The Roots of Woke: The Devil and Bella Dodd

A new book examines the life of a communist who worked to infiltrate Catholic seminaries and higher education—before Fulton Sheen brought her home.

Where did all this woke stuff come from? The Devil and Bella Dodd shows that today’s progressives follow the same strategy, script, and seeds American communists planted in Catholic seminaries and U.S. universities 86 years ago. 

The internet is full of snippets about Bella Dodd, but most of those stories are dubious or poorly sourced—until now. 

Authors Mary Nicholas, a retired physician and research librarian, and historian Paul Kengor (a Crisis Magazine contributing editor) tracked down all the original source material to tell Dodd’s definitive story and to connect the dots showing how her infiltration continues to produce echoes to this day.  

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

The roaring rapids of social media news feeds means few modern Americans recognize Dodd. Still, her name was once universally known (her flip from communist organizer to baptized Catholic speaking to everyone from Congress to small school audiences) made her the ultimate party switcher. The closest we come today is Tulsi Gabbard moving from Democrat presidential candidate to Fox News host. 

Dodd (1904-1969) was a sharp attorney and radical warrior, a key “fixer” at the dawn of the American communist movement. She organized efforts to infiltrate and undermine key U.S. institutions before she changed sides and shared her story in the 1950s. Her 1,281-page FBI file, one of the largest ever found during a FOIA request, remains mostly classified 53 years after her death. But the authors have obtained several hundred pages to date while also tracking down people who knew her.

Nicholas, as well as Kengor (who is the author of The Devil and Karl Marx and biographies on Ronald Reagan), did extensive research. They sought and reviewed classified FBI files and interviewed the people who knew her well to write the definitive 412-page Dodd biography.

Today’s Red/Blue tribalism is rooted in an earlier “us vs. them” confrontation. Then, the United States led Western Civilization in battling communism. American communists, Dodd said, used words that would appeal to Americans, like “social justice” and “democracy,” calling enemies names like bigot, racist, anti-Semite, and fascist.

For years, she believed she was fighting for a revolution to undermine a corrupt American system. Still, Fr. Fulton Sheen wrote multiple books and took to the radio, calling atheistic communism “a religion to destroy a religion, a politics which is a religion.”

Dodd noticed, “The little sparks of my conscience caught fire. I began to realize and to feel uneasy at the contradictions between what the Communists preached and what they did.”

  • She organized thousands of communists who infiltrated vital American institutions, including U.S. education and the Church.
  • “It is not surprising that those against God should aim their biggest weapons at our schools,” she wrote. “Eliminating the concept of God from education leaves the student with no basis for determining right from wrong.
  • Yet another target of communism, she realized, is the family itself. As a result, her marriage and family crumbled as well.
  • The American communists followed the ways of Russian rulers who changed laws to remove all obstacles to divorce and abortion. But, as Leon Trotsky explained, “You cannot ‘abolish’ the family. You have to replace it.”
  • By 1934, women in Moscow set a world record: three abortions for every live birth. By the 1970s, the Russians had more than 7 million abortions per year, while the Roe v. Wade peak was 1.5 million abortions in America.

“Communism is a whole philosophy of life that permeates everything that you do,” Dodd said, calling it “part of your bloodstream,” a belief system that “determines the kind of marriage you have, your relations with your children, your relationship to your community, your relationship with your profession. It makes decisions for you.”

The roots of cancel culture and the modern “religion of woke” can best be learned in her journey from Catholicism to communism and back again: “The psychology of the Party was that you were loved or hated on the basis of group acceptance, and emotions were stirred or dulled by propaganda made by the powerful people at the top.”

So, when we abandon God, “there is a vacuum there, and there and where the vacuum is, the others will step in to take over.” So, Dodd and fellow communists taught the smear method:

What you do is gather information and use it to affect him emotionally, you try to drive him into a breakdown, you try to destroy him economically by making it impossible for him to be employed, and you also destroy his personality as a person.

Dodd considered herself and her comrades to be servants of Lucifer, the rebellious fallen angel who became Satan. Radical organizer Saul Alinsky would similarly dedicate his Rules for Radicals to Lucifer. Dodd considered herself and her comrades to be servants of Lucifer, the rebellious fallen angel who became Satan.Tweet This

When she felt completely lost, she met the most recognized future saint of her time, Fulton Sheen, a radio and TV star. He helped her find her way back home. Her penance for her sins: share her testimony so Americans would know what was happening.

Sheen, then a priest and about to become an even more famous bishop with one of the top-rated TV shows, kept telling her, “There, there, it won’t be long now.” 

Soon after, he told journalists about the infiltration of seminaries but also counseled Dodd not to name names so as not to destroy the reputations of the clergy. The authors show how players involved with Vatican II in the 1960s were among the communists she recruited. The council rejected frontal attacks on communism even at a time when the Soviet Union’s aggressive behavior was at a peak.

She recalled, “He only let me cry, and then, without realizing it, I found that we were both on our knees before the Blessed Mother in the little chapel.”

Sheen told her: 

Bella, if you want to protect the people whom you say that you love, the people of this country, and all the human beings of the world, then to do the right things, you must know something about Christianity. Your parents were peasants, but you, an educated woman, have to know.

Sheen baptized Dodd at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in 1952, on the anniversary of her mother’s birthday, and he would be there again to give her the Last Rites before she died in 1969.

Ultimately, she realized communism advocated lies and hate, while the Church defines God as love and truth. Before her sudden death in 1969, she supported the plans of supporters who wanted to begin a college that would teach her principles, a school they would name Veritas, Latin for truth.

She concluded, “I have learned from bitter experience that you cannot serve man unless first, you serve God in sincerity and truth, with the faith of little children.” She realized, “In vain, they build, who build without God.”


  • Joseph Serwach

    Joseph Serwach is vice president of the Friends of St. John Paul Paul/Be Not Afraid Foundation.

tagged as: book review

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...