FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The American Legion’s Anti-Socialist Roots

Many might assume the American Legion is an apolitical gathering-hub for veterans. But as evidenced by its opposition to gay rights in recent years, this is not the case. In fact, the Legion has been a reactionary force since its founding in 1919. Here I will look at two examples of the organization’s early conservative activism: physically assaulting labor activists and leading the opposition to releasing a socialist leader from prison.

“In its early years the organization was best known,” Ernest Freeberg writes, “for its devotion to ‘100 percent Americanism,’ a program that included protecting the nation’s schools and public squares from the subversive influence of political radicals. The Legion proposed a new federal law to bar ‘un-American’ literature from the mail and pushed for schools to add a ‘morale hour’ to the curriculum. ” The organization’s Commander Alan Owsley would even endorse fascism, saying, “If ever needed, the American Legion stands ready to protect our country’s institutions and ideals as the Fascisti dealt with the destructionists who menaced Italy.”

In 1919, writes William Ray Walker, the American Legion post in Centralia, Washington, “held a parade to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Armistice.” According to Robert K. Murray, local members of the Industrial Workers of the World, an anti-capitalist union, had heard rumors their meeting hall would be raided that day, and prepared defenses accordingly.

Twice, parading legionnaires marched past the IWW hall. “On the second trip, Centralia Legion members rushed the hall and broke through the door,” Walker writes. “IWW member and World War I veteran Wesley [Everest] fired at the raiders, and other Wobblies [as the union’s members were called] posted in several locations outside began firing, leaving three dead legionnaires in their wake. Other marchers overwhelmed the defenders and destroyed the hall.”

Everett escaped and a posse was soon sent to find him. Eventually cornered, he shot a fourth legionnaire before he was successfully captured. According to Murray, “his gun now empty, and no longer able to defend himself, Everest was quickly seized, beaten, kicked, cursed and had his teeth knocked out by a rifle butt before he was carried back to town and thrown into jail.”

Later that night, vigilantes broke into the jail and dragged Everest into the street, where, according to Murray, “he was again beaten unmercifully. He was then thrown into a limousine and en route to the Chehalis River was emasculated by one of his kidnappers in an orgy of brutal sadism.” Everest was lynched from the girders of a railroad bridge after multiple failed attempts to do so. Finally, his body was shot full of holes for good measure.

In 1918, Eugene Debs, perennial presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for an anti-war speech in which he declared, “Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder…And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles.”

As Freeberg writes, “The American Legion took a lead role in organizing the opposition to amnesty, treating the Debs case as a litmus test to distinguish true patriots from dangerous radicals and deluded liberals.” According to Freeberg, the organization’s Commander Alan Owsley stated, “If the American Legion is unanimous in just one thing, it is in opposition to the pardoning or releasing of Eugene Debs.”

Despite fierce opposition from the American Legion, Debs was released on Christmas Day, 1921, by Republican President Warren Harding. According to the New York Times, the elderly socialist was greeted by a crowd of 50,000 supporters upon returning to his home in Terre Haute, Indiana.

While posts represent informal gathering centers for many communities, we should not forget the American Legion is a conservative organization and has been since it’s founding.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York.

More articles by:

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Que Syria, Syria
Dave Lindorff
A Potentially Tectonic Event Shakes up the Mumia Abu-Jamal Case
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail