The Centralia Conspiracy
by Ralph Chaplin
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I exonerate the American Legion as an organization of the responsibility of this. For I say they didn't know about it. The day will come when they will realize that they have been mere catspaws in the hands of the Centralia commercial interests. That is the story. I don't know what the verdict will be today, but the verdict ten years hence will be the verdict in the Lovejoy case; that these men were within their rights and that they fought for a cause, that these men fought for liberty. They fought for these things for which we stand and for which all true lovers of liberty stand, and those who smashed them up are the real enemies of our country.

This is a big case, counsel says, the biggest case that has ever been tried in this country, but the biggest thing about these big things is from beginning to end it has been a struggle on the one side for ideals and on the other side to suppress those ideals. This thing was started with Hubbard at its head. It is being started today with Hubbard at its head in this courtroom, and I don't believe you will fall for it.

Vanderveer's Closing Argument

There are only two real issues in this case. One is the question: Who was the aggressor in the Armistice Day affray? The other is: Was Eugene Barnett in the Avalon hotel window when that affray occurred?

We have proven by unimpeachable witnesses that there was a raid on the I.W.W. hall in Centralia on November 11—a raid, in which the business interests of the city used members of the American Legion as catspaws. We have shown that Warren O. Grimm, for the killing of whom these defendants are on trial, actually took park in that raid, and was in the very doorway of the hall when the attack was made, despite the attempts of the prosecution to place Grimm 100 feet away when he was shot.

We have proven a complete alibi for Eugene Barnett through unshaken and undisputable witnesses. He was not in the Avalon hotel during the riot; he was in the Roderick hotel lobby; he had no gun and he took no part in the shooting.

In my opening statement, I said I would stand or fall on the issue of: Who was the aggressor on Armistice Day? I have stood by that promise, and stand by it now.

Mr. Abel, specially hired prosecutor in this trial, made the same promise. So did Herman Allen, the official Lewis county prosecutor, who has been so ingloriously shoved aside by Mr. Abel and his colleague, Mr. Cunningham, ever since the beginning here. But a few days ago, when the defense was piling up evidence showing that there was a raid on the I.W.W. hall by the paraders, Mr. Abel backed down.

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.

The Lumber Trust Wins the Jury

On Saturday evening, March 13th, the jury brought in its final verdict of guilty. In the face of the very evident ability of the lumber interests, to satisfy its vengeance at will, any other verdict would have been suicidal—for the jury.

The prosecution was out for blood and nothing less than blood. Day by day they had built the structure of gallows right there in the courtroom. They built a scaffolding on which to hang ten loggers—built it of lies and threats and perjury. Dozens of witnesses from the Chamber of Commerce and the American Legion took the stand to braid a hangman's rope of untruthful testimony. Some of these were members of the mob; on their white hands the blood of Wesley Everest was hardly dry. And they were not satisfied with sending their victims to prison for terms of from 25 to 40 years, they wanted the pleasure of seeing their necks broken. But they failed. Two verdicts were returned; his honor refused to accept the first; no intelligent man can accept the second.

Here is the way the two verdicts compare with each other: Elmer Smith and Mike Sheehan were declared not guilty and Loren Roberts insane, in both the first and second verdicts. Britt Smith, O.C. Bland, James McInerney, Bert Bland and Ray Becker were found guilty of murder in the second degree in both instances, but Eugene Barnett and John Lamb were at first declared guilty of manslaughter, or murder "in the third degree" in the jury's first findings, and guilty of second degree murder in the second.

The significant point is that the state made its strongest argument against the four men whom the jury practically exonerated of the charge of conspiring to murder. More significant is the fact that the whole verdict completely upsets the charge of conspiracy to murder under which the men were tried. The difference between first and second degree murder is that the former, first degree, implies premeditation while the other, second degree, means murder that is not premeditated. Now, how in the world can men be found guilty of conspiring to murder without previous premeditation? The verdict, brutal and stupid as it is, shows the weakness and falsity of the state's charge more eloquently than anything the defense has ever said about it.

But Labor Says, "Not Guilty!"

But another jury had been watching the trial. Their verdict came as a surprise to those who had read the newspaper version of the case. No sooner had the twelve bewildered and frightened men in the jury box paid tribute to the power of the Lumber Trust with a ludicrous and tragic verdict than the six workingmen of the Labor Jury returned their verdict also. Those six men represented as many labor organizations in the Pacific Northwest with a combined membership of many thousands of wage earners.

The last echoes of the prolonged legal battle had hardly died away when these six men sojourned to Tacoma to ballot, deliberate and to reach their decision about the disputed facts of the case. At the very moment when the trust-controlled newspapers, frantic with disappointment, were again raising the blood-cry of their pack, the frank and positive statement of these six workers came like a thunderclap out of a clear sky,—"Not Guilty!"

The Labor Jury had studied the development of the case with earnest attention from the beginning. Day by day they had watched with increasing astonishment the efforts of the defense to present, and of the prosecution and the judge to exclude, from the consideration of the trial jury, the things everybody knew to be true about the tragedy at Centralia. Day by day the sordid drama had been unfolded before their eyes. Day by day the conviction had grown upon them that the loggers on trial for their lives were being railroaded to the gallows by the legal hirelings of the Lumber Trust. The Labor Jury was composed of men with experience in the labor movement. They had eyes to see through a maze of red tape and legal mummery to the simple truth that was being hidden or obscured. The Lumber Trust did not fool these men and it could not intimidate them. They had the courage to give the truth to the world just as they saw it. They were convinced in their hearts and minds that the loggers on trial were innocent. And they would have been just as honest and just as fearless had their convictions been otherwise.

It cannot be said that the Labor Jury was biased in favor of the defendants or of the I.W.W. If anything, they were predisposed to believe the defendants guilty and their union an outlaw organization. It must be remembered that all the labor jury knew of the case was what it had read in the capitalist newspapers prior to their arrival at the scene of the trial. These men were not radicals but representative working men—members of conservative unions—who had been instructed by their organizations to observe impartially the progress of the trial and to report back to their unions the result of their observations. Read their report:

Labor's Verdict

Labor Temple, Tacoma, March 15, 1920, 1:40 p.m.

The Labor Jury met in the rooms of the Labor Temple and organized, electing P. K. Mohr as foreman.

Present: J.A. Craft, W.J. Beard, Otto Newman, Theodore Mayer, E.W. Thrall and P.K. Mohr.

1. On motion a secret ballot of guilty or not guilty was taken, the count resulting in a unanimous "Not Guilty!"

2. Shall we give our report to the press? Verdict, "Yes."

3. Was there a conspiracy to raid the I.W.W. hall on the part of the business interests of Centralia? Verdict, "Yes."

There was evidence offered by the defense to show that the business interests held a meeting at the Elk's Club on October 20, 1919, at which ways and means to deal with the I.W.W. situation were discussed. F.B. Hubbard, Chief of Police Hughes and William Scales, commander of the American Legion at Centralia, were present. Prosecuting Attorney Allen was quoted as having said, "There is no law that would let you run the I.W.W. out of town." Chief of Police Hughes said, "You cannot run the I.W.W. out of town; they have violated no law." F.G. Hubbard said, "It's a damn shame; if I was chief I would have them out of town in 24 hours." William Scales, presiding at the meeting, said that although he was not in favor of a raid, there was no American jury that would convict them if they did, or words to that effect. He then announced that he would appoint a secret committee to deal with the I.W.W. situation.

4. Was the I.W.W. hall unlawfully raided? Verdict, "Yes." The evidence introduced convinces us that an attack was made before a shot was fired.

5. Had the defendants a right to defend their hall. Verdict, "yes." On a former occasion the I.W.W. hall was raided, furniture destroyed and stolen, ropes placed around their necks and they were otherwise abused and driven out of town by citizens, armed with pick handles.

6. Was Warren O. Grimm a party to the conspiracy of raiding the I.W.W. hall? Verdict, "Yes." The evidence introduced convinces us that Warren O. Grimm participated in the raid of the I.W.W. hall.

7. To our minds the most convincing evidence that Grimm was in front of and raiding the I.W.W. hall with others, is the evidence of State Witness Van Gilder who testified that he stood at the side of Grimm at the intersection of Second street and Tower avenue, when, according to his testimony, Grimm was shot. This testimony was refuted by five witnesses who testified that they saw Grimm coming wounded from the direction of the I.W.W. hall. It is not credible that Van Gilder, who was a personal and intimate friend of Grimm, would leave him when he was mortally wounded, to walk half a block alone and unaided.

8. Did the defendants get a fair and impartial trial? Verdict, "No." The most damaging evidence of a conspiracy by the business men of Centralia, of a raid on the I.W.W. hall, was ruled out by the court and not permitted to go to the jury. This was one of the principal issues that the defense sought to establish.

Also the calling of the federal troops by Prosecuting Attorney Allen was for no other reason than to create atmosphere. On interviewing the judge, sheriff and prosecuting attorney, the judge and the sheriff informed us that in their opinion the troops were not needed and that they were brought there without their consent or knowledge. In the interview Mr. Allen promised to furnish the substance of the evidence which in his opinion necessitated the presence of the troops the next morning, but on the following day he declined the information. He, however, did say that he did not fear the I.W.W., but was afraid of violence by the American Legion. This confession came after he was shown by us the fallacy of the I.W.W. coming armed to interfere with the verdict. Also the presence of the American Legion in large numbers in court.

Theodore Meyer, Everett Central Labor Council; John O. Craft, Seattle Metal Trades Council; E.W. Thrall, Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen, Centralia; W.J. Beard, Tacoma Central Labor Council; Otto Newman, Portland Central Labor Council; P.K. Mohr, Seattle Central Labor Council.

The above report speaks for itself. It was received with great enthusiasm by the organizations of each of the jurymen when the verdict was submitted. On March 17th, the Seattle Central Labor Council voted unanimously to send the verdict to all of the Central Labor Assemblies of the United States and Canada.

Not only are the loggers vindicated in defending their property and lives from the felonious assault of the Armistice Day mob, but the conspiracy of the business interests to raid the hall and the raid itself were established. The participation of Warren O. Grimm is also accepted as proved beyond doubt. Doubly significant is the statement about the "fair and impartial trial" that is supposed to be guaranteed all men under our constitution.

Nothing could more effectively stamp the seal of infamy upon the whole sickening rape of justice than the manly outspoken statements of these six labor jurors. Perhaps the personalities of these men might prove of interest:

E. W. Thrall, of the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen, Centralia, is an old time and trusted member of his union. As will be noticed, he comes from Centralia, the scene of the tragedy.

Otto Newman, of the Central Labor Council, Portland, Oregon, has ably represented his union in the C.L.C. for some time.

W.J. Beard is organizer for the Central Labor Council in Tacoma, Washington. He is an old member of the Western Federation of Miners and remembers the terrible times during the strikes at Tulluride.

John O. Craft is president of Local 40, International Union of Steam Operating Engineers, of which union he has been a member for the last ten years. Mr. Craft has been actively connected with unions affiliated with the A.F. of L. since 1898.

Theodore Meyer was sent by the Longshoremen of Everett, Washington. Since 1903 he has been a member of the A.F. of L.; prior to that time being a member of the National Sailors and Firemen's Union of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the Sailors' Union of Australia.

P. K. Mohr represents the Central Labor Council of Seattle and is one of the oldest active members in the Seattle unions. Mr. Mohr became a charter member of the first Bakers' Union in 1889 and was its first presiding officer. He was elected delegate to the old Western Central Labor Council in 1890. At one time Mr. Mohr was president of the Seattle Labor Council. At the present time he is president of the Bakers' Union.

Such are the men who have studied the travesty on justice in the great labor trial at Montesano. "Not Guilty" is their verdict. Does it mean anything to you?

Wesley Everest

Torn and defiant as a wind-lashed reed, Wounded, he faced you as he stood at bay; You dared not lynch him in the light of day, But on your dungeon stones you let him bleed; Night came ... and you black vigilants of Greed,... Like human wolves, seized hand upon your prey, Tortured and killed ... and, silent, slunk away Without one qualm of horror at the deed.

Once ... long ago ... do you remember how You hailed Him king for soldiers to deride— You placed a scroll above His bleeding brow And spat upon Him, scourged Him, crucified...? A rebel unto Caesar—then as now— Alone, thorn-crowned, a spear wound in His side!

—R.C. in "N.Y. Call."


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