Sanford (Sandy) Griffith

Sanford Griffith

Sanford Griffith was born in 1893. He studied at Heidelberg University but on the outbreak of the First World War he fled to France and joined the French Army. In 1918 he transferred to the US Army. Griffith reached the rank of major and was involved in interrogating German prisoners.

In 1920 he was employed as a journalist by New York Herald Tribune as a European correspondent based in Germany and Italy. In 1927 he moved to London where he worked for the Wall Street Journal. After the death of his wife in 1934 he moved back to the United States and became director of consumer research projects for a company called Miller Franklin.

In 1940 Griffith was recruited by William Stephenson, the head of British Security Coordination (BSC). He now established his company Market Analysts Incorporated and was commissioned to carry out polls for the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. The organisation was headed by William Allen White who gave an interview to the Chicago Daily News about his intentions: "Here is a life and death struggle for every principle we cherish in America: For freedom of speech, of religion, of the ballot and of every freedom that upholds the dignity of the human spirit... Here all the rights that common man has fought for during a thousand years are menaced... The time has come when we must throw into the scales the entire moral and economic weight of the United States on the side of the free peoples of Western Europe who are fighting the battle for a civilized way of life." It was not long before White's organization had 300 chapters nationwide.

Francis Adams Henson, a long time activist against the Nazi Germany government, was Griffith's assistant: "My job was to use the results of our polls, taken among their constituents, to convince on-the-fence Congressmen and Senators that they should favor more aid to Britain." Bill Ross-Smith, a BSC agent worked with Griffith in 1940: "Sandy was a cheerful confident American utterly devoted to awakening American Opinion. He lived near Lloyd's Neck Long Island, where I once visited him for Sunday lunch." Charles Howard Ellis, assistant-director of the BSC was according to Griffith's son, was another visitor to the family home.

During this period Griffith produced a memo for the people who worked for him on British intelligence tactics for black propaganda: "Make selections from material to supply specific needs of individual editors, radio commentators and columnists. Use personal approach through best existing contacts to a large number of newspaper people rather than using broadside routine releases or giving news exclusively with a single paper. Tie-in attacks with current events. Study, and where necessary create, incidents which give sufficient news pegs on which to hang a story."

In the autumn of 1940 Griffith and Henson was given the task of helping to defeat leading isolationist Hamilton Fish. Christopher T. Emmet, who worked for Griffith, commented: If we can defeat Fish, who has been considered invincible for twenty years, we will put the fear of God into every isolationist senator and congressman in the country." Fish was a member of the America First Committee (AFC) the most powerful isolationist group in the United States. The AFC had four main principles: (1) The United States must build an impregnable defense for America; (2) No foreign power, nor group of powers, can successfully attack a prepared America; (3) American democracy can be preserved only by keeping out of the European War; (4) "Aid short of war" weakens national defense at home and threatens to involve America in war abroad.

Fish was also a supporter of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Government in Germany. He hoped that the German Army would invade the Soviet Union and therefore destroy international communism. He had met with Joachim Ribbentrop in Norway and made a public statement that Hitler had "just" territory claims in Europe. Fish used his office to distribute copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. When he was accused of antisemitism, he replied, "It doesn't bother me any. There's been too much Jewism going around anyway."

Hamilton Fish was the ranking Republican Party on the House Rules Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was considered a dangerous politician. The Nonpartisan Committee to Defeat Hamilton Fish shared the same office as Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. Henson contacted Ernest Cuneo and suggested that he used his friends, Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, to attack Fish in the press. On 21st October, 1940, Pearson published an article suggesting that Nazis were subsidizing Fish through inflated rents they were supposedly paying him for property. Fish replied that: "Drew Pearson, in my opinion, is the most contemptible, dishonest, and dishonorable smear propagandist in America and by inference the most colossal liar in the nation." Despite this smear campaign, Fish won the election.

The American First Committee was dissolved four days after the Japanese Air Force attacked Pearl Harbor on 7th December, 1941. Hamilton Fish later recalled: "Franklin Roosevelt took us into a war without telling the people anything about it. He served an ultimatum which we knew nothing about. We were forced into the war. It was the biggest cover-up ever perpetrated in the United States of America. But in 1941, December 8, the day after the Japanese. I made the first speech ever made in the halls of Congress over the radio. I'd been speaking every week to keep us out of war. The day after the attack, as ranking member of the rules committee, it was my duty to speak first. I damned the Japs and upheld Roosevelt's day of infamy. I called on all noninterventionists to go into the army until we defeated the Japs. For fifteen minutes I talked to twenty-five million people. People told me they cried after. I made the only speech because I took up the whole time allotted."

Fish's previously pro-Nazi views made him unpopular with the American public. In 1944 Sandy Griffith and Francis Adams Henson made another attempt to defeat Fish. Griffith sent out another memo: "Whenever Fish pushes into the news provide the Press with data showing Fish up as out of step with his constituents. Pin on the pro-Nazi and obstructionist labels. Cooperate with the Administration and hostile colleagues to assure their ganging up on Fish whenever he obstructs." This time they were successful and Fish was defeated by the liberal politician, Augustus W. Bennet. Fish said in his election-night concession speech that "my defeat should be largely credited to Communistic and Red forces from New York City backed by a large slush fund probably exceeding $250,000."

Sanford Griffith died in 1974.

Primary Sources

(1) Sandford Griffith, memo (1944)

Whenever Fish pushes into the news provide the Press with data showing Fish up as out of step with his constituents. Pin on the pro-Nazi and obstructionist labels. Cooperate with the Administration and hostile colleagues to assure their ganging up on Fish whenever he obstructs.