Sen. McCarthy Pins Mayor Brunton Over Red Links – April 1, 1953
APRIL 1, 1953 – Arcata Mayor Shawn Brunton has concluded his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D.C., answering charges of being a communist sympathizer.
The tenuous link to Marxism came after a newspaper column in which Brunton advocated the proletariat “rising up and seizing the means of production” and “smashing the fascist insect that drains the lifeblood of the people.”
A subpoena came following a Feb. 9 speech by Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Hell) in Wheeling, West Virginia, where McCarthy announced, “I have here in my hand a list of 205 Arcatans known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the future of Arcata.”
As is well-known to local activists, Washington decisionmakers keep a close watch on Arcata’s politics, particularly idealistic proclamations made on the town square.
Brunton took the stand at 8 a.m, facing off with McCarthy, who glowered down from the dais.
“Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?” McCarthy asked.
“Yes, I was when I was 17, but now I consider myself a progressive Democrat,” Brunton responded.
“Answer the question!” McCarthy demanded.
“I did! I said yes!” Brunton blurted.
“These evasions do not impress us,” McCarthy huffed.
“I was, in fact, a communist as a youth,” Brunton stated. “My views have evolved, which is only possible in a free country like ours.”
Motioning toward federal marshals lining the aisles, McCarthy bore down on Brunton.
“Let me remind you that such anti-American statements will not be tolerated in these halls. Nor will denials,” he said.
Utilizing what might best be described as hand signals to display his frustration, Brunton spoke in a slow, measured voice as he said, “I was a communist. C.O.M.M.U.N.I.S.T. Me. Got it?”
Brunton then mouthed the words “ex-commie” and pointed both index fingers at his head.
Unsatisfied, McCarthy called for the record to reflect that Brunton was an uncooperative witness. He then badgered Brunton to disclose the names of any known communists in Arcata.
But the mayor only shrugged and said he wasn’t aware of any. “They’re mostly Democrats, Greens and anarchists,” the plucky pinko replied.
Losing patience, McCarthy thundered “Mr. Brunton, if you do not name names, you will never work in Hollywood again!”
“I don’t work in Hollywood now,” Brunton wailed.
“Let the record further show uncertainty about the good mayor’s U.S. place of employment and source of income,” McCarthy barked.
Testing even his youthful stamina, Arcata’s top elected official was made to testify for four hours without so much as a cigarette break.
Weakened from the relentless interrogation, Brunton asked to be excused briefly to use the bathroom, but McCarthy denied the request.
“Until this moment, Senator,” Brunton said, writhing in his seat, “I think I never gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
“I get that a lot,” McCarthy warbled.