If there ever was a real Horatio Alger story, the life and times of Dan Smoot certainly fit the bill. From farm boy, orphan, and hobo to the faculty at Harvard University, service as an FBI agent, and staff assistant to J. Edgar Hoover—that in and of itself makes for a fascinating story, with enough stops along the way to fill an adventure book … but it’d only be until age 39. Much more was to come.
For over 30 years, through his newsletter, The Dan Smoot Report, and his pioneering radio and television broadcasts, Dan Smoot provided insightful analysis of current events, a vigorous defense of U.S. sovereignty, and an eloquent appreciation for the U.S. Constitution. G. Edward Griffin, author of the best-selling “Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve,” said Smoot had a “deep understanding of traditional American values,” and that even when studied now, “his analysis is right on target.”
The Dan Smoot Report was well researched, clear-cut, and above all uncompromising. Read today, Smoot’s words would make any “hyphenated conservative” wince (you know the kind: compassionate-conservative; common sense-conservative; neo-conservative; etc.). For example, Smoot even took on presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in his Report for September 7, 1964:
Why has Senator Goldwater based his foreign policy on support of NATO? The two persons generally credited with persuading him to take such a stand are Dr. Robert Strausz-Hupé (Goldwater’s foreign policy advisor) and General Lyman Leminitzer (NATO Supreme Commander). Both Strausz-Hupé and Leminitzer are members of the Council on Foreign Relations—the control center of an invisible government which intends to make the United States a dependent province in a one-world socialist system.
And then this straightforward evaluation of public education from the October 1979 issue of American Opinion:
[W]hat we still call free public schools are costly government schools. The thrust of government schools is not educating children, but mashing them down to a low level of mediocrity; squeezing them into a common mold prescribed by agitators, sociologists, Marxist militants, and venal politicians; cultivating a crowd culture which makes human beings blind conformists in all things involving intellect and spirit, but renders them anarchists when seeking gratification of their appetites or acting in a mob.
To understand the mind that makes such blunt sense, one must know more about the man. In a promotional piece for his weekly Dan Smoot Report, the Missouri native told his readers that, “my father was a dirt-poor farmer … a tenant on his father-in-law’s place when I was born. He had little formal schooling, but taught me to love books. Before I entered a one-room county schoolhouse for my first year of formal learning, I had already read such books as ‘David Copperfield,’ ‘Moby Dick,’ ‘Treasure Island,’ and ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’”
Born in 1913, he was orphaned at ten years old. By the time he was 14, Smoot was on his own and traveling the hobo circuit by rail. During that time he said he, “did just about every kind of manual work that boy, or man, ever did for a living: from chopping cotton in Arkansas to shining shoes in Denver; from mining coal in southern Illinois to riding fence on a great, sprawling ranch in western Nebraska. At age 14, I even got one job stirring mash at a moonshiner’s still in western Kentucky … I had a wonderful time. The depression left no scars on me.”
By 1931, Smoot’s wanderlust had taken him to Dallas where, over the next ten years, while working full time jobs ranging from warehouse work to front office clerk, he got married (she 16, he 20), completed high school, and earned scholarships to attend Southern Methodist University where he received B.A. and M.A. degrees. In 1941, he accepted a teaching fellowship at Harvard University while studying for a doctorate in American Civilization. In his 1993 autobiography, “People Along the Way,” Smoot recounted that the, “Harvard faculty I had occasion to visit with were puzzles to me—their attitude toward America was quite different from anything I had ever before encountered. I am talking about my peers in graduate school, some of them starting their second years as teaching fellows, though all of them were younger than I was … They were from affluent, prominent families. Yet, they seemed to be ashamed of America, or to hate her. At any rate they were contemptuous of my patriotism, which struck them as mawkish, anachronistic, flag-waving.”
On December 7, 1941 Smoot and his wife Betty heard the frightening news about Pearl Harbor on the radio. Smoot recalls, “We did not say anything [until] she turned toward me saying ‘I suppose you will be joining the Army?’ ‘Marines, I hope,’” was his reply. But minor physical flaws, including flat feet, made him unacceptable to any branch of the military. It was ironic since Smoot was in excellent shape—something he took pride in all of his life—and had been at one time on his way to becoming a competing gymnast. When his wife suggested that the FBI would be a way of serving his country in time of need, he applied immediately. Smoot found a kindred spirit in the Bureau’s doctor who said that flat feet shouldn’t be a hindrance since the FBI didn’t require G-Men to march. “I welcomed the job,” he recalls in his autobiography, because it was, “concerned with the security of the country. I felt a patriotic obligation to find a civilian job wherein I could show my willingness to die heroically for my country.”
Soon Smoot found himself settling into routine FBI field activities, from finding men dodging the draft to tracking down murderers on the loose. He remembers working on, “criminal cases exuding the flavor of good detective stories … some of it exciting, part of it a great deal of fun; but it did not satisfy my romantic notions of what a hale and hearty young American male should do when America the Beautiful was in danger.”
In 1944, he was assigned to an FBI Internal Security Squad investigating Communist Party operations in Ohio. Now Smoot was in his element: “Agents warned me that working on communist cases was the dullest most useless work an Agent could do. I welcomed the job, however, because … it might get me closer than I had been to defending my country in time of war.” Smoot threw himself into this work, and with his characteristic love of the written word, he read communist newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and propaganda fliers, as well as such books as Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” and “Das Kapital,” and Lenin’s “Imperialism and the Highest Stage of Capitalism”—tomes he referred to as “gruesomely dull.” It was the beginning of a life of investigating and analyzing communism, and, more importantly, exposing the machinations of those who manufacture a Red threat for their own purposes.
For more than three years, Smoot observed Communist Party members in action—as they infiltrated labor unions, agitated for a Moscow-friendly U.S. foreign policy, and exerted influence even within the American government. What he learned of communist subversion during this work was to have a great effect on his later career. After the war, lucrative offers were lined up for Smoot to return to Harvard including a $5,000 Rockefeller Foundation supplement to his annual salary ($60K in today’s value)—but he was convinced that he could not in good conscience return to teaching. “My investigations of communism had disclosed such a heavy infiltration of Marxist ideas (and individuals) into the American Academic community,” he recalled, “that I did not want to be a part of it anymore.”
Moving up the ranks in the FBI, Smoot qualified as a firearms instructor and was assigned to the roster of the agency’s speakers bureau. In short order he found himself in Washington, D.C., where he ghost wrote magazine and newspaper articles, book prefaces, and speeches for FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Ever restless, and after ten years with the FBI, Smoot “yearned to do something [else] for America. I knew a great deal about the international socialist conspiracy, but what could I do?” His malaise about the conflict between his patriotic concerns, and his commitment to a career he now found routine, grew to be too much.
On the day he resigned from the FBI in 1951, a friend of a friend introduced Smoot to H.L. Hunt, the Texas oil tycoon who had just created “Facts Forum,” a Dallas-based educational campaign to fight communism. Hunt wanted both sides of important issues explained to the American people so they could better discern between the fallacies of socialism and benefits offered by the free enterprise system. Smoot’s job was to pick the subjects and presenters, and then moderate what followed. While the establishment media were offering Hobson’s choices—false alternatives in public policy debates—Smoot’s straight-shooting style was evident right from the start: The first program was entitled, “Should the U.S. get out of the UN and get the UN out of the U.S.?” The second broadcast was on the topic, “Stop Foreign Aid: Yes or No?”
“Facts Forum” was initially a locally televised 15-minute debate between two high school students with Smoot as the researcher and host, but the program was soon being filmed in Washington, D.C. and syndicated nation-wide. The pupils were replaced by congressmen and other public policy leaders but, Smoot remembers, the youngsters had done a better job than the public officials ever did because they, “hit the questions head-on, from opposite viewpoints; I could never get politicians to do that.”
Smoot eventually developed the format into a one-man show: He researched, wrote, and delivered both the left and the right side of the issues. Within three years his broadcasts were heard on 350 radio stations and 80 television outlets, reaching some 20 million people weekly. Although he was presenting a strong conservative message, Smoot was in a relatively safeguarded position. Backed by the financial security of H.L. Hunt, he had become a well-known and influential conservative, yet for editorial balance he would yield half of his weekly presentation to the liberal side of any issue. Listeners and viewers of the program sent in over 100,000 letters of inquiry and encouragement during his stint with “Facts Forum.” Many of them said, that, “the two sided program confused people who were not already well acquainted with the great fundamental struggle of our time: collectivism versus individualism,” Smoot remembers. “I resigned from ‘Facts Forum’ in June, 1955 … to give only one side—the side that uses old-fashioned American, constitutional principles as a yardstick for measuring all important issues.”
Smoot had in mind an independent free-enterprise publication. He realized his goal with the first issue of The Dan Smoot Report. The first newsletter entitled “This Is My Side,” was mailed on June 29, 1955 to thousands of people who had sent him fan mail. The inaugural newsletter observed that, “when we build the central government into an all-powerful colossus—as we did under Roosevelt and Truman, and continue to do under Eisenhower—we place our freedom and our lives in the hands of political quacks and witch doctors in Washington whose power to destroy us is unchecked and unlimited.” Dan Smoot was off and running.
The new operation, however, faced significant challenges. First and foremost, it was run on a shoestring: “The dining room table was my desk … My typewriter was the old Underwood upright I had bought and learned to use in 1931,” he writes in “People Along the Way.” Even worse, “paying for the printing and mailing of the first issue took all the money we had.” Although Smoot and his wife figured their publishing venture had to be built on a minimum of 2,000 replies, the net return of that first prospecting mailing was only 900 subscriptions. Accompanying those checks however, came more than 500 letters saying in essence, “Thank God for what you’re doing … America needs this kind of analysis.” Thank goodness he read his comment mail instead of just counting the money.
Smoot recollects: “Our hours were very long and our income very short that first year; but there was never a year in our married life we enjoyed more.” A feeling many small entrepreneurs know well. The Left had long sneered at Dan Smoot as the spokesman for the “Texas Oilionaires” through his association with H. L. Hunt. Now on his own, that reputation still haunted him: “The legend that I was H.L. Hunt’s hired voice … never did die. Many conservatives rejoiced in it. It meant that I had all the money I needed for my work.” That impression of the Report standing on funding bedrock was far from the truth. Undercapitalized, and with no advertising income, The Dan Smoot Report struggled on the road to success. But, after just one year in business, he took another step of faith by adding a broadcast version of his Report. His entire broadcasting network in 1956 consisted of only four radio stations—far from the heady days of “Facts Forum.” But Dan Smoot had graduated early, and with high honors, from the School of Hard Knocks. He knew what he believed in was right, that the whole venture was the right thing to do, and that with hard work The Dan Smoot Report would succeed by some measure of God’s will.
In 1957, after just one year of broadcasting, The Dan Smoot Report could be heard on 150 radio stations reaching an estimated audience of 16 million people. By the early 1960s, a televised version of the Report was aired on more than 150 television stations as well. Unlike syndicated conservative talk show programs today, time slots on each broadcast outlet were negotiated one station at a time because no network would sell time to The Dan Smoot Report—it was an uncertain venture with a controversial message.
The Dan Smoot Report, in its printed form of four to eight pages, covered a variety of topics, and in typical Smoot style, carried such titles as:
• “How to Abolish the Federal Income Tax” (January 16, 1961)
• “Nationalizing Education” (January 25, 1965)
• “The Original Sin is Federal Aid” (July 28, 1969)
• “Moochers and the Miserable Congress” (January 25, 1971)
Beyond the provocative headlines always lay a painstakingly researched argument. The Dan Smoot Report for January 18, 1965 entitled “What Are We Doing in Vietnam?” contained 34 footnotes. The newsletter for March 16, 1970, headlined “Equal Tyranny is Still Tyranny,” an issue devoted to the forced busing of schoolchildren ostensibly to integrate classrooms, cited 25 references in the four page article. Tens of thousands of Americans relied on the meticulously documented newsletter each week for letters to the editor, for debates over the backyard fence, and for contacting Congress. This writer’s personal collection of annual bound volumes of The Dan Smoot Report include copies bought at used bookstores that are heavily underlined and with marginal notes from the original owners. Subheads, which broke up the newsletter copy, almost always included one called “What You Can Do.” There was nothing ambiguous in his suggestions. For September 30, 1963, Smoot asked his readers to:
[S]tudy the voting records of Representatives and Senators to determine which ones show understanding and respect for the Constitution. All who do not should be voted out of office … A Congress composed of men with enough brains and integrity to uphold the Constitution, would scrap our no-win, no-defense policies and initiate a program, infinitely less expensive than the present one, which would defend the United States against foreign enemies.
Circulation figures for the newsletter proved his call to action worked. From a low of 3,000 subscribers in 1956, The Dan Smoot Report was mailed to 33,000 in 1965, and upwards of 50,000 in later years. But those numbers are only paid subscribers. In 1961 alone, his loyal readers distributed more than 1.3 million reprints of The Dan Smoot Report to family, friends, community leaders, and Congress.
From the Left, Smoot’s influence was regularly pointed to with alarm. He was portrayed as an “ultra-conservative broadcaster” in a spate of scaremonger books such as Richard Dudman’s “Men of the Far Right” and William Turner’s “Power on The Right.” In the 1967 book “The Radical Right,” Benjamin Epstein and Arnold Forster wrote:
“Smoot takes a back seat to no one on the Radical Right in warning against the current trends in Washington. In September, 1966, for instance, he summed up the record of the 89th Congress by declaring: ‘In one year (1965), the 89th Congress, under President Johnson’s drive for “consensus,” enacted unconstitutional, socialistic legislation more damaging to the cause of freedom than all legislation enacted during the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy.’”In the liberal mind, of course, such an observation is anathema.
Four times annually The Dan Smoot Report published tabulations of key U.S. House and Senate votes. Always to the point, Smoot assigned each member a “C” for Constitutionalist and “L” for Liberal on each vote cast. This was his idea of truth in labeling. In his writing and speeches, Dan Smoot consistently used the term constitutional conservative or simply constitutionalist when describing the kind of political leadership America needed (and still needs). When advocating for political action, he differentiated between those public servants who understood the real yardstick of American liberty—the Constitution—and those politicians who wanted just a little less government intrusion in our lives. His Report for December 29, 1969, entitled “Can Conservatives Save the Republic?” explains it this way:
“It does little good in the battle against socialism to send to the federal Congress men who are just conservatives … The only answer is for the people to elect to Congress constitutional conservatives who stand immovable on the principle that, no matter how popular or well-meaning a program, the federal government cannot legally participate unless clearly authorized by some specific grant of power in the Constitution.”
Author Ed Griffin was right when he said looking back on Dan Smoot’s writing is like looking at today’s news headlines with unusual insight. Consider this observation Smoot made in a 1960 article entitled “Socialized Medicine:”
Whenever government enters a field of private activity, that field becomes a political battleground. Whenever you mix politics with medicine, doctoring becomes a political instead of a medical activity. But the primary reasons for the inevitable failure of socialized medicine can be found in the patients themselves. When people are forced to pay for something, whether they want it or not, they are inclined to use as much of it as they can in order to get their money’s worth … Malingerers are people who pretend to be sick in order to get sick pay, social security benefits, free hospitalization, or a rest at government expense. Hypochondriacs are people who think they are sick, but aren’t. There are countless thousands of such people. No system has ever been devised for definitely identifying them, for weeding out the unnecessary or unreasonable or dishonest demands made upon the medical care services-no system, that is, except the one existing in a free society where a person must pay his own doctor bill or is controlled by provisions of an insurance policy that he himself has bought.
Smoot was fighting Obamacare a half-century before the legislation was introduced.
Above all, Dan Smoot was tenacious about issues dealing with states rights:
The principal obstacle to socialism in the United States was our federal system. Our original Constitution and Bill of Rights provided that most of the dangerous powers of government—those directly touching the lives of the people—should remain in the state capitals and not in the national capital. With political power thus distributed among sovereign and competing states, no one could impose socialism on the entire nation.
Significantly, Smoot realized that the principles of America’s unique constitutional republic were under attack by an elitist cabal that, in the end, would see the United States devolved into an all-encompassing world state with a ruling oligarchy. “Somewhere at the top,” he said, “are a few sinister people who know exactly what they are doing.”
Generations of constitutional conservatives have benefited from Smoot’s groundbreaking newsletters and broadcasts. But they owe him a specific debt of gratitude for his 1962 book, “The Invisible Government.” An exposé of the elitist Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), “The Invisible Government” forever changed the way of “us versus them” was defined. For those who were confused by the no-win, dead-end approach to the menace of creeping socialism, Smoot explained that powerful hands were at work behind the scenes: “I am convinced,” he wrote, “that the objective of this invisible government is to convert America into a socialist state and then make it a unit in a one-world socialist system.” His research into the inner workings of the CFR took “four years of detective work more exciting (and infinitely more important) than any FBI case I ever heard of,” he writes in his autobiography. “In 1957, I began making a chart of organizations mentioned in the news as supporting causes I knew to be [favorable to] communist causes,” Smoot recalls. “It was not a communist apparatus. It was the Council on Foreign Relations whose small membership roster included people like … Secretaries of State, heads of Wall Street brokerage firms, famous international bankers and their famous lawyers.”
Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called the CFR a “front organization for the heart of the American Establishment.” Although membership is restricted to just a few thousand, every Secretary of State since 1940, except James Byrnes, has been a CFR member; three CFR members currently sit on the Supreme Court; other notable members have included CIA Director William Casey, Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, labor leader Lane Kirkland, and William Paley, longtime head of CBS. The “Occupy Wall Street” protesters should read “The Invisible Government” so they can focus on a far smaller number than one percent.
“The Invisible Government” was an underground best seller and is said to have sold upwards of two million copies—it is still in print. The book continues to be an important reference guide, although Smoot modestly points out that subsequent conspiracy studies, such as James Perloff’s “The Shadows of Power,” are better “than mine is, mine having gone into less depth into the CFR …” Dan Smoot’s observations in “The Invisible Government” had impact far beyond his newsletter readership and listeners. Over the years his authoritative analysis has been cited in books ranging from a recommendation in popular novelist Taylor Caldwell’s “Captains and the Kings,” to references in theologian Rousas J. Rushdoony’s historical study, “The Nature of the American System.”
Health concerns forced Smoot into semi-retirement in the early 1970s, and he combined his newsletter circulation with The Review of The News where articles under the familiar brand of “The Dan Smoot Report” continued to appear on an irregular basis. He wrote one more book, “The Business End of Government” in 1973, and his autobiography was published in 1993. Dan Smoot passed away at age 90, in 2003.
In “People Along the Way,” he gave advice for his time on the front lines and those who followed: “Wouldn’t the job of putting constitutionalists in control of our federal government be like numbering sands or dipping oceans dry? No, it would be as easy as electing one constitutionalist to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Congressional District where you live. When people in two hundred and eighteen Congressional Districts do that … they could starve the international socialist programs of the federal government … For awhile it would be a valiant holding effort in Washington; but if your elected constitutionalists hold firm, victory will be inevitable.”
This is a revised and updated version of the article which appeared in the March 13, 2000 issue of The New American