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Seeing Red

She also took her life underground.
The first time was in 1951. Senator Joe McCarthy was raging when the Smith Act convictions of the eleven New York Communists was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Party leaders gave Pat $20 and told her to disappear.

She went to Casper, Wyoming, a place she considered as far from public scrutiny as she could get. She and Irving took whatever jobs they could find. He operated a jackhammer and she became an insurance adjuster. They changed their names to Betty and Dick Miller.

A few years later, under orders of party headquarters, she moved to San Jose, California, then Los Angeles, remaking her life as she went.

The FBI found her anyway.

Newspapers called it "the biggest single blow against Communism in Colorado history."

On August 1, 1954, federal agents in Colorado and California arrested Pat and six other party members (several of them the same people who testified in 1948) and charged them with conspiring to overthrow the government.

The sweep began, a reporter wrote, with a "sidewalk rendezvous of four Reds near the Denver state capitol." Pat was arrested in Los Angeles, where she "masqueraded as a Red Runner with direct links to Moscow by quietly living as a bakery worker and housewife."

The sweep was announced in Washington, D.C., by J. Edgar Hoover himself. Federal prosecutors flew to Denver. Eighteen government witnesses came forward (including eight former Communists and five FBI informants). The government had a case.

Its argument was this: The Smith Act made it illegal to teach or advocate the violent overthrow of the government. Since Communist doctrine calls for armed revolution, all party members--including the seven accused--must therefore follow those directives.

Prosecutors claimed Pat and the others had attended "secret revolutionary schools," recruiting members of "basic Colorado industries" such as meatpacking and trying to organize Mexican and black workers into "dissatisfied revolutionary units."

"Why the emphasis on basic industries if Communism is based upon peaceful conversion from free enterprise?" prosecutors asked. "Why wouldn't a man in a shirt factory make a good Communist?"

U.S. Attorney Donald E. Kelley said the conspiracy was like a polluted stream. "Anyone who dives into that stream, knowing what he is doing," he said, "becomes contaminated."

Defense attorneys, however, considered the charges laughable. The FBI had trailed Pat and the others for six years. Where was the plot to violently overthrow the government? Their only evidence was seven men and women practicing free speech.

"Communism is the defendant's political opinion," said attorney John Evans. "Misguided and silly, perhaps, but we don't send people to jail because they are Republicans or Democrats."

"The evidence was books," Jack says. "Attorneys wheeled in cartloads of books, pulled one out and read something Lenin wrote in 1905 about overthrowing the czar. 'Did Pat Blau give you this book?' they'd ask. The informants would say, 'Yes.' 'Did you read it?' 'Yes.' And that was it. That was their case."

The trial lasted nine weeks.
In May 1955, Pat and the others were convicted of conspiracy, sentenced to prison terms of two to six years and fined $1,500 to $5,000.

But the case was far from over.
It would be appealed, retried, appealed and then retried again. Pat would be found guilty twice. Each time the conviction was overturned on technicalities.

Ten years passed before the case was resolved.

Jack doesn't remember how the news finally arrived. It could have been a call from an attorney, or maybe a blurb in the newspaper. "It all happened very quietly," he says. One day Pat was a subversive, and the next she was vindicated.

She and Jack were living in Greenwich Village. He worked as a contractor in Jersey, and she wrote for a magazine. They had left Denver five years earlier, after Pat divorced Irving and married Jack. First they went to El Paso and then, after being fired from a string of jobs, to New York City. There, on November 12, 1964, the ordeal ended.

The Justice Department couldn't muster enough evidence to prosecute Pat and the others again. A U.S. district judge dismissed the case.

The Smith Act, however, stayed on the books. All told, at least 145 people were indicted under it. Eleven went to prison.

"It's still there," Jack says, "for whenever the government wants to use it again."

Pat had always planned to write a book about her life. She'd even picked out the title, A Time of Trial. She wrote 30,000 words before Alzheimer's set in.

After New York, she and Jack moved to New Mexico, where they befriended land-rights activist Reyes Tijerena and wrote a book about him. Pat also traveled to Chile as a correspondent for a Communist newspaper and covered the Allende coup, barely escaping the firing squads herself. And for twelve years she and Jack lived in Tucson, where they owned a bookstore.

In 1985 they returned to Denver to be with Pat's daughters. They rented an apartment in the northwest part of town, where they could see the mountains. It was a different city from the Denver of 1948. No one remembered.

Pat worked on her memoir and Jack helped out, editing out the parts she accidentally wrote twice. They joined the local Communist club and hosted meetings at their dining-room table. They talked about the party newspaper and how to get more members.

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