By the end of the 1930s, Los Angeles had become an important base of operations for several U.S. pro-Nazi groups. In response, the lawyer Leon Lewis and the journalist Joseph Roos founded the Los Angeles Jewish Community Committee (LAJCC). Leslie Epstein, reviewing two recent books about the organization, explains how it operated:
As Jews, [Lewis and Roos] could not risk going into the field (though both were eventually threatened and one of them, Roos, badly beaten); instead they hired a series of non-Jewish men and women to infiltrate the Friends of the New Germany, the German American Bund, the Silver Shirts, and as many as possible of the other like-minded groups working throughout Los Angeles. None of these spies was professional. At $30 per week, none was going to get rich. But each had his motives for despising Hitler’s Germany or for loving the idea of America, and all knew perfectly well that in winning the trust of those who wished to overthrow the government of their country they were risking their lives—and one of them, Julius Sicius, seems to have lost his in the cause.
Their tasks were to discover what they could, to sow dissension among the leaders and members of the groups they had joined, and ultimately to make it impossible for those dreams of [Hitler taking over the U.S.] come true. The first thing they discovered was that those dreams were not half-baked fantasies. Many of the pro-Nazi groups had formed cells that were following orders from Berlin. Their members met German ships that supplied them with propaganda matter and sometimes with personnel. These groups made plans to steal weapons from sympathetic guards at armories; arms were stored around the city in factories and private homes. Strategies for sabotaging power plants and naval facilities were studied, revised, and kept in waiting.
Armed paramilitary groups like the Silver Shirts—an American fascist group modeled after the Brownshirts, they sewed their own uniforms to prevent them from being touched by Jewish tailors—paraded in the Hollywood Hills. That same group also kept maps showing where prominent Jews lived and had allies in the LAPD, including Chief James E. Davis, who seemed to believe that all Jews were Communists. . . . There is no question that the network of LAJCC agents discovered a great deal. Nor is there any doubt that they spied so well that their targets, knowing information was being leaked to authorities, began to spy on themselves and so undermined each other’s efforts.
Yet a chasm remained between exposing the agents of Berlin and bringing them to justice. Lewis and his little army had to fight not only against the fifth column but against the entrenched network of their sympathizers and collaborators that stretched all the way from studio cops up through government prosecutors at every level, Congress and the State Department, and parts of the cabinet. Indifference to the threat of fascism, combined with zeal to deal with the red menace, allowed all too many of the conspirators to escape.