Review of "Communists and Perverts Under the Palms"

Stacey Braukman’s book Communists and Perverts under the Palms: The Johns Committee in Florida, 1956-1965 examines the archives and historical context related to Florida’s manifestation of government supported inquisitions into the lives of people during the time of the massive resistance push by Southern whites against legal integration of the black community. Claiming that “the negroes” were happy in their place, and only upset due to the agitation of Northerners that were visiting to cause unrest – a situation with obvious historical precedents in the minds of the electorate of the former Confederate states – the southern states resisted the imposition of new norms and the social unrest which preceded it. Florida’s Johns Committee (JC) was one of the institutional agents used against communists due to the tense Cold War context, segregationists due to the southern fear of integration and miscegenation as well as homosexuals due to the Evangelican fear of spreading perversion. The JC thus tied all three together, making token investigations into the KKK, and sought to invalidate the politicial activists advocating this cause and to perpetuate the stereotypes of homosexuals that were then prevalent by threatening to expose this then predominantly apolitical group.

Rhetorically, the fear of homosexuals, communists and blacks were described in similar language. Demagogues use a discourse centered on conceptions of degeneration, perversion, addiction, and increasing abnormality. Prevention of any form of the changes advocated were important as failure to do so would lead to a non-heternormative/non-segregated/non-capitalist form of American life that was essentially inferior to the one then already shaken by the Civil Rights movement. In a few words, non-closeted homosexuals in public, blacks with equal rights or “communist” inspired reforms would lead to the disruption of family life, rises in juvenile crime, cultural and social degeneration via moral relativism, the marring of the blood-line via miscegenation and potentially a totalitarian government. To rally other to the cause which would fight these and protect privileges and the establish social order integration, communism and homosexuality were openly described as seductive, as undesirably penetrative of and polluting to the body politic, and thus required vigilance and policing activities to prevent it. Such actions included but were not limited to the threat of exposure to obtain resignation from office and discrediting of political movement goals by association or implication.

This use of Social Darwinist language by the JC and civic society groups to underpin the claims to their purported defense of society was not, however, uncontested. The individual rights language underpinning the American legal system allowed for these three classes of minorities to obtain judicial protections from the JC’s arbitrary actions. With the legal methods which the JC used began to backfire upon them, as the Supreme Courts rulings placed increased emphasis substantive equality and reconceptualized the 9th and 14th amendments of the Constitution to place Federal over State conceptions polity, and no clear target for them to pursue the group made it’s way into the dustbin of history leaving substantively only a bill to taxpayers and documents that can help illustrate the conceptual genealogy of the current right-wing, evangelical movement.