Mania in Los Angeles

By William Emmet

[The Nation; January 17, 1918]

The student of social pathology cannot fail to take notice these days of the unheard-of human reversions to brute panic and excesses. The East St. Louis massacre is a blot upon the pages of our history. But from the point of view of intellectual progress, mental epidemics, such as are now sweeping over Los Angeles, are fraught with even greater danger. War hysteria has reached a height at which sane men must stand aghast. Press, pulpit, people, and courts, even, seem equally mad with war-frenzy.

The thing began to come to a head during the recent visit of Billy Sunday, who daily offered to God the most ferocious prayers for the destruction of Germany and the extermination of every German. The Rev. Chas. Edward Locke, pastor of the First M. E. Church, preached that pacifists were worse than pro-Germans, and that all of them should be exported to Berlin. The city authorities fell in line with the popular mania. A so-called Loyal League was formed under the leadership of Major Judson, to go gunning for any one that should pronounce the word "peace" in any manner.

A handful of Christian ministers, mostly from the northern part of the State, being grieved at the continuous preaching of the gospel of hate, decided to hold at Long Beach a conference to emphasize a broader view of humanity and to attract other Christian ministers to a saner view of things. The programme, one of the most innocuous conceivable, bore the title: "Conference of Christian Pacifists: a Religious Meeting, Non-Political and Non-Obstructive." It was announced to discuss such books as "Why Men Fight," by Bertrand Russell, and "Newer Ideals of Peace," by Jane Addams.

The Long Beach Council of Defence, together with the Mayor and police, decided that they would not allow pacifist meetings of any kind. They refused to look at the programme or the names of the speakers; and yet by intimidation prevented every owner of a hall from allowing its use for the meetings. The original organizer of the conference, Rev. Floyd Hardin, pastor of a Methodist church, thought that there would be less prejudice in Los Angeles, and so obtained a hall there. The Los Angeles police, however, decided to break up any peace meetings before they should get started at all. So they placed officers at the hall and, without giving reason for their action, refused entrance to any one. But the Christian Pacifists meantime obtained a small room in the Douglas building for a meeting chiefly of the out-of-town delegates.

The action of the police seems a bit ridiculous in view of the fact that at no time was there any prospect of the conference being attended by more than a few dozen people. Even with the free advertising the police action brought the conference, at no time were more than twenty-five or thirty people present besides the police officers and secret service men. The meetings lasted three days and were finally held in private homes, but no arrests were made except at the first meeting in the Douglas building. Here Rev. Floyd Hardin, Rev. Robert Whitaker, pastor of a, Baptist church, and Harold Storey, a Quaker theological student, were arrested and were later released on bail. Otherwise the meetings were not interfered with by the police or the Federal officers, who were present throughout. A Federal officer placed on the stand during the trial stated that he had been delegated to arrest any speaker making seditious remarks, but found nothing that would warrant his making an arrest.

The trial of the three men arrested, which has just been concluded in the Los Angeles police court, Judge Thomas P. White presiding, is probably the climax of perversity in American jurisprudence. The men were found guilty of "holding an unlawful meeting," "refusing to disperse when so ordered by the officer," and "disturbing the peace." The judge sentenced each defendant to six months in the county jail and $1,200 fine.

The prosecution made use of statements like the following, alleged to have been made by the prisoners, some time or other at some place or other, for it was not pretended that they had said these things at the meeting where the arrest was made. First, Mr. Harold Storey, in a sermon on the text, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," was accused of saying that it was difficult for many Christians to conceive of the carpenter of Nazareth thrusting a bayonet into the breast of a brother. Secondly, the Rev. Floyd Hardin was alleged to have said at another meeting that he would prefer to go into eternity with his own blood on his hands rather than with that of a brother. Thirdly, the Rev. Robert Whitaker was accused of having said somewhere that under certain circumstances he would prefer the ideals of the Bolsheviki or of the I. W. W. to those of the Merchants' and Manufacturers' Association. These were the traitorous utterances which were alleged against the defendants themselves.

Much extraneous evidence was brought before the jury, as, for instance, this: At the meeting in the Douglas building the Christian Pacifists had borrowed from an adjoining office a typewriter desk in the drawer of which a copy of The Masses was found; though it was established that none of the defendants nor any one in the audience knew of its presence, or even knew the magazine itself, yet this magazine was the first piece of evidence handed to the jurors and intently studied. A copy of an up-State country newspaper was found containing a report of a speech by Walter Thomas Mills last summer in San Francisco in which he said that President Wilson had the "fear of God in his heart and needed it." Bishop Paul Jones, of Salt Lake, had prayed somewhere, "God forgive them, for they know not what they do"—in supposed reference to the war. The Rev. Sidney Strong, of Seattle, had distributed copies of the Sermon on the Mount and quoted the words, "If thine enemy smite thee upon one cheek, turn to him the other also." The attorneys for the defence objected to the introduction of this kind of evidence, but Judge White apparently ruled that all peace propaganda was in effect the same kind, and that therefore anything said anywhere at any time against war or for peace would establish the nature of the conference.

The jury consisted of three men and nine women. All of them stated it as their conviction that the right of free speech did not extend to the discussion of peace while the country was at war, but declared their belief that they could give the defendants a fair trial, and stated that they would clear them in case the Court should instruct the jury that the defendants had not transgressed the law. Both jury and judge, apparently, were, entirely under the influence of the ideas now predominant in the community, viz., that it is traitorous to talk, or pray to God, for peace. One clergyman, by the way, wrote to the Los Angeles Times thus: "The reply of the Christian clergyman to the weakling to-day is that Jesus Christ was the man who first put the fist into pacifist. Yours for Christian service!"

The, defence was ably conducted by Judges J. H. Ryckman and S. W. Packard, but their eloquent pleas availed nothing. The prosecuting attorney, Mr. Richards, admonished the jury that Jesus had said, "Bring hither mine enemies and slay them before me." "Some spunk to that," he added, and then continued: "Members of the jury, look upon these defendants. You know that if they were living in Germany and attempted to hold a peace meeting there, some fat Government official, would put them into a meat-grinder and grind them into-sausage to feed to their dachshunds. But we cannot do that here; we can only put them into jail."

The Los Angeles Times reports Judge White to have said during the trial, that in saying that "the German soldiers were splendid fighters they actually did give comfort to the enemy, and in a measure caused disquiet among some Americans by these utterances." In his arraignment of the prisoners he said in substance that any one who teaches that Jesus of Nazareth would not fight is using religion as a cloak for seditious and traitorous propaganda, for this war is the Holy War of God, and since the state derives its authority from God, the United States had gone into this war at the command of God, and he that resisteth the state resisteth God. In sentencing the prisoners, Judge White declared that "now the people of Los Angeles were giving notice through the courts to all the world that they would tolerate no peace meetings within their city, and that he would make a public example of these men to others from preaching their pernicious doctrines there."

The temper of the community is clearly seen in the many letters to the press, which appear almost daily. Not only do the people oppose German music, language, and literature, but some are insistently demanding that there shall be no observance of Christmas, since the Germans keep Christmas; any one who has a Christmas tree or sings "peace and good will on earth" this year shall be considered a pro-German and a pacifist and shall be adequately punished. Major Judson has pledged his organization to oppose any kind of "pacifist noise" in Los Angeles. The authorities are openly abetting violence in the name of patriotism. A certain Colonel Blake was put on the stand during the trial as a hero because he had broken up a prayer-meeting in a private home in Pasadena, though he declared he did not know who or what pacifists were, but he did not want that kind around in his city.

The three convicted Christian ministers are men of little means; while they are bravely attempting to appeal their case to a higher court, it is doubtful that they can procure the money necessary for even the initial expense. The feeling in the community is such that persons can come to their aid only at considerable risk to themselves. Probably the city of the Angels will thus have the historic distinction of having sent three inoffensive Christian ministers to jail for three years for having prayed to the God of heaven that the blessing of peace might again come back to earth.

The serious aspect of such mania as that of Los Angeles is that it is known in Germany and Russia. President Wilson has earnestly tried to appeal to the German people against their rulers, but these appeals will come to naught if the German people only see us in our unreasoning as a mad bull, against whom they must fight to the most.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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