Flaming Swords, Devilish Anarchists, and Boolean Logic: The First War on Terror

On September 6th, 1901 ' almost exactly 100 years before the 9/11 attacks ' President William McKinley was fatally shot by a somewhat bewildered Polish anarchist named Leon Czolgosz.  Leon Czolgosz The results were in fact eerily similar to those of the 9/11 attacks: nationwide hysteria, fueled by the government and its claque, was unleashed against immigrants and ideological dissidents. All anarchists, whether revolutionary or pacific, were lumped together without distinction, as Muslims would be a century later; newspapers called for boycotting or exiling this 'brood of vipers,' and laws were passed to bar anarchists from entering the country. It was in this atmosphere that Theodore Roosevelt, the most direct beneficiary of Czolgosz's act, issued his famous pronunciamento: 'The anarchist is the enemy of humanity, the enemy of all mankind, and his is a deeper degree of criminality than any other.' (Compare Franklin Graham's description of Islam as 'a very evil and a very wicked religion.') Two recent additions to the Molinari Institute's online library shed light on this dark period for civil liberties. One is U.S. ex rel. Turner v. Williams, the 1904 case in which the Supreme Court upheld the expulsion of anarchist labour organiser John Turner, on the grounds that anyone who 'avows himself to be an anarchist' must be assumed to mean the term 'in the popular sense' of 'one who seeks to overturn by violence all constituted forms and institutions of society and government,' and noted: 'If that be not the fact, he should have introduced testimony to establish the contrary.' (In other words, the burden of proof was placed, unconstitutionally, on the defendant.) Appealing on Biblical grounds to the claim that 'the realm where no human government is needed' (namely Eden) is barred by a 'flaming brand,' the Court concluded that government 'cannot be denied the power of self-preservation' and so booted out of the country a man against whom, by the Court's own admission, no legal case had been made. The other is Henry Bool's Apology for His Jeffersonian Anarchism, a 1901 pamphlet which to my knowledge has not previously been made available online. Henry Bool of Ithaca, N.Y., was a successful and widely respected businessman whose well-known anarchist sympathies had aroused little concern ' until the McKinley assassination, when the Ithaca Journal, with whose owner Bool had previously been on friendly terms, announced (rather disingenuously) that it had 'learned with surprise and indignation' that some Ithaca residents were 'believers in this dreadful doctrine' of anarchism. Identifying Bool specifically as 'an avowed Anarchist,' the paper demanded legislation 'to rid this land entirely of these emissaries of the Devil,' and urged citizens in the meantime '[n]ot to recognize these foes of our Republic on the streets; not to buy of them or sell to them; not to employ them or work in their employ.' While the paper was careful to express disapproval of any vigilante violence against anarchists, Bool considered such violence the likely outcome of the Journal's 'incendiary editorials' and 'inflammatory pabulum,' and was not surprised when he soon began to receive anonymous threats through the mails. When Bool wrote to the Journal to protest at seeing his peaceful and evolutionary Tuckerite brand of individualist anarchism conflated with the terroristic anarchism of Czolgosz (if Czolgosz even was an anarchist, which is debatable), the editors refused to publish his letters, telling him that they had had 'quite enough of anarchists of whatever stripe' and would gladly 'help hang or deport every one of them.' Bool's pamphlet contains the paper's O'Reilly-esque fulminations along with his own rejected replies. (I'm happy to report that, a century later, the Ithaca Journal takes a more favourable attitude toward Bool ' though the paper's own dishonourable conduct in his regard is neatly glossed over even now!)

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Roderick Long's picture
Columns on STR: 22

Roderick T. Long is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Auburn University; President of the Molinari Institute; Editor of the Libertarian Nation Foundation newsletter Formulations; and an Adjunct Scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.  He received his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1992.  His last book was Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand; his next book will be Wittgenstein, Austrian Economics, and the Logic of Action.  He maintains a blog on his website, Praxeology.net.