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Part 21 - Why Were the Shots Fired?

I was careful in the beginning to put him on record on that point; all along I knew that he and Mr. Allen would back down on the issue of who was the aggressor; they could not uphold their contention that the Armistice Day paraders were fired upon in cold blood while engaged in lawful and peaceful action.

What possible motive could these boys have had for firing upon innocent marching soldiers? It is true that the marchers were fired upon; that shots were fired by some of these defendants; but why were the shots fired?

There is only one reason why--they were defending their own legal property against unlawful invasion and attack; they were defending the dwelling place of Britt Smith, their secretary.

And they had full right to defend their lives and that property and that home against violence or destruction; they had a right to use force, if necessary, to effect that defense. The law gives them that right; and it accrues to them also from all of the wells of elementary justice.

The law says that when a man or group of men have reason to fear attack from superior numbers, they may provide whatever protection they may deem necessary to repel such an attack. And it says also that if a man who is in bad company when such an attack is made happens to be killed by the defenders, those defenders are not to be considered guilty of that man's death.

So they had the troops come, to blow bugles and drill in the streets where the jury could see; their power, however wielded, was great enough to cause Governor Hart to send the soldiers here without consulting the trial judge or the sheriff, whose function it was to preserve law and order here--and you know, I am sure, that law and order were adequately preserved here before the troops came.

"FEARFUL OF THE TRUTH"

They tried the moth-eaten device of arresting our witnesses for alleged perjury, hoping to discredit those witnesses thus in your eyes because they knew they couldn't discredit them in any regular nor legitimate way.

Fearful of the truth, the guilty ones at Centralia deliberately framed up evidence to save themselves from blame--to throw the responsibility for the Armistice Day horror onto other men. But they bungled the frame-up badly. No bolder nor cruder fabrication has ever been attempted than the ridiculous effort to fasten the killing of Warren Grimm upon Eugene Barnett.

These conspirators were clumsy enough in their planning to drive the I.W.W. out of town; their intent was to stampede the marching soldiers into raiding the I.W.W. hall. But how much more clumsy was the frame-up afterward--the elaborate fixing of many witnesses to make it appear that Grimm was shot at Tower avenue and Second street when he actually was shot in front of the hall; and to make it appear that Ben Casagranda and Earl Watts were shot around the corner on Second street, when they were actually shot on Tower avenue, close to the front of the hall.

These conspirators were clumsy enough in their planning to drive the I.W.W. out of town; their intent was to stampede the marching soldiers into raiding the I.W.W. hall. But how much more clumsy was the frame-up afterward--the elaborate fixing of many witnesses to make it appear that Grimm was shot at Tower avenue and Second street when he actually was shot in front of the hall; and to make it appear that Ben Casagranda and Earl Watts were shot around the corner on Second street, when they were actually shot on Tower avenue, close to the front of the hall.

Then, you will remember, I compelled Elsie Hornbeck to admit that she had been shown photographs of Barnett by the prosecution. She would not have told this fact, had I not trapped her into admitting it; that was obvious to everybody in this courtroom that day.

You have heard the gentlemen of the prosecution assert that this is a murder trial, and not a labor trial. But they have been careful to ask all our witnesses whether they were I.W.W. members, whether they belonged to any labor union, and whether they were sympathetic towards workers on trial for their lives. And when the answer to any of these questions was yes, they tried to brand the witness as one not worthy of belief. Their policy and thus browbeating working people who were called as witnesses is in keeping with the tactics of the mob during the days when it held Centralia in its grasp.

You know, even if the detailed story has been barred from the record, of the part F.R. Hubbard, lumber baron, played in this horror at Centralia. You have heard from various witnesses that the lumber mill owned by Hubbard's corporation, the Eastern Railway and Lumber Company, is a notorious non-union concern. And you have heard it said that W.A. Abel, the special prosecutor here, has been an ardent and active labor-baiter for years.

Hubbard wanted to drive the I.W.W. out of Centralia. Why did he want to drive them out? He said they were a menace. And it is true that they were a menace, and are a menace--to those who exploit the workers who produce the wealth for the few to enjoy.

WHY WERE ROPES CARRIED?

Was there a raid on the hall before the shooting? Dr. Frank Bickford, a reputable physician, appeared here and repeated under oath what he had sworn to at the coroner's inquest--that when the parade stopped, he offered to lead a raid on the hall if enough would follow,--but that others pushed ahead of him, forced open the door, and then the shots came from inside.

And why did the Rev. H.W. Thompson have a rope? Thompson believes in hanging men by the neck until they are dead. When the state Employers' Association and others wanted the hanging law in Washington revived not long ago, the Reverend Thompson lectured in many cities and towns in behalf of that law. And he has since lectured widely against the I.W.W. Did he carry a rope in the parade because he owned a cow and a calf? Or what?

Why did the prosecution need so many attorneys here, if it had the facts straight? Why were scores of American Legion members imported here to sit at the trial at a wage of $4 per day and expenses?

They have told you this was a murder trial, and not a labor trial. But vastly more than the lives of ten men are the stakes in the big gamble here; for the right of workers to organize for the bettering of their own condition is on trial; the right of free assemblage is on trial; democracy and Americanism are on trial.

In our opening statement, we promised to prove various facts; and we have proven them, in the main; if there are any contentions about which the evidence remains vague, this circumstance exists only because His Honor has seen fit to rule out certain testimony which is vital to the case, and we believed, and still believe, was entirely material and properly admissible.

But is there any doubt in your minds that there was a conspiracy to raid the I.W.W. hall, and to run the Industrial Workers of the World out of town? Even if the court will not allow you to read the handbill issued by the I.W.W., asking protection from the citizens of Centralia have you any doubt that the I.W.W. had reason to fear an attack from Warren Grimm and his fellow marchers? And have you any doubt that there was a raid on the hall?

When I came into this case I knew that we were up against tremendous odds. Terror was loose in Centralia; prejudice and hatred against the I.W.W. was being systematically and sweepingly spread in Grays Harbor county and throughout the whole Northwest; and intimidation or influence of some sort was being employed against every possible witness and talesman.

Not only were unlimited money and other resources of the Lewis County commercial interests banded against us, but practically all the attorneys up and down the Pacific coast had pledged themselves not to defend any I.W.W., no matter how great nor how small the charge he faced. Our investigators were arrested without warrant; solicitors for our defense fund met with the same fate.

And when the trial date approached, the judge before whom this case is being heard admitted that a fair trial could not be had here, because of the surging prejudice existent in this community. Then, five days later, the court announced that the law would not permit a second change of venue, and that the trial must go ahead in Montesano.

In the face of these things, and in the face of all the atmosphere of violence and bloodthirstiness which the prosecution has sought to throw around these defendants, I am placing our case in your hands; I am intrusting to you gentlemen to decide upon the fate of ten human beings--whether they shall live or die or be shut away from their fellows for months or years.

But I am asking you much more than that--I am asking you to decide the fate of organized labor in the Northwest; whether its fundamental rights are to survive or be trampled underfoot.

Next page: Part 22 - The Lumber Trust Wins the Jury