. The agents did not want to involve me in crimes.”

Defendants Red-Baiting

The lawyers for the defendants have attempted to link Healy with the Stalinists. They have persistently demanded, for example, whether or not his sister-in-law who lives with him and his wife, a person named Minnie Kaznowski, was not employed by the Daily Worker. They have asked him if he is acquainted or related to Michael Quill, head of the Transport Workers Union. Healy denied both imputations. Since the lawyers failed to introduce any evidence which would indicate there was anything back of their questions, it may be ascribed to an attempt of the Christian Front to cry persecution from “Communists” and “Reds,” in line with the familiar Coughlin thesis that the Roosevelt government is Jewish and communistic.

Agents in Unions?

One other aspect of the use of provocateurs by the FBI is of interest: In September of 1939 immediately after war broke out in Europe, President Roosevelt issued an order requiring investigation of “subversive activities” by the FBI. The FBI began paying Healy $25 a week (the amount admitted in court) for expense money as a provocateur on October 10. It would be interesting to see the secret files of the FBI.

How many provocateurs, following the order of President Roosevelt, were sent into the labor movement? How many applications of would-be provocateurs were officially approved by the FBI during this period and their names added to the government pay roll?

During the coining period trade unionists must watch with the utmost caution for these wolves in the pay of those out to crush the labor movement as an obstacle in the path of the war machine.


Last updated on: 1 February 2019