For over six decades Americans have enjoyed the dental benefits of public water fluoridation. Yet, from its very beginning, sectors of the America public have expressed various concerns over the practice. While some of these concerns are not unreasonable, the over-all history of public opposition to fluoridation has been filled with wild claims, distortions, and conspiracy theories. Perhaps the most recognizable of these fringe claims is the idea that water fluoridation represents a “communist plot.”
The belief that fluoridation began as a “communist plot” was pervasive throughout much of the early far-right opposition to fluoridation. This should not surprise many who are familiar with the Red Scare of the ‘forties and ‘fifties; when fears of communist infiltration where rampant. In The Fluoride Wars: How a Modest Public Health Measure Became America’s Longest Running Political Melodrama, authors R. Allan Freeze and Jay H. Lehr make the following observation:
“One can also identify a historical time line associated with these objections, wherein each issue mirrors the tenor of its times. In the 1950s, wary citizens worried about communist plots. The 1960s saw a growth in concern over military–industrial conspiracies. The 1970s placed fluoridation in an environmental context. The issues of the 1980s and 1990s reflected societal obsessions with personal health, beauty, and aging. Even the diseases targeted by anti-fluoridation forces reflect the fears of the day, as early concerns over Down’s syndrome gave way to anxiety over heart disease, then cancer, and now AIDS.”
However, while new conspiracy theories and arguments have popped up over the decades, this belief still persists to some extent in the echo-chambers of the online anti-fluoridation community. Yet, this belief is little more than a myth based on the flimsiest of evidence. Even Paul Connett, who heads up the Fluoride Action Network, a major anti-fluoridation organization, and co-author of The Case Against Fluoride, has said,
“The historical evidence for this assertion is extremely weak. It is sad that the U.S. media has done such a bad job of educating the public on this issue that it is so easy for crazy ideas to fill the vacuum.”
I agree with Connett that the media certainly holds some of the blame; in part for their insistence on giving fringe claims some degree of credibility through false balance. But, after examining the available evidence it seems clear to me that another major factor in the continuation of this and other myths is due in large part to the uncritical and conspiratorially minded personalities that subjects such as fluoridation attract. Rather than simply dismiss such an outlandish story, however, proper skepticism dictates that we examine it a little closer. When researching the topic four names come up over and over again; Charles E Perkins, George Racey Jordan, Kenneth Goff, Emanuel Bronner.
Charles E Perkins
In 1952, American fluoridation opponent Charles Perkins published The Truth about Water Fluoridation, a 44 page treatise on the evils of water fluoridation. In this book he makes the claim, with no supporting evidence, that, “Mass medication, involving fluoridation of public water systems, has long been known as an important technique of the Communist philosophy of mass control,” and that it “was taken to England by the English-born Russian Communist Kreminoff in 1935.” When later asked for clarification and documentation on this claim, Perkins responded with a letter in 1954 that simply added a new layer of complexity. According to Perkins fluoridation was not just a Communist plot, but had actually found its genesis in Nazi Germany,
“When the Nazis under Hitler decided to go into Poland, both the German General Staff and the Russian General Staff exchanged scientific and military ideas, plans, and personnel, and the scheme of mass control through water medication was seized upon by the Russian Communists because it fitted ideally into their plan to communize the world.”
While nowadays the claim that Stalin or Hitler utilized fluoride as a mass tranquilizer is mostly relegated to the world of conspiracy forums and alternative health blogs, it has occasionally reached more mainstream public media and the halls of government. One much cited example was a statement by Harley R. Dickinson, Liberal Party Member of the Victorian Parliament for South Barwon, Australia. In his 1987 address to the Victorian Legislative council Mr. Dickinson cited claims made by Perkins,
“At the end of the Second World War, the United States Government sent Charles Elliot Perkins, a research worker in chemistry, biochemistry, physiology and pathology, to take charge of the vast [IG] Farben1 chemical plants in Germany. While there, he was told by German chemists of a scheme which had been worked out by them during the war and adopted by the German General Staff…This scheme was to control the population in any given area through mass medication of drinking water. In this scheme, sodium fluoride occupied a prominent place”
This statement is a good example of how Perkins’ unsupported claims get uncritically parroted by fluoridation opponents. Interestingly, his book The Truth about Water Fluoridation makes no mention of Nazi Germany or IG Faben, a major producer of poison gas during the war. It is rather the 1954 letter around which the Nazi-fluoride conspiracy theory revolves. Yet, like his book, the 1954 letter on which the above statement is based offers not a single shred of verifiable evidence on the subject. Rather than provide “further documentation”, as we are promised, all we are given is a second hand story from an unnamed source. In addition to a lack of evidence for the claims made in his book and letter, it is also hard to even verify the claim that Perkins was put in charge of IG Farben. He makes no mention of IG Farben in his 1952 book and the legal documents for the Faben war crimes trial make no mention of him or of fluoridation.
Perhaps inspired by Perkins’ letter, another similar claim; copy and pasted across numerous anti-fluoridation websites it states,
“The first occurrence of fluoridated drinking water on Earth was found in Germany`s Nazi prison camps. The Gestapo had little concern about fluoride`s supposed effect on children`s teeth; their alleged reason for mass-medicating water with sodium fluoride was to sterilize humans and force the people in their concentration camps into calm submission. (Ref. book: “The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben” by Joseph Borkin.)”
The reference given is to the book The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben by Joseph Borkin, the onetime chief of the Patent and Cartel section of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice in Washington. It was reported that through his wartime investigation and prosecution of IG Farben that he came to know “more about I. G. than anyone outside of it.” Yet, in his book he makes not a single mention of fluoridation or of Charles Perkins. While IG Farben’s actual wartime activities were atrocious, there appears to be absolutely no evidence that they were ever involved in any scheme to fluoridate water as a form of social control.
George Racey Jordan
Major George R Jordan was a US military liaison officer for the Lend-Lease Program between the Soviets and the U.S during WWII. He came to public attention when in 1949 he accused the Roosevelt administration smuggling nuclear secrets to the Soviets; charges which were later rejected after investigation by Congress and ridiculed in Time magazine. But, conspiracy theories of infiltration of the US government and general anti-Communist fears were rampant in those days and many on the far right eagerly bought into Jordan’s sensational stories. His 1952 memoir detailing these events, From Major Jordan’s Diaries, was soon a classic among far right organizations such as the John Birch Society. Jordan subsequently became a sought after speaker at conferences for various far right groups. In one such speech to the Thirtieth Women’s Patriotic Conference on National Defense in 1956 Jordan states,
“During the war I learned how the Soviets used fluorides in the drinking water of Siberian prison camps to weaken the minds of their prisoners, to make them dull, cowlike and more resigned to their slavery.”
But while fluoridation opponents like to point to the transcript of this speech, it offers no actual evidence for the claim and appears to be little more than a tall tale. Casting further doubt onto the veracity of the story is that Jordan apparently didn’t feel it important enough to include anything about the Soviets and fluoride in his 1952 memoir. From all available sources it appears that he only started making the claim many years after supposedly learning about it. If, as he claims, he learned this information during the war, why did he only begin mentioning it years later? To a critical reader, Jordan comes off as an untrustworthy conspiracy theorist who constructed a story over time. As Drew Pearson notes in an expose titled, “Facts Don’t Back Jordan’s Charges”, in the Wilmington News, Dec 8, 1949: “Jordan is no amateur at peddling stories to the newspapers. In fact, he has spent most of his life in the public relations field.”`
Perhaps the most colorful character in this strange story is Kenneth Goff. In his 1948 book, Confessions of Stalin’s Agent, he relates the story of his recruitment to the Communist Party of the United States of America in 1936 and subsequent defection in 1939. Upon leaving the Communist Party, Goff enthusiastically testified before the Dies Committee, the predecessor to the infamous House Committee Investigating Un-American Activities, thus beginning his career of paranoid anti-communist activism. Trading in Stalin for Christ, he soon gained a reputation as a “self-styled freelance Evangelist” of a white supremacist flavor of Christianity, called Christian Identity. Allying himself with Gerald L. K. Smith, a well known anti-Semitic preacher of the day, he soon held influential positions in various far-right and anti-Semitic organizations of the day: the Colorado Anti-Communist League, Christian Youth for America, National Youth Organization, Soldiers of the Cross, and the Washington-based Liberty Lobby. Afraid that his radical change of heart was a clever cover story, the FBI kept their eye on Goff, who they later came to regard as a “borderline psychopathic case.”
Over the next years Goff toured the nation writing and delivering lectures with paranoid themes such as: Treason in our State Department, Should we use the Atom Bomb?, Red Secret Plot for Seizure of Denver, and Do the Reds Plan to Come by Alaska? He soon became well know for his sensational fabrications; a number of which are detailed in Morris Komisky’s 1970 book, The Hoaxers: Plain Liars, Fancy Liars and Damned Liars, where he calls Goff, “one of the most dangerous Ultra-Rightist propagandist in the country.” In Goff’s world everything was a Communist plot to destroy white-Christian America, desegregation, dope, violent movies, mental healthcare, hippies, ufo scares2, and of course water fluoridation.
Among his many imaginative works, Goff wrote a publicly notarized statement in 1957 which has subsequently circulated among fluoridation opponents. In the letter he tells of how earlier involvement with the Communist party and that during some meetings,
“We discussed quite thoroughly the fluoridation of water supplies and how we were using it in Russia as a tranquilizer in the prison camps. The leaders of our school felt that if it could be induced into the American water supply, it would bring-about a spirit of lethargy in the nation; where it would keep the general public docile during a steady encroachment of Communism.”
While this letter sets out the now familiar story line of fluoridation as a Communist infiltration plot, it offers hardly any evidence to examine. In fact this appears to be one of the first mentions by Goff on the topic. His 1948 memoir, Confessions of Stalin’s Agentis strangely silent on this issue. Adding even further doubt to his story is the lack of any mention of the fluoridation issue in his 1939 congressional testimony.
“Dr.” Emanuel Bronner
It is at this point down the rabbit hole that we run into a familiar figure in vegan circles, the late “Dr.” Emanuel Bronner. Yes, that “Dr.” Bronner, of Dr Bronner’s Magic Soaps All-One! Bronner’s connection to this story comes through a letter he wrote in which he states that, “Fluoridation of water systems can be slow national suicide, or quick national liquidation. It is criminal insanity ——- treason!!” The rambling, conspiracy laden letter repeats a number of common anti-fluoridation claims but interestingly it actually never claims that the Soviets or Nazis used fluoridated water in their prison camps. Rather, the only mention of either is in one brief passage reading, “No wonder Hitler and Stalin fully believed and agreed from 1939 to 1941 that, quoting from both Lenin’s ‘Last Will’ and Hitler’s Mein Kampf: “America we shall demoralize, divide, and destroy from within.”
That anti-fluoridation activists actually cite this letter is a bit laughable. In addition to not actually providing any support for the conspiracy, the quote given appears to simply be fabricated. To make matters worse, every website accompanies it with the same bogus introduction: “Quoting Einstein`s nephew, Dr. E.H. Bronner (a chemist who had also been a prisoner of war during WWII) in a letter printed in The Catholic Mirror, Springfield, MA, January 1952” Yet, Bronner immigrated to the US 1929 and was never a prisoner of war. He also was not a “Dr.” or a “chemist”, having never obtained a degree in chemistry. But what of the claim that he was “Einstein`s nephew”? When his son Ralph was asked in a 2007 interview whether there was any truth to the story he stated, “We are remotely related, like a tenth cousin. Dad had an ego problem. He exaggerated.”
Bronner’s 1952 letter and overall position on fluoridation are easier to understand if you know a little about his personal history. After leaving his family in Germany and immigrating to the US is 1929 Bronner took various jobs with several different chemical manufactures and soap makers. He soon married and would eventually have three children. Over those early years Bronner desperately tried to convince the rest of his family to flee the rising Nazi threat in their homeland but to no avail. In 1944 the Nazi government nationalized his family’s soap making factory and shipped his mother and father off to Auschwitz and Theriesenstadt where they eventually perished. Adding to his sorrow, not long after receiving word of his parents’ deaths, his wife Paula also died, leaving behind Bronner and their three children. The stress of it all was too much to handle and an already eccentric Bronner descended into madness. It was at this point that he adopted the “Dr.” moniker and began claiming to be a Rabbi. Leaving his children in the care of foster homes, he began touring and lecturing across the country about his plan to unite humanity, culminating in his 1947 at the University of Chicago and institutionalized in the Elgin State Insane asylum. But Bronner mounted several escapes, and on the last one hightailed it for California where in 1948 he began selling the first incarnation of what would become his famous soap.
Christina Lubinski, of the German Historical Institute and Marvin Menniken, of the Free University of Berlin sum up the next chapter in his life in their biography,
“Bronner made his way to Los Angeles, a city to which he had no obvious prior connections. He continued his political activism, giving speeches at least once a week on Friday nights. World peace and interreligious tolerance were only two of many topics Bronner addressed on a regular basis. In the late 1940s two new topics began to play a dominant role in his speeches: anti-communism and anti-water fluoridation. In a time of emerging Cold War rhetoric, Bronner identified communism as a political threat to the American state and democracy. He wanted to have his speeches understood as a “mental attack on communism, an army of American principles spread over this earth.” The fear of a communist infiltration of American society shaped his speeches as well as his letters and telegrams, which he sent out to political leaders and the FBI. As Bronner wrote to Vice President Richard Nixon in 1957: “Beginning 1929 over 6100 such telegrams were sent to Washington by our builder of three American soap plants, inventory of 53 chemical processes, […] your loyal chemist Better Health Foundation Dr. Bronner and Associates, Escondido, Calif[ornia].”
Less concerned with selling soap than spreading his “All-One-God-Faith” philosophy and what he called the Moral ABC, Bronner plastered his soap bottles with his very unique writing. One of the many odd statements from his unforgettable, densely worded packaging proclaims,
“Replace half-true Socialist-fluoride poison & tax-slavery with full-truth, work-speech-press & profitsharing Socialaction! All-One! So, help build 4 billion Hannibal wind-power plants, charging 96 billion battery-banks, powering every car-factory-farm-home-monorail & pump, watering Babylon-roof-gardens & 800 billion Israel-Milorganite fruit trees, guarded by Swiss 6000 year Universal Military Training!”
In the end we have very little evidence to support the idea that water fluoridation was ever a communist plot. It certainly makes for a good story, but that’s all it is, a story. This myth, entirely absent from the works of any holocaust historian, appears to be little more than the product of a small number of individuals with highly questionably credibility. Unless proponents of this conspiracy theory can offer up any actual evidence I see no reason why the idea should be taken seriously.
1IG Farben was a major chemical conglomerate involved in war crime during WWII
2 In his 1959 book, Red Shadows, Goff ties Orson Welles and his infamous War of the World radio broadcast to a Communist conspiracy,
“During the past few years, the flying saucer scare has rapidly become one of the main issues, used by organizations working for a one-world government, to frighten people into the belief that we will need a super world government to cope with an invasion from another planet. Many means are being used to create a vast amount of imagination in the minds of the general public, concerning the possibilities of an invasion by strange creatures from Mars or Venus.
“This drive began early in the 40’s, with a radio drama, put on my Orson Welles, which caused panic in many of the larger cities of the East, and resulted in the death of several people. The Orson Wells (sic) program of invasion from Mars was used by the Communist Party as a test to find out how the people would react on instructions given out over the radio. It was an important part of the Communist rehearsal for the Revolution.”