Part 12 - Shadows Cast Before
On June 26th, the following notice appeared conspicuously on the first page of the Centralia Hub:
MEETING OF BUSINESS MEN CALLED FOR
"Business men and property owners of Centralia are urged to attend a meeting tomorrow in the Chamber of Commerce rooms to meet the officers of the Employers' Association of the state to discuss ways and means of bettering the conditions which now confront the business and property interests of the state. George F. Russell, Secretary-Manager, says in his note to business men: 'We need your advice and your co-operation in support of the movement for the defense of property and property rights. It is the most important question before the public today.'"
At this meeting Mr. Russell dwelt on the statement that the "radicals" were better organized than the property interests. Also he pointed out the need of a special organization to protect "rights of property" from the encroachments of all "foes of the government". The Non-Partisan League, the Triple Alliance and the A.F. of L. were duly condemned. The speaker then launched out into a long tirade against the Industrial Workers of the World which was characterized as the most dangerous organization in America and the one most necessary for "good citizens" to crush. Needless to state the address was chock full of 100% Americanism. It amply made up in forcefulness anything it lacked in logic.
So the "Citizens' Protective League" of Centralia was born. From the first it was a law unto itself-murder lust wearing the smirk of respectability-Judge Lynch dressed in a business suit. The advent of this infamous league marks the final ascendancy of terrorism over the Constitution in the city of Centralia. The only things still needed were a secret committee, a coil of rope and an opportunity.
F.B. Hubbard was the man selected to pull off the "rough stuff" and at the same time keep the odium of crime from smirching the fair names of the conspirators. He was told to "perfect his own organization". Hubbard was eminently fitted for his position by reason of his intense labor-hatred and his aptitude for intrigue.
The following day the Centralia Daily Chronicle carried the following significant news item:
BUSINESS MEN OF COUNTY ORGANIZE
Representatives From Many Communities Attend Meeting in Chamber of Commerce, Presided Over Secretary of Employers’ Association.
"The labor situation was thoroughly discussed this afternoon at a meeting held in the local Chamber of Commerce which was attended by representative business men from various parts of Lewis County.
"George F. Russell, Secretary of the Employers' Association, of Washington, presided at the meeting.
"A temporary organization was effected with F. B. Hubbard, President of the Eastern Railway & Lumber Company, as chairman. He was empowered to perfect his own organization. A similar meeting will be held in Chehalis in connection with the noon luncheon of the Citizens' Club on that day."
The city of Centralia became alive with gossip and speculation about this new move on the part of the employers. Everybody knew that the whole thing centered around the detested hall of the Union loggers. Curiosity seekers began to come In from all parts of the county to have a peep at this hall before it was wrecked. Business men were known to drive their friends from the new to the old hall in order to show what the former would look like in a short time. People in Centralia generally knew for a certainty that the present hall would go the way of its predecessor. It was just a question now as to the time and circumstances of the event. Warren O. Grimm had done his bit to work up sentiment against the union loggers and their hall. Only a month previously--On Labor Day, 1919,---he had delivered a "labor" speech that was received with great enthusiasm by a local clique of business men. Posing as an authority on Bolshevism on account of his Siberian service Grimm had elaborated on the dangers of this pernicious doctrine. With a great deal of dramatic emphasis he had urged his audience to beware of the sinister influence of "the American Bolsheviki--the Industrial Workers of the World."
A few days before the hall was raided Elmer Smith called at Grimm's office on legal business. Grimm asked him, by the way, what he thought of his Labor Day speech. Smith replied that he thought it was "rotten" and that he couldn't agree with Grimm's anti-labor conception of Americanism. Smith pointed to the deportation of Tom Lassiter as an example of the "Americanism" he considered disgraceful. He said also that he thought free speech was one of the fundamental rights of all citizens.
"I can't agree with you," replied Grimm. "That's the proper way to treat such a fellow."
THE NEW BLACK HUNDRED
On October 19th the Centralia Hub published an item headed "Employers Called to Discuss Handling of 'Wobbly' Problem." This article urges all employers to attend, states that the meeting will be held in the Elk's Club and mentioned the wrecking of the Union Hall in 1918. On the following day, October 20th, three weeks before the shooting, this meeting was held at the hall of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks--the now famous Elks' Club of Centralia. The avowed purpose of this meeting was to "deal with the I.W.W. problem." The chairman was William Scales, at that time Commander of the Centralia Post of the American Legion. The I.W.W. Hall was the chief topic of discussion. F.B. Hubbard opened up by saying that the I.W.W. was a menace and should be driven out of town. Chief of Police Hughes, however, cautioned them against such a course. He is reported to have said that "the I.W.W. is doing nothing wrong in Centralia--is not violating any law--and you have no right to drive them out of town in this manner." The Chief of Police then proceeded to tell the audience that he had taken up the matter of legally evicting the industrialists with City Attorney C.E. Grimm, a brother of Warren O. Grimm, who is said to have told them, "Gentlemen, there is no law by which you can drive the I.W.W. out of town." City Commissioner Saunders and County Attorney Allen had spoken to the same effect. The latter, Allen, had gone over the literature of the organization with regard to violence and destruction and had voluntarily dismissed a "criminal syndicalist" case without trial for want of evidence.
Hubbard was furious at this turn of affairs and shouted to Chief of Police Hughes: "It's a damned outrage that these men should be permitted to remain in town! Law or no law, if I were Chief of Police they wouldn't stay here twenty-four hours."
"I'm not in favor of raiding the hall myself," said Scales. "But I'm certain that if anybody else wants to raid the I.W.W. Hall there is no jury in the land will ever convict them."
After considerable discussion the meeting started to elect a committee to deal with the situation. First of all an effort was made to get a workingman elected as a member to help camouflage its very evident character and make people believe that "honest labor" was also desirous of ridding the town of the hated I.W.W. Hall. A switchman named Henry, a member of the Railway Brotherhood, was nominated. When he indignantly declined, Hubbard, red in the face with rage, called him a "damned skunk."
THE INNER CIRCLE
Scales then proceeded to tell the audience in general and the city officials in particular that he would himself appoint a committee "whose inner workings were secret," and see if he could not get around the matter that way. The officers of the League were then elected. The President was County Coroner David Livingstone, who afterwards helped to lynch Wesley Everest. Dr. Livingstone made his money from union miners. William Scales was vice president and Hubbard was treasurer. The secret committee was then appointed by Hubbard. As its name implies it was an underground affair, similar to the Black Hundreds of Old Russia. No record of any of its proceedings has ever come to light, but according to best available knowledge, Warren O. Grimm, Arthur McElfresh, B.S. Cromier and one or two others who figured prominently in the raid, were members. At all events on November 6th, five days before the shooting, Grimm was elected Commander of the Centralia Post of the American Legion, taking the place of Scales, who resigned in his favor. Scales evidently was of the opinion that a Siberian veteran and athlete was better fitted to lead the "shock troops" than a mere counter-jumper like himself. There is no doubt but the secret committee had its members well placed in positions of strategic importance for the coming event.
The following day the Tacoma News Tribune carried a significant editorial on the subject of the new organization:
"At Centralia a committee of citizens has been formed that takes the mind back to the old days of vigilance committees of the West, which did so much to force law-abiding citizenship upon certain lawless elements. It is called the Centralia Protective Association, and its object is to combat I.W.W. activities in that city and the surrounding country. It invites to membership all citizens who favor the enforcement of law and order...It is high time for the people who do believe in the lawful and orderly conduct of affairs to take the upper hand...Every city and town might, with profit, follow Centralia's example."
The reference to "law and orderly conduct of affairs" has taken a somewhat ironical twist, now that Centralia has shown the world what she considers such processes to be.
No less significant was an editorial appearing on the same Date in the Centralia Hub:
"If the city is left open to this menace, we will soon find ourselves at the mercy of an organized band of outlaws bent on destruction. What are we going to do about it?" And, referring to the organization of the "secret committee," the editorial stated: "It was decided that the inner workings of the organization were to be kept secret, to more effectively combat a body using similar tactics." The editorial reeks with lies; but it was necessary that the mob spirit should be kept at white heat at all times. Newspaper incitation has never been punished by law, yet it is directly responsible for more murders, lynching and raids than any other one force in America.
Next page: Part 13 - The Plot Leaks Out