Part 18 - Hypocrisy and Terror
The reign of terror was extended to cover the entire West coast. Over a thousand men and women were arrested in the state of Washington alone. Union halls were closed and kept that way. Labor papers were suppressed and many men have been given sentences of from one to fourteen years for having in their possession copies of periodicals which contained little else but the truth about the Centralia tragedy. The Seattle Union Record was temporarily closed down and its stock confiscated for daring to hint that there were two sides to the story. During all this time the capitalist press was given full rein to spread its infamous poison. The general public, denied the true version of the affair, was shuddering over its morning coffee at the thought of I.W.W. desperadoes shooting down unoffending paraders from ambush. But the lumber interests were chortling with glee and winking a suggestive eye at their high priced lawyers who were making ready for the prosecution. Jurymen were shortly to be drawn and things were "sitting pretty," as they say in poker.
Adding a characteristic touch to the rotten hypocrisy of the situation came a letter from Supreme Court Judge McIntosh to George Dysart, whose son was in command of a posse during the manhunt. This remarkable document is as follows:
Kenneth Mackintosh, Judge
The Supreme Court, State of Washington
|George Dysart, Esq.,
My Dear Dysart:
|November 13, 1919.|
I want to express to you my appreciation of the high character of citizenship displayed by the people of Centralia in their agonizing calamity. We are all shocked by the manifestation of barbarity on the part of the outlaws, and are depressed by the loss of lives of brave men, but at the same time are proud of the calm control and loyalty to American ideals demonstrated by the returned soldiers and citizens. I am proud to be an inhabitant of a state which contains a city with the record which has been made for Centralia by its law-abiding citizens.
"PATROTIC" UNION SMASHING
Not to be outdone by this brazen example of judicial perversion, Attorney General Thompson, after a secret conference of prosecuting attorneys, issued a circular of advice to county prosecutors. In this document the suggestion was made that officers and members of the Industrial Workers of the World in Washington be arrested by the wholesale under the "criminal syndicalism" law and brought to trial simultaneously so that they might not be able to secure legal defense. The astounding recommendation was also made that, owing to the fact that juries had been "reluctant to convict," prosecutors and the Bar Association should co-operate in examining jury panels so that "none but courageous and patriotic Americans" secure places on the juries.
This effectual if somewhat arbitrary plan was put into operation at once. Since the tragedy at Centralia dozens of union workers have been convicted by "courageous and patriotic" juries and sentenced to serve from one to fourteen years in the state penitentiary. Hundreds more are awaiting trial. The verdict at Montesano is now known to everyone. Truly the lives of the four Legion boys which were sacrificed by the lumber interests in furtherance of their own murderous designs, were well expended. The investment was a profitable one and the results are no doubt highly gratifying.
But just the same the despicable plot of the Attorney General is an obvious effort to defeat the purpose of the courts and obtain unjust convictions by means of what is termed "jury fixing." There may be honor among thieves but there is plainly none among the public servants they have working for them!
The only sane note sounded during these dark days, outside of the startling statement of Dr. Bickford, came from Montana. Edward Bassett, commander of the Butte Post of the American Legion and an over-seas veteran, issued a statement to the labor press that was truly remarkable:
"The I.W.W. in Centralia, Wash., who fired upon the men that were attempting to raid the I.W.W. headquarters, were fully justified in their act.
"Mob rule in this country must be stopped, and when mobs attack the home of a millionaire, of a laborer, or of the I.W.W., it is not only the right but the duty of the occupants to resist with every means in their power. If the officers of the law can not stop these raids, perhaps the resistance of the raided may have that effect.
"Whether the I.W.W. is a meritorious organization or not, whether it is unpopular or otherwise, should have absolutely nothing to do with the case. The reports of the evidence at the coroner's jury show that the attack was made before the firing started. If that is true, I commend the boys inside for the action that they took.
"The fact that there were some American Legion men among the paraders who everlastingly disgraced themselves by taking part in the raid, does not affect my judgment in the least. Any one who becomes a party to a mob bent upon unlawful violence, cannot expect the truly patriotic men of the American Legion to condone his act."
VANDERVEER'S OPENING SPEECH
Defense Attorney George Vanderveer hurried across the continent from Chicago to take up the legal battle for the eleven men who had been arrested and charged with the murder of Warren O. Grimm. The lumber interests had already selected six of their most trustworthy tools as prosecutors. It is not the purpose of the present writer to give a detailed story of this "trial"--possibly one of the greatest travesties on justice ever staged. This incident was a very important part of the Centralia conspiracy but a hasty sketch, such as might be portrayed in these pages, would be an inadequate presentation at best. It might be well, therefore, to permit Mr. Vanderveer to tell of the case as he told it to the jury in his opening and closing arguments. Details of the trial itself can be found in other booklets by more capable authors. Vanderveer's opening address appears in part below:
May it please the court and gentlemen of the jury: As you have already sensed from our examination of you and from a question which I propounded to counsel at the close of his statement yesterday, the big question in this case is, who was the aggressor, who started the battle? Was it on the one side a deliberately planned murderous attack upon innocent marchers, or was it on the other side a deliberately planned wicked attack upon the I.W.W., which they merely resisted? That, I say, is the issue. I asked counsel what his position would be in order that you might know it, and that he said was his position, that he would stand and fall and be judged by it, and I say to you now that is our position, and we will stand or fall and be judged by that issue.
In order that you may properly understand this situation, and the things that led up to it, the motives underlying it, the manner in which it was planned and executed, I want to go just a little way back of the occurrence on November 11th, and state to you in rough outline the situation that existed in Centralia, the objects that were involved in this case, the things each are trying to accomplish and the way each went about it. There has been some effort on the part of the state to make it appear it is not an I.W.W. trial. I felt throughout that the I.W.W. issue must come into this case, and now that they have made their opening statement, I say unreservedly it is here in this case, not because we want to drag it in here, but because it can't be left out. To conceal from you gentlemen that it is an I.W.W. issue would be merely to conceal the truth from you and we, on our part, don't want to do that now or at any time hereafter.
The I.W.W. is at the bottom of this. Not as an aggressor, however. It is a labor organization, organized in Chicago in 1905, and it is because of the philosophy for which it stands and because of certain tactics which it evolves that this thing arose.
Next page: Part 19 - A Labor Movement on Trial