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J F Rutherford: 1917-1919: Information, Misinformation and Disinformation

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This forum currently contains a recent topic where the subject of the 1918 imprisonment and 1919 release of Rutherford and his associates has come up. There is a lot of misinformation under that topic

When i was arrested by Civil Police and handed to Military Police and after they transported me to place where i have to serve army, they treated me as Soldier even i was in civil clothes. Later i und

I'm still learning about it. The book "The Finished Mystery" was the initial focus of the investigation, but it was still only a part of the problem. When Rutherford decided to try to sell the bo

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Some of these are difficult to read, but I noticed the one addressed to Br. Robinson where Rutherford writes: "So far as I know, the law has not made provision for the discharge of enlisted men because of their religious conviction. The statute relates only to those who are drafted and who then make their application for exemption".

I am still confused why it should have been a problem to refuse to go to war for religious reasons. How did that equate to sedition, even though Rutherford promulgated that true Christians should not go to war?

I have in my files a letter from an Italian brother that was used in court to show that true Christians refuse to kill.  Also here is a court transcript of the trial, not sure how complete it is. You will have to figure out some of the words because they are the wrong format (I assume from when the original typewritten text was converted to a PDF file) but over all it is quite readable. https://archive.org/stream/RutherfordVTheUnitedStatesTrial/1918_Rutherford_vs_the_United_States_Trial_djvu.txt








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13 hours ago, Anna said:

I am still confused why it should have been a problem to refuse to go to war for religious reasons. How did that equate to sedition, even though Rutherford promulgated that true Christians should not go to war?

The case of Frank D'Onofrio makes the point that once a person is in a military unit they are under the command of others. And those others have been given the power of life and death. They can "kill the body." In the United States, as in many countries, a person could make application for exemption on religious grounds, BEFORE conscription, but once they accepted an "oath" to the military, it was supposedly too late to make that request safely. If they made a request in such a way that could be interpreted as bringing down the morale of a military unit, or was interpreted as running away from a post due to cowardice, this might not end well for the person.

If a person on the outside spoke out against war when the nation was not actively at war, this was never a problem. Woodrow Wilson himself had run for president on statements that were antiwar. But when a war is commenced, the religious leaders and pacifist philosophers were expected to shut up and talk about other things.  The making of an actual law to that effect seems ludicrous, but laws made in the throes of nationalistic passion don't always make rational sense.

Obviously, there would always be some flexibility or variability (inconsistency) of interpretation about how much could be said, and how it could be said, and what effect it was intended to have on potential troops. Some FBI Agents would find certain kinds of evidence useless, and another might think the same evidence was damning. And, the main point: something innocent or barely questionable outside of wartime, could be seen as treasonous and seditious during a war.

Based on the definition of sedition given just before the war, and as expanded between 1917 and 1918, a lot of people were technically guilty of sedition. From a single individual with little influence on others, it could be forgiven (although often it wasn't). But it was considerably more serious to the War Department and FBI if a person had influence, and their words were intended to influence.

One other thing I learned by reading literally thousands of documents on this case and other similar cases in these FBI files, is that the times were already filled with suspicion even before the war. The War Department and FBI was evidently filled with a lot of people who were passionate to fight against perceived internal enemies of United States. These enemies were sometimes just created out of fears propagandized by large commercial interests. The terrible fear of socialism was stoked by capitalists since many socialists had come from Europe to the United States in the mid-1800's. Many fought for the North in the US Civil War, seeing it as an important class conflict. But this brought suspicion on European immigrants from many different European countries, leading to fear of strikes, fear of labor organizing, and fear of those with financial power losing any profits to workers asking for rights.

You'd think it completely unrelated to the case of the Bible Students and Rutherford, but I think that much of the thinking and suspicions of those days was at least partly depicted in a terribly long and slow-moving movie I once saw called "Heaven's Gate" with Chris Kristofferson. It was an adapted depiction of the culmination of the Johnson County Wars, where Wyoming officials (backing the cattle rancher associations) sanctioned the open assassinations of a large part of the new European immigrant population of this area of Wyoming from literal "death lists" of people that a hired posse was allowed to murder, and get paid $5 a day, and $50 for every European immigrant they successfully murdered. This was just over 2 decades prior to 1918.

I read the Agent's reports that reek of suspicion for anyone who might have a socialist bent. If the assembly of IBSA was Polish, Greek, Italian, etc., the suspicions were high that there might be such "anarchists" among them. If the names were potentially German or of some other Eastern European sound that wasn't recognized, then they were all the more fearful of German enemies and socialist "enemies." Agents' reports on IBSA and others were quick to point out any tendencies toward socialism in these groups (which was called "anarchy" because, for example, a worker who wanted to work only 10 hours a day instead of 12 was causing "anarchy").

Russell, well before Rutherford, had already been teaching that Armageddon would involve a clashing of classes between labor and capital.

Although religions like the IBSA (and some other groups and preachers) got caught up in the "Sedition Act" sweeps of 1917 and 1918, it was mostly folks like Eugene Debs (famous socialist) who got impacted. Debs had started and defended railroad unions since the 1890s and even ran for President in almost every presidential election (as a socialist) since 1900 until he died. The last time he ran from his prison cell, having been thrown in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary just as Rutherford was leaving. Note Wikipedia:

On June 16, 1918, Debs made a speech in Canton, Ohio urging resistance to the military draft of World War I. He was arrested on June 30 and charged with ten counts of sedition.[43]  . . . Debs appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court. In its ruling on Debs v. United States, the court examined several statements Debs had made regarding World War I and socialism. While Debs had carefully worded his speeches in an attempt to comply with the Espionage Act, the Court found he had the intention and effect of obstructing the draft and military recruitment. Among other things, the Court cited Debs' praise for those imprisoned for obstructing the draft. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. stated in his opinion that little attention was needed since Debs' case was essentially the same as that of Schenck v. United States, in which the Court had upheld a similar conviction. . . .

In March 1919, President Wilson asked Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer for his opinion on clemency, offering his own: "I doubt the wisdom and public effect of such an action". Palmer generally favored releasing people convicted under the wartime security acts, but when he consulted with Debs' prosecutors—even those with records as defenders of civil liberties—they assured him that Debs' conviction was correct and his sentence appropriate.[50] The President and his Attorney General both believed that public opinion opposed clemency and that releasing Debs could strengthen Wilson's opponents in the debate over the ratification of the peace treaty. Palmer proposed clemency in August and October 1920 without success.[51] At one point, Wilson wrote:

While the flower of American youth was pouring out its blood to vindicate the cause of civilization, this man, Debs, stood behind the lines sniping, attacking, and denouncing them....This man was a traitor to his country and he will never be pardoned during my administration.[42]

[Edited to add that some of the FBI documents use phrases like "The Finished Mystery and other examples of socialist propaganda." Also, to be fair, the Bureau during about the same period increased their efforts  going after war profiteers who were conspiring to overcharge for coal, etc.]

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5 hours ago, JW Insider said:

The case of Frank D'Onofrio makes the point that once a person is in a military unit they are under the command of others.

When i was arrested by Civil Police and handed to Military Police and after they transported me to place where i have to serve army, they treated me as Soldier even i was in civil clothes. Later i understand that all young people who passed age of old (17) when they went to medical examination /recruitment / and been put in evidence for serving in army,  were  under the law  and considered as future soldier, especially in moment when you are literally, physically inside Military Camp.  

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On my hard drive, I have literally over a thousand of these FBI documents that were related to the case against Rutherford and his associates. All of them add a little something to the total picture. As I may have said before, some of them help us get a better picture of the behind-the-scenes workings of the Watch Tower Society and some help us get a better picture of the behind-the-scenes workings of the [Federal] Bureau of Investigation and other related agencies.

I've read about 650 of these and skimmed almost all the others. I don't think anything very surprising will show up. But many do show that J F Rutherford and his associates were very much involved in private discussions with several civilians (IBSA) who wanted to avoid conscription, and Rutherford would give advice about whether it was better to take their chances based on the physical, and then try to request removal from actual combat if it came to that, or to make a petition prior to the conscription. Russell himself, who died near the end of 1916, had recommended accepting conscription and then shooting over the heads of the enemy. Russell was just a child during the US Civil War, but that recommendation would have been meaningless for the many face-to-face battles throughout the Civil War, and just as meaningless for many of the battles in the current "European War" that had started in 1914.

I haven't read the transcripts and details of the prosecution yet, to know what was deemed most important to the charge of Sedition. But I think they were more concerned with the influence of the books, articles, and speeches in front of audiences that could reach hundreds of people at a time.

IBSA members were allowed to keep their own personal (complete) copies of the Finished Mystery and Kingdom News for personal use, but were not allowed to distribute them to others. The persons all over the country who got in trouble were those who were obviously holding stocks of the books with the intention of distribution. I thought the example of Charles Fekel was informative here:

Brother Fekel was a member of the GB from 1974 to 1977. He was somewhat frail during that time, and was rarely seen by others at Bethel.  Here is part of the Watchtower's "obit." https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1977484

ON April 24, 1977, a ‘joyful perseverer in good work,’ Charles J. Fekel, completed his earthly course at the age of eighty years. He was born on March 7, 1897, in Bohemia, a part of Austria-Hungary. With other members of his family he emigrated to the United States in 1905. His religious training included both Roman Catholic and Lutheran teachings. However, when he heard Charles Taze Russell speak on the subject of “To Hell and Back” he knew that he had found the truth of the Bible. In 1916 he was baptized and the following year he entered the colporteur (pioneer) work, which was cut short due to his being arrested as a result of the war hysteria. After the war he had just begun full-time witnessing again when he was invited to serve at the Brooklyn Bethel, the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters printing plant, February 14, 1921.

Here is an interesting discussion of Charles Fekel by the Bureau. He is thought of as an extreme religious fanatic. The first is a followup after an initial investigation of him a month earlier. He had 2,000 copies of Kingdom News 3, after a ruling that Kingdom News could only be distributed to fellow members. (see additional documents regarding Kingdom News at the very bottom of the this post.)





The following pages show that, just as personal copies of the Finished Mystery could be kept by members but not distributed, Kingdom News could only be distributed to fellow IBSA members. This ruling prompted many additional letters to go out to leading persons among IBSA congregations from local Bureau Agents to let them know of the ruling.




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I suspect that it would be boring to most others if I continued posting items that happened to hold some interest to me. I tend to find something of interest in hundreds of these examples. It's interesting to see the perspective of the Watchtower Society and see how it compares to the perspective of the "FBI" and its agents.

Naturally, I was curious to look for a "Catholic connection" or a backlash against the book motivated by religious leaders. In another recent comment not in this topic someone said that the judge was most likely Catholic:

On 7/29/2019 at 5:27 PM, BillyTheKid46 said:

Unknown to the defendants, the Judge who tried the case was strongly against 'religious pacifism' and his conduct during the trial revealed this. The case lasted fifteen days and, say the Witnesses, contained at least 125 errors of procedure by the Judge or prosecution. On 22nd July they were all sentenced to eighty years imprisonment except De Cecca, who got forty years. Judge Howe. Said, in passing sentence:

The religious propaganda in which these people are engaged is more harmful than a division of German soldiers [1,200 men]. They have not only called in question the law officers of the government and the army intelligence bureau but have denounced all the ministers of all the churches. The punishment should be severe.

. . . . The Government saw through the “bias” of that pathetic Judge wanting to use the Watchtower as an example and for being against whatever church that judge attended. Most likely the Catholic faith church!

The Watchtower publications were quick to point out any religious affiliation of persons involved in the case and the courts, and they found that the bail hearing judge, Manton, was Catholic and later disgraced in the 1930's. Although the Watchtower pointed out Manton's disgrace, it could have just as easily pointed out the later disgrace of the Bible Student, William F. Hudgings, the most important witness for Rutherford that Howe had held in contempt for claiming he couldn't read the signatures of other members of the Watch Tower Society. But I suspected that if the original judge, Harland B. Howe, had been Catholic that this would definitely have already been noted. So I just did a quick search on him and members of his own family and wife's family and see no Catholic connection. In fact, members of the family I could find were married and buried as Methodists. So was H. B. Howe, according to this "obit."


Edited to add that BTK's quote about Judge Howe comes from a book called "Millions Now Living Will Never Die: A study of Jehovah's Witnesses" by Alan Rogerson, and can be found here with the particular quote on page 42:  https://archive.org/details/MillionsNowLivingWillNeverDieRogerson

Howe did show prejudice and did make mistakes in the way he treated certain witnesses for the defense. His methods (even holding Hudgings in contempt) implied to the jury that he (the court) had already decided on the guilt of Rutherford. But it wasn't because he was Catholic or particularly religious. (He apparently was neither.) The original assignment of Howe appeared random, and the WTS lawyers had accepted him without much question even though he had already presided as judge over the conviction of a Baptist minister.


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I still have a lot of loose ends to tie up.

For example, there have been claims that some of the legal support to get Rutherford and his associates OUT of prison came from Catholic persons or associations. I haven't found evidence for that yet, but it could be just as possible that Catholics other than Judge Manton were involved in getting a decision on bail for Rutherford and/or their ultimate release and/or the decision not to retry the case. If anyone has heard of any evidence in this direction, it would be interesting, if only because all of the case-related evidence I have seen so far is in in the direction of Rutherford's speech against Catholics (and other religious clergy), not the other way around. Of course, Catholics were targeted by many groups at the time; Rutherford was just one of many anti-Catholic voices in this time period.

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2 hours ago, JW Insider said:

The Watchtower publications were quick to point out any religious affiliation of persons involved in the case and the courts, and they found that the bail hearing judge, Manton, was Catholic and later disgraced in the 1930's.

For very long time WT publications doing this - point out on any religion - with strong criticism and opposition, because all other religions are devil structures made to deceive people. Remember 1980 decade and "attack" on  Roman Catholic Church and other parts of "Christendom". 

Perhaps today is little different about Judges and their affiliation/belongings to some Religion. Did someone in GB or any of JW members asking about, for example, to what religion belongs ARC Hon. Justice Peter McClellan ?! Is that really matter? But it can be important IF you want defend own position with attack on person - who this man is, if he is Catholic than he Must be against us, because he belong to God's enemies ... etc. 

Similarity can be seen in that how JW and WT sees Russian attack on JW Church .... they (enemies) are/belong to Russian Orthodox Church. Who are Judges in Russia Courts? Orthodox members? Who attacks JW and WT Society? Church members, Church Structures or ... devil? Or some standards (of society, moral, religion, civil) are different about some issues than in your home?   

In that sort of logic, people can questioning - why so many lawyers (perhaps not all) who defending/representing WT Society or particular member/s of JW Church ARE also Jehovah's Witnesses??!! Agenda?  Or, do JW Church prefer Atheist people (to be judges and lawyers) as better solution, more justice and sincere? :))

History repeats itself all the time. :))

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21 hours ago, Srecko Sostar said:

Or, do JW Church prefer Atheist people (to be judges and lawyers) as better solution, more justice and sincere? :))

Interesting question. In the Russian case I think there is a lot of evidence that it's the Russian Orthodox Church behind the curtain, because sometimes they come out from behind that curtain.

In the case of the IBSA in 1918, I think that the earliest complaints about bias came from the fact that it was former members of the IBSA who helped the courts find evidence and make a case. In fact, the Watchtower itself complained that it was the former members who didn't like the way Rutherford took over for Russell. The WTS specifically blamed former directors who had been dismissed by Rutherford.

So if a religion is to blame at all, it would be Russellites. I think history repeats itself here too, as there is evidence that ex-JWs helped the prosecution in Australia and Russia, for example.

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