McCarran back in the news

For those who think today’s Washington, D.C., is a little unhinged, a new book may help put it in perspective.

Washington Gone Crazy by Michael Ybarra will be published on Sept. 28, the 50th anniversary of the death of U.S. Sen. Patrick McCarran of Nevada. The book is built around McCarran’s racial and political crusades during McCarthyism. It argues that McCarran, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was more dangerous than the man for whom the era was named, U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.

McCarran, known to Nevadans (if at all) mostly because his name is on an airport in Las Vegas and a ring road in Reno, served in the Senate for two decades after being a divorce lawyer, state legislator and Nevada Supreme Court justice. As a senator, he was known for promoting immigration laws that favored white, Western European races over races in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. His correspondence contains anti-Semitic comments.

On Aug. 5, 1940, speaking along with Charles Lindbergh at an isolationist rally in Chicago, McCarran said the United States had been led into World War I by propaganda and shouldn’t make the same mistake again.

On Sept. 15, 1949, President Truman disassociated the U.S. government from McCarran’s forthcoming visit to fascist dictator Francisco Franco of Spain, who decorated McCarran as a valued friend. McCarran was known as the “senator from Spain.”

McCarran was also known for anti-communist legislation of the 1950s, including the Internal Security Act of 1950, whose Title II/Section 104(c) provided for concentration camps in the United States. The U.S. Justice Department actually constructed contingency camps at Allenwood, Penn.; Avon Park, Fla.; El Reno, Okla.; Florence and Wickenburg, Ariz.; and Tule Lake, Calif. (Tule Lake had been the site of a Japanese American internment camp.) FBI director J. Edgar Hoover compiled a list of people to be rounded up and placed in the camps, and it included one of McCarran’s co-sponsors on the camp bill, liberal Democratic U.S. Sen. Paul Douglas of Illinois.

McCarran also conducted a running series of hearings during the McCarthy period. In 1953, McCarran claimed to have uncovered a “commie dude ranch” in New Mexico, about 90 miles from the Los Alamos atomic facility.

Most of McCarran’s laws in these fields were later overturned by the courts or amended by Congress, and there is little left of McCarran’s immigration and anti-communist legacies. His most enduring contribution to federal law is aviation acts like the Federal Airport Act of 1946, which he sponsored in the Senate and U.S. Representative Clarence Lea of California sponsored in the House. This measure provided the funding for the Las Vegas airport that now bears his name.

The book is being published by Steerforth Press (