January 10, 1927 Poison Hooch

It’s a crazy, mixed up world full of nut job conspiracy theories. This is not one of those.

prohibition3The Eighteenth Amendment establishing the national prohibition of “intoxicating liquors” was passed out of Congress on December 17, 1917 and sent to the states, for ratification. The National Prohibition or “Volstead” act, so named for Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Andrew Volstead, was enacted to carry out its intent.

At last ratified in January 1919, “Prohibition” went into effect at midnight, January 16, 1920. For thirteen years, it was illegal to import, export, transport or sell liquor, wine or beer in the United States.

“Industrial alcohol” such as solvents, polishes and fuels were “denatured” and rendered unpalatable by the addition of dyes and chemicals.  The problem was, it wasn’t long before bootleggers figured out how to “renature” the stuff. The Treasury Department, in charge of enforcement at that time, estimated that over 60 million gallons of industrial alcohol were stolen during Prohibition.

war-propaganda
War-propaganda

Not to be defied, the government upped the ante. By the end of 1926, denaturing processes were reformulated with the introduction of known poisons such as kerosene, gasoline, iodine, zinc, nicotine, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, quinine and acetone. Better still, Treasury officials required no less than 10% by volume of methanol, a virulent toxin used in anti-freeze.

You can renature all you want. that stuff isn’t coming out.

On Christmas eve 1926, sixty people wound up at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, desperately ill from contaminated alcohol. Eight of them died. Two days later the death toll was thirty-one. By New Year’s Day the number had soared to 400, with no end in sight.

copper-still
A copper still and bucket, like those used in the creation and renaturing of alcohol at home. H’T allthatsinteresting.com, and Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

Many who didn’t die, may have wished it. Drinkers experienced hallucinations, uncontrollable vomiting, even blindness.

In its January 10, 1927 issue, TIME Magazine reported  a doubling in toxicity levels, from the new method:  “The new formula included “4 parts methanol (wood alcohol), 2.25 parts pyridine bases, 0.5 parts benzene to 100 parts ethyl alcohol” and, as TIME noted, “Three ordinary drinks of this may cause blindness. (In case you didn’t guess, “blind drink” isn’t just a figure of speech.)”

New York medical examiner Charles Norris was quick to understand the problem, and organized a press conference to warn of the danger. “The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol,” he said. “Yet it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.”

Norris pointed out that the poorest people of the city, were most likely to be victims: “Those who cannot afford expensive protection and deal in low-grade stuff”.

The towering sanctimony of the other side, is hard to believe.  Teetotalers argued that the dead had “brought it on themselves”. Long-time leader of the anti-saloon league Wayne B. Wheeler claimed “The Government is under no obligation to furnish the people with alcohol that is drinkable when the Constitution prohibits it. The person who drinks this industrial alcohol is a deliberate suicide.”

prohibition_2

In the thirteen years of its existence, Prohibition was an unmitigated disaster.  Portable stills went on sale within a week of enactment, and organized smuggling was quick to follow. California grape growers increased acreage by over 700% over the first five years, selling dry blocks of grapes as “bricks of rhine” or “blocks of port”. The mayor of New York City sent instructions to his constituents, on how to make wine.

Smuggling operations became widespread, as cars were souped up to outrun “the law”. This would lead to competitive car racing, beginning first on the streets and back roads and later moving to dedicated race tracks. It’s why we have NASCAR, today.

alcohol_poison_passed

Organized crime became vastly more powerful due to the influx of enormous sums of cash. The corruption of public officials was a national scandal.

Gaining convictions for breaking a law that everyone hated became increasingly difficult. The first 4,000 prohibition-related arrests resulted in only six convictions, and not one jail sentence.

It’s hard to compare alcohol consumption rates before and during prohibition but, if death by cirrhosis of the liver is any indication, alcohol consumption wasn’t reduced by any more than 10 to 20 per cent.

In the end, even John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler who contributed $350,000 to the Anti-Saloon League, had to announce his support for repeal.

On December 5, 1933, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment, repealing the Eighteenth and voiding the Volstead Act, returning control over alcohol policy to the states.

Federal officials continued to poison industrial alcohol until the very end, resulting in the death of some 10,000 citizens.   They didn’t even pretend not to know, what was happening.  Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Seymour Lowman may have had the last word, among those who would say “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”.  Lowman opined that, if deliberately poisoned alcohol resulted in a more sober nation, then “a good job will have been done.”

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.
Advertisements

September 25, 1789  Bill of Rights

Today the American system is often described as “democracy”, but such a description is in error.  Four wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner, is a democracy.  The genius of the founders can be demonstrated in a system which protects the rights of All its citizens, including that individual.  The proverbial lamb.

The Founding Fathers ratified the United States Constitution on June 21, 1788.  In so doing, our forebears bestowed on generations yet unborn, a governing system unique in all history.  A system of diffuse authority, of checks and balances, and authority delegated but Never relinquished, by a sovereign electorate.

Today the American system is often described as “democracy”, but such a description is in error.  Four wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner, is a democracy.  The genius of the founders can be demonstrated in a system which protects the rights of All its citizens, including that individual.  The proverbial lamb. The specifics are enumerated in our bill of rights, twelve amendments adopted by the first Congress on this day in 1789, and sent to the states for ratification.

bill-of-rightsEven at the Constitutional Convention, delegates expressed concerns about the larger, more populous states holding sway, at the expense of the smaller states. The “Connecticut Compromise” solved the problem, creating a bicameral legislature with proportional representation in the lower house (House of Representatives) and equal representation of the states themselves in the upper house (Senate).

The 62nd Congress proposed a Constitutional amendment in 1912, negating the intent of the founders and proposing that Senators be chosen by popular election.  The measure was adopted the following year, the seventeenth amendment having been ratified by ¾ of the states.  Since that time, it’s difficult to understand what the United States Senate even is,  an institution neither democratic nor republican.  But I digress.

Five states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut, ratified the document in quick succession. Some states objected to the new Constitution, especially Massachusetts, which wanted more protection for basic political rights such as freedom of speech, religion, and of the press. These wanted the document to specify, that those powers left un-delegated to the Federal government, were reserved to the states.

sherman-ellsworthA compromise was reached in February, 1788 whereby Massachusetts and other states would ratify the document, with the assurance that such amendments would immediately be put up for consideration.

With these assurances, Massachusetts ratified the Constitution by a two-vote margin, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. New Hampshire became the ninth state on June 21. The new Constitutional Government would take effect on March 4 of the following year.

Amendments 2-12 were adopted on December 15, 1791, becoming the “Bill of Rights”.

It’s interesting to note the priorities of that first Congress, as expressed in their original 1st and 2nd amendments.  As proposed to the 1st Congress, the original 1st amendment dictated apportionment of representation. It was ratified by only 11 states, and technically remained pending. Had the states ratified that original first amendment, we would now have a Congress of at least 6,345 members, instead of the 535 we currently have.

The original 2nd amendment was an article related to Congressional compensation, that no future Congress could change their own salaries.   The measure would in fact, pass, becoming the 27th amendment in 1992.  Following a ratification period of 202 years, 7 months, and 10 days.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

September 24, 1789 Supreme Court

From “Separate but Equal” to the “rights” of terrorists, SCOTUS’ rulings are final, inviolate, and sometimes imbecilic.

Article III of the United States Constitution establishes the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), and “such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish”.

There is no mention of the number of justices. The first Congress passed the Federal Judiciary Act on September 24, 1789, specifying a six-justice Supreme Court.

Twelve years later, the presidency of John Adams was coming to an end. As a Federalist, Adams wanted nothing more than to stymie the incoming administration of Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson. Toward that end, Adams appointed the infamous “midnight judges” in the last hours of his administration: 16 Federalist Circuit Court judges and 42 Federalist Justices of the Peace.

The incoming Jefferson administration sought to block the appointments. Jefferson ordered then-Secretary of State James Madison to hold those commissions as yet undelivered, thus invalidating the appointments. One of the appointees, William Marbury, took the matter to Court.

The case advanced all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Marbury v. Madison that the provision of the Judiciary Act enabling Marbury to bring his claim, was unconstitutional.  Marbury lost his case, but the principle of judicial review, the idea that the court could preside Godlike, over laws passed by their co-equal branch of government, has been the law of the land, ever since.

marbury-v-madison

In the early days of the Great Depression, Federal agricultural officials conceived the hare brained idea that artificially introducing scarcity would increase prices, and therefore wages, in the agricultural sector. Six million hogs were destroyed in 1933. Not harvested, just destroyed and thrown away. 470,000 cattle were shot in Nebraska alone. Vast quantities of milk were poured down sewers, all at a time of national depression, when malnutrition was widespread.

With the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, Washington began to impose production quotas on the nation’s farmers. Ohio farmer Roscoe Filburne was ordered to grow 223 bushels of wheat in the 1941 season. Filburne grew 462.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution permits Congress “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”. That is all but, on this flimsy basis, the Federal Government took Roscoe Filburne to court.

The farmer argued that the “surplus” stayed on his farm, feeding his family and his chickens. Lower Courts sided with Filburne. The government appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that, by withholding his surplus, Filburne was effecting interstate market conditions, thereby putting him under federal government jurisdiction.

ht_roscoe_filburn_nt_120130_wmain

Intimidated by the Roosevelt administration’s aggressive and illegal “court packing scheme“, SCOTUS decided the Wickard v. Filburne case, against the farmer. Ever since, what you don’t do can be held against you in a court of law. Get it? Neither do I.

Over time, SCOTUS has proven itself to be as imperfect as any other institution. There have only been 17 Chief Justices and 101 Associate Justices in the entire history of the court. Five Chiefs having previously sat as Associate Justices, there are only 113 in all.  Should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed, he would be #114.

Some among those 113 have been magnificent human beings, and some of them cranks. There have been instances of diminished capacity ranging from confusion to outright insanity. One justice spent part of his term in a debtor’s prison. Another killed a man. There have been open racists and anti-Semites.

There is no official portrait of the 1924 court because Justice James C. McReynolds wouldn’t stand next to Louis Brandeis, the court’s first Jewish Justice. One Justice was known to chase flight attendants around his quarters, while another spent his time in chambers, watching soap operas.

There’s the former Klan lawyer turned Justice who took a single phrase, “separation of church and state”, from a private letter of Thomas Jefferson, and turned the constitutional freedom OF religion into an entirely made up freedom FROM religion.

Separation-of-Church-and-State

The Supreme Court reinforced chattel slavery with the Dred Scott decision. The Korematsu ruling gave us the forced incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent. Buck v. Bell gave Americans the “gift” of forced sterilization, and Stenberg v. Carhartt enshrined the constitutional “right” to the hideous and detestable “procedure” known as partial birth abortion. From “Separate but Equal” to the “rights” of terrorists, SCOTUS’ rulings are final, inviolate, and sometimes imbecilic.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who once said “remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat,” invented a whole new definition of taxation, enshrining the “Affordable Care Act” as the law of the land.

The framers gave us a Constitutional Republic with co-equal branches of government, with power diffused and limited by a comprehensive set of checks and balances.

They gave us two distinct means to amend that Constitution, should circumstances require it.

Traditionally, Congress proposes amendments, submitting them to the states for ratification. The problem is that many believe Congress itself to be part of the problem, and a broken institution is unlikely to fix itself.

Article V gives us a way to amend the constitution, if we would take it. Instead of Congress proposing amendments, an Article V convention of state legislatures would propose amendments, to take effect only if ratified by a super majority of states. We could start with an amendment permitting 2/3rds of the People’s representatives in Congress, to overturn a SCOTUS decision. Then we could term limit these people.

article-5

Unless, that is, you believe it’s fine for the Federal Government to prohibit a farmer from growing wheat for his own use, that one man in a black robe can force you to buy a product you don’t want and call it a “tax”, or you believe that “established by the state” means by the state or federal government, at the sole discretion of the man who says, “I’m from the Government. I’m here to help”.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

September 16, 1920 Anarchy

At a minute past noon, moments after the driver left the scene, the timer-set bomb exploded. The wagon and horse were blasted to bits, as automobiles were hurled through the air and iron weights tore through the late Summer crowd.  Thirty-eight people were killed in the blast, mostly young people – messengers, stenographers, clerks and brokers.  Hundreds more were maimed, 143 of those, grievously. 

800px-23_Wall_Street_New_YorkIn the heart of the Financial District in Manhattan, at the corner of Wall Street & Broad stands an office building, commonly known as “The Corner”.

Once owned by J.P. Morgan & Co., 23 Wall Street was designated a New York City landmark in 1965, and later added to the National Register of Historic Places.

On this day in 1920, the horse-drawn wagon passed by lunchtime crowds and stopped outside the Financial District’s busiest corner. Inside the wagon was one-hundred pounds of dynamite, and five-hundred pounds of cast iron sash weights, designed to act as shrapnel.

At a minute past noon, moments after the driver left the scene, the timer-set bomb exploded. The wagon and horse were blasted to bits, as automobiles were hurled through the air and iron weights tore through the late Summer crowd.  Thirty-eight people were killed in the blast, mostly young people – messengers, stenographers, clerks and brokers.  Hundreds more were maimed, 143 of those, grievously.

Wallstreetbmb

Property damage was estimated at two million dollars, equivalent to $24.4 million, today.  Suspicion for the blast centered on radical leftists, followers of the Italian anarcho-terrorist, Luigi Galleani.

3d4ccc055dd7070540d99d187d1cfdc5

A life-long anarchist and radical subversive, the 40-year-old Luigi Galleani was repeatedly incarcerated and/or deported from his native Italy, Switzerland, France and Egypt, before emigrating to the United States in 1901.

Settling in Paterson NJ and later Barre, Vermont, Galleani became editor of the largest Italian anarchist newsletter of the time, La Questione Sociale, as well as founding editor of the anarchist newsletter Cronaca Sovversiva (Subversive Chronicle)

Lugi_Gallean2
Luigi Galleani

There, Galleani harangued and criticized “timid” socialists, organizing immigrant labor communities and agitating for the “propaganda of the deed”, direct action to overthrow the institutions of civil society and the market economy.

Luigi Galleani was specific.  He wanted violence, and the man was every bit the fire-breather in person, as he was in his writing.  Carlo Buda, brother of Galleanist bombmaker Mario Buda, said of Galleani, “You heard Galleani speak, and you were ready to shoot the first policeman you saw“.

Mario Buda was responsible for the Milwaukee Police Station bombing in 1917, an event which accounted for the largest single-incident loss of life in the history of United States law enforcement, until 9/11.

Historians believe that Galleanists began their bombing campaign in 1914, after police forcibly dispersed a protest outside the home of John D. Rockefeller, in Tarrytown, New York.  A series of bombs over the next several months, destroyed churches, police stations and businesses.

Cronaca

A bomb was placed under the seat of a judge that November, who’d sentenced an anarchist for inciting to riot. Two months later, New York police uncovered a plot to blow up St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

In 1916, Chicago police hunted for Chef Nestor Dondoglio, who’d poisoned 100 guests at a banquet to honor Archbishop George Mundelein. Quick thinking and a hastily prepared emetic by a physician among the guests prevented any fatalities, but Dondoglio himself was never apprehended.

Bombings occurred at dozens of sites throughout late 1917 and into 1918, in New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Milwaukee, and always accompanied by the leaflets, denouncing “the priests, the exploiters, the judges and police, and the soldiers” whose time was coming to an end.

cd64980a7f40cb81e172523079c81bfd
Palmer home, following the explosion

Galleani spoke before an anarchist group in Taunton, Massachusetts in February 1919.  The following night, four of them attempted to place a bomb at the American Woolen Company’s mill in nearby Franklin, where workers were on strike. That time, the bomb went off prematurely, and killed all four of them.

That April, Galleani followers attempted to assassinate Woodrow Wilson’s Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer, with a bomb mailed to his home in Washington, DC.  The package was intercepted and defused but, not to be deterred, the group tried again that June.  This time, the bomb was delivered in person by anarchist Carlo Valdinoci, who screwed something up and died in a blast so powerful, that it hurled the neighbors from their beds..

AG Palmer and his family were shaken but unhurt, though the blast mostly destroyed their home.  Valdinoci’s remains rained down over an area of several city blocks.

In that one month alone, Italian anarchists mailed no fewer than 36 dynamite bombs to prominent political and business leaders.

One package was discovered because plotters had failed to add sufficient postage.  Fortunately, most of the others were found out, as the packaging was identical.  Most were never delivered but one blew off the hands of a housekeeper, working at the home of Senator Thomas W. Hardwick, a sponsor of the Immigration Act of 1918.

wallstreet_bombing_1920-300x183That June, another nine far more powerful bombs used up to twenty-five pounds of dynamite, for the first time introducing the use of metal slugs, to add to the bomb’s lethality. The intended victims were all political figures who’d supported anti-sedition or deportation legislation including AG Palmer himself, or judges who’d sentenced anarchists to long prison terms.  None were successful, though one killed a 70-year-old night watchman, who stopped to check a suspicious package on the doorstep of judge Charles Nott.

Today, the period is derisively referred to as the first “Red Scare”.  At the time, the American public clamored for action.  Attorney General Palmer attempted to suppress these radical organizations in 1919-’20, but his “Palmer Raids” were often illegal, his arrests and detentions without warrant, and many of his deportations, questionable.

Palmer Raids

The 1920 arrest and subsequent execution of Italian-born American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti for the robbery and murder of two men in Braintree Massachusetts, remains controversial, to this day. Many blamed “anti-Italian” and “anti’immigrant” bias for the executions. Fifty years later, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis proclaimed that Sacco and Vanzetti had been unfairly tried and convicted and that “any disgrace should be forever removed from their names”.

The Governor’s proclamation failed to note the 1927 attempts on the lives of Sacco & Vanzetti’s executioner Robert Elliott, nor that of Webster Thayer, trial judge in the Sacco-Vanzetti case. A second explosions at the Thayer home in 1932 destroyed the front of the house, and injured judge Thayer’s wife and housekeeper. Judge Thayer himself lived the rest of his life at a club at Boston University, under 24-hour guard.

The Wall Street bombing, carried out ninety-eight years ago today, was never solved.

800px-Wallstreetbomb
Signs may still be seen of the 1920 bombing, at #23 Wall Street
If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

August 22, 1992 Ruby Ridge

When Weaver declined to become informant, ATF filed illegal weapons indictments, claiming that Weaver was a bank robber with an extensive criminal record. Subsequent US Senate investigation revealed that Weaver had no such criminal convictions.  Weaver was now ensnared by a federal government bureaucracy, as unreasoningly suspicious as himself.

Randall Claude “Randy” Weaver came into the world in 1948, one of four children born to Claude and Wilma Weaver, a farming couple from Villisca, Iowa. Deeply religious people, the Weavers moved among several Evangelical, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches, in search of a spiritual ‘home’ to fit with their beliefs.

Weaver dropped out of community college at age 20 and enlisted in the Army, stationed at Fort Bragg and serving three years before earning an honorable discharge.

AE_Ruby_Ridge_2_t600

A month after leaving the Army, Weaver married Victoria Jordison and soon enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa to study criminal justice. At the time, Weaver wanted to become an FBI agent, but the high cost of tuition put an end to that. Randy found work at a local John Deere factory while “Vicki” became first a secretary and later a homemaker, as the family grew.

Over time, the couple began to harbor fundamentalist beliefs, while becoming increasingly distrustful of the government. Vicki came to believe that the Apocalypse was imminent.  The answer to her family’s survival lay in moving ‘off the grid’, away from ‘corrupt civilization’.

RANDALL_VICKI_WEAVER_t1170

In the early eighties, the couple paid $5,000 cash plus their moving truck for a piece of property, and built a cabin on the remote Ruby Ridge in the north of Idaho.

In 1984, Randy Weaver had a falling out with neighboring Terry Kinnison, over a $3,000 land deal. Kinnison lost the ensuing lawsuit and was ordered to pay Weaver an additional $2,100 in court costs and damages. Kinnison took his vengeance in letters written to the FBI, Secret Service, and county sheriff, claiming that Weaver had threatened to kill Pope John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, and Idaho governor John Evans.

Randy and Vicki Weaver were interviewed by FBI as well as Secret Service agents, and the County sheriff. Investigators were told that Weaver was a member of the white supremacist Aryan Nation and that he had a large gun collection in his cabin. Weaver denied the allegations, and no charges were filed.

AE_Ruby_Ridge_7_t600
Sarah and Samuel on family property

There seems no small amount of paranoia and mutual distrust, in what followed. The Weavers filed an affidavit in 1985, that their enemies were plotting to provoke the FBI into killing them. The couple wrote a letter to President Reagan, claiming that a threatening letter may have been sent to him, over a forged signature. No such letter ever materialized but, seven years later, prosecutors would cite the 1985 letter, as evidence of a Weaver family conspiracy against the government.

White supremacist Frank Kumnick was a member of the Aryan Nations, and target of an investigation by the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Weaver attended his first meeting of the World Aryan Congress in 1986, where he met a confidential ATF informant, posing as a firearms dealer. In 1989, Weaver invited the informant to his home, to discuss forming a group to fight the “ZOG”, the “Zionist Occupation Government” of anti-Semitic and paranoid conspiracy theory.

Ruby-Ridge

ATF charged Weaver that same year, with selling its informant two sawed-off shotguns. The government offered to drop the charges in exchange for Weaver’s becoming an informant. Weaver declined, and ATF filed illegal weapons indictments, claiming the subject was a bank robber, with an extensive criminal record. Subsequent US Senate investigation revealed that Weaver had no such criminal convictions, but Weaver was ensnared, by a  government bureaucracy as unreasoningly suspicious, as himself.

Trial was set for February 20 1991 and subsequently moved to February 21, due to a federal holiday. Weaver’s parole officer sent him a letter, erroneously stating that the new date was March 20. A bench warrant was issued when Weaver failed to show in court, for the February date.

AE_Ruby_Ridge_5_t700

Randy Weaver was now a “Fugitive from Justice”.

The U.S. Marshals Service agreed to put off execution of the warrant until after the March 20 date, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office called a grand jury, a week earlier. It’s been said that a grand jury could indict a ham sandwich and the adage proved true, particularly when the prosecution failed to reveal parole officer Richins’ letter, with the March 20 date.

The episode fed into the worst preconceptions, on both sides. Marshalls developed a “Threat Profile” on the Weaver family and an operational plan: “Operation Northern Exposure”. Weaver, more distrustful than ever, was convinced that if he lost at trial, the government would seize his land and take his four children, leaving Vicki homeless.

AE_Ruby_Ridge_1_t600
Surveillance photos of Weavers with guns, on their own property

Marshalls attempted to negotiate over the following months, but Weaver refused to come out. Several people used as go-betweens, were even more radical than the Weavers themselves. When Deputy Marshal Dave Hunt asked Bill Grider: “Why shouldn’t I just go up there … and talk to him?” Grider replied, “Let me put it to you this way. If I was sitting on my property and somebody with a gun comes to do me harm, then I’ll probably shoot him.”

On April 18, 1992, a helicopter carrying media figure Geraldo Rivera for the Now It Can Be Told television program was allegedly fired on, from the Weaver residence. Surveillance cameras then being installed by US Marshalls showed no such shots fired, and Pilot Richard Weiss denied the story.  Yet, a lie gets around the world, before the truth can get its pants on. (H/T, Winston Churchill). The ‘shots fired narrative’ became a media sensation. The federal government drew up ‘rules of engagement’.

Surveillance_photograph_of_Vicki_Weaver_21_Aug_1992
US Marshall Recon Team photo of Vicki Weaver, taken August 21, 1992

On August 21, a six-man armed Recon team arrived to scout the property, for a suitable spot to ambush and arrest Randy Weaver. Deputy Art Roderick threw rocks at the cabin to see how the dogs would react. The cabin was at this time out of meat and, thinking the dog’s reaction had been provoked by a game animal, Randy, a friend named Kevin Harris and Weaver’s 14-year-old son Samuel came out with rifles, to investigate. Vicki, Rachel, Sarah and baby Elisheba, remained in the cabin.

Marshalls retreated to a place out of sight of the cabin, while “Sammy” and Harris followed the dog ‘Striker’ into the woods. Later accounts disagree on who fired first, but a firefight erupted, between Sammy, Harris, and the Marshall’s team. When it was over, the boy, the dog and Deputy US Marshall William “Billy” Degan, lay dead.

The standoff now spun out of control, with National Guard Armored personnel carriers, SWAT, State Police and FBI Hostage Rescue Teams, complete with snipers.

On the 22nd, Harris, Weaver and sixteen-year old daughter Sarah were entering a shed to see the body of Weaver’s dead son, when FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi fired from a position some 200 yards distant. The bullet tore into Weaver’s back and out his armpit. When the three raced back to the cabin, Horiuchi’s second round entered the door as Harris dove for the opening, injuring him in the chest before striking Vicki in the face, as she held the baby in her arms.

AE_Ruby_Ridge_8_t600
Protesters were quick to form at the base of Ruby Ridge

Two days later, FBI Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson wrote the following memorandum, unaware that Vicki Weaver lay dead:

Something to Consider
1. Charge against Weaver is Bull Shit.
2. No one saw Weaver do any shooting.
3. Vicki has no charges against her.
4. Weaver’s defense. He ran down the hill to see what dog was barking at. Some guys in camys shot his dog. Started shooting at him. Killed his son. Harris did the shooting [of Degan]. He [Weaver] is in pretty strong legal position.”

The siege of Ruby Ridge would drag on for ten days. Kevin Harris was brought out on a stretcher on August 30, along with Vicki’s body. Randy Weaver emerged the following day. Subsequent trials acquitted Harris of all wrongdoing and Weaver of all but his failure to appear in court, for which he received four months and a $10,000 fine.

AE_Ruby_Ridge_3_t600
Randy Weaver, mugshot

Questions persist about the government’s ham-fisted approach at Ruby Ridge, and intensified after the Branch Davidian train wreck at Waco six months later, involving many of those same agencies and federal officials.

In 1995, a pair of reprobates would carry out their “revenge” on the government, blowing up a federal office building in Oklahoma City and killing 168 innocent people, injuring 680 others.  Nineteen of the dead, were children.

Oklahoma-City-bombing-1996

Subsequent Senate hearings criticized Ruby Ridge “rules of engagement” as unconstitutional, the use of deadly force unwarranted, under the circumstances.  Kevin Harris was awarded $380,000 damages for pain and suffering.  Weaver was awarded $100,000, and his three daughters, $1 million each.

FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi was indicted for manslaughter in 1997, charges later dismissed on grounds of sovereign immunity.

Deadly force procedures were brought about, intending to bring the government into line with Supreme Court precedent, resulting in a kinder, gentler federal law enforcement apparatus.  That was the idea.  You might want to ask Elian Gonzalez, how that worked out.

170427-zimmerman-tribeca-tease_nx9wef

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

July 21, 1925 Trial of the Century

After eight days of trial, the jury took only nine minutes to deliberate, finding Scopes guilty on July 21.

The legal contest recorded as State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, better known as the “Scopes Monkey Trial”, began with the “Butler Act”, a measure passed by Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, prohibiting teaching of the theory of evolution in Tennessee public schools, colleges and universities.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) immediately announced its intention to sue, offering to defend anyone accused of violating the act. Local businessman George Rappleyea arranged a meeting with the county superintendent of schools and local attorney Sue Kerr Hicks, a man who may have been the inspiration for Shel Silverstein’s “A Boy Named Sue,” which everyone remembers from the Johnny Cash song, of 1969.

scope

The three met at Robinson’s Drug Store, and agreed that their little town of Dayton could use the publicity. The trio summoned 24-year-old High School football coach and part time substitute teacher John Scopes, asking him to plead guilty to teaching the theory of evolution. Scopes replied that he could not recall if he had done so, but would be more than happy to be the defendant if anyone could prove that he had.

Scopes was charged on May 5, barely two months after the law’s enactment, with teaching evolution from “Civic Biology”, a textbook describing the theory of evolution, race and eugenics. The prosecution brought in William Jennings Bryan to try the case and the defense hired Clarence Darrow.  Two of the heaviest of jurisprudential heavy hitters of the day, were now lined up in the “Trial of the Century”.

scopesBryan complained that evolution taught children, that humans were no more than one among 35,000 mammals. He rejected the idea that humans were descended from apes. “Not even from American monkeys, but from old world monkeys”. The ACLU wanted to oppose the Butler Act on grounds that it violated the teacher’s individual rights and academic freedom, but it was Darrow who shaped the case, taking the position that the theistic and the evolutionary views were not mutually exclusive.

c9ca8cf7e75e87b7f4ed1995ec575353--s-bostonWhat had begun as a publicity stunt soon became an overwhelming media event. 200 newspaper reporters from all over the country arrived in Dayton, along with two come all the way from London. Twenty-two telegraphers sent out 165,000 words a day over thousands of miles of telegraph wires, hung specifically for the purpose.

Trained chimpanzees performed on the courthouse lawn. Chicago’s WGN radio personality Quin Ryan broadcast the nation’s first on-the-scene coverage of a criminal trial. A specially constructed airstrip was prepared, from which two movie cameramen had their newsreel footage flown out, daily.

H.L. Mencken, writing for the Baltimore Sun, mocked the prosecution and the jury as “unanimously hot for Genesis.” Mencken labeled the town’s inhabitants “yokels” and “morons”. Bryan was a “buffoon” and his speeches “theologic bilge”. It was Mencken who dubbed the proceedings, “Monkey Trial”. The defense, on the other hand, was “eloquent” and “magnificent”. Or so he claimed.

Not the least little bit of media bias, there.

5297700After eight days of trial, the jury took only nine minutes to deliberate, finding Scopes guilty on July 21. The gym teacher was ordered to pay a $100 fine, equivalent to something like $1,300, today. Scopes’ conviction was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court, on the basis that state law required fines over $50 to be decided by a jury, and not by the judge presiding.

American creationists believe to this day, that media reports turned public opinion against the religious view. Evolution vs Creation debates may be reasonably expected to continue, for the foreseaable future. Ultimately, neither seems supportable, by anything more than the faith of its adherents.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

July 22, 1937 Stacking the Deck

To Roosevelt, President Wilson’s age-70 provision was the answer to his problems, and the end to Supreme Court opposition to his policies.

United States ConstitutionArticle III, Section 1 of the United States Constitution creates the highest court in the land.  The relevant clause states that “The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish“.  Nowhere does the document specify the number of justices.

The United States was in the midst of the “Great Depression” in 1932, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to office. Roosevelt had promised a “New Deal” for America, and immediately began a series of sweeping legislative reforms designed to counter the devastating effects of the Depression. Roosevelt’s initiatives faced many challenges in the courts, with the Supreme Court striking down several New Deal provisions as unconstitutional in his first term.

The Supreme Court was divided along ideological lines in 1937, as it is today. “Judicial Realist” or “Liberal” legal scholars and judges argued that the constitution was a “living document”, allowing for judicial flexibility and legislative experimentation. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. first referred to a “living constitution” in 1920 in speaking of  Missouri v. Holland, a case which overrode state concerns about abrogation of states’ rights arising under the Tenth Amendment.  The “case before us” Holmes wrote, “must be considered in the light of our whole experience and not merely in that of what was said a hundred years ago”.

3NIUJFURFI2WDD32OYOSNUMQJQ

“Judicial Formalists”, today we call them “Conservatives” or “Originalists”, seek to discover the original meaning or intent of the framers, of the Constitution. Formalist legal scholars and judges argue that the judiciary is not supposed to create, amend or repeal law; that is for the legislative branch. The role of the court is to interpret and uphold any given law, or strike it down in light of the original intent of the framers and the ratifiers.

In 1937, SCOTUS was divided along ideological lines, with three Liberals, four Conservatives, and two swing votes.

Woodrow Wilson’s Attorney General, James Clark McReynolds, made a proposal in 1914 that: “(When) any judge of a federal court below the Supreme Court fails to avail himself of the privilege of retiring now granted by law (at age 70), that the President be required, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint another judge, who would preside over the affairs of the court and have precedence over the older one. This will insure at all times the presence of a judge sufficiently active to discharge promptly and adequately the duties of the court”.

To the President, this was the answer. The age 70 provision allowed Roosevelt to nominate 6 more handpicked justices, effectively ending Supreme Court opposition to his policies.

img_1085

Roosevelt’s “Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937” immediately came under sharp criticism from legislators, bar associations, and the public. Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings on the bill on March 10, 1937, reporting it “adversely” by a committee vote of 10 to 8. The full senate took up the matter on July 2, 1937, with the Roosevelt administration suffering a disastrous setback when Senate Majority Leader Joseph T. Robinson, a powerful supporter of the legislation, died of a heart attack.

1-new-deal-supreme-court-grangerThe full Senate voted on July 22, 1937, to send the bill back to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where provisions for additional justices were stripped from the bill. A modified version passed in August, but Roosevelt’s “Court Packing” scheme was dead.

In the end, the President would have the last word. Over the course of an unprecedented four terms, Roosevelt would eventually appoint eight out of the nine justices, serving on the Court.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.