On April 17, 1944, the largest sedition trial in American history opened in a federal courthouse in Washington, DC. Th is trial, United States v. McWilliams (1944), was two years in preparation, and brought charges against 30 alleged Nazi sympathizers. Th ese 30 defendants, the prosecution claimed, conspired with each other and with the German regime to under mine the United States’ war eff ort, weakening military eff ectiveness. Th is trial, which charged the defendants with violating the 1940 Smith Act, served as a model for the subsequent prosecutions of the pro-Soviet Communist left in the later years of the decade.1 Th e Smith Act, formally known as the Alien Registration Act, outlawed acts of sedition and advocating the overthrow of the government by force or violence (Belknap 1977:25). Th e McWilliams indictment and trial received extensive media coverage. Eventually in December 1944, with only one-third of the prosecution’s evidence presented, a mistrial was declared aft er the fatal heart attack of the trial judge, Edward Eicher. By the time of the mistrial, the Allies were on the verge of victory in the European theater and organizations on the far right were mori bund. Th e end of the war swept away the rationale for the trial, setting the stage for public forgetting-the absence of any future harm meant no further need existed to incapacitate the targeted group. Th e
country had moved on; the concerns of the war years were displaced with a new set of concerns involving the threat of communism. A retrial was never held. Aft er two years of government inaction, charges were dropped.