Wednesday, March 16, 2016

This week in history: Please come to Chicago

Along with the routine elbow* thrown at the "Democratic Admin.'s Hope of Continuing Old Burocratic Restrictions and Regulations," readers of the editorial page at the World's Greatest Newspaper of March 13, 1946, ran across this:

Fifteen persons who were arrested in the course of a Communist inspired and directed riot on Feb. 7, designed to break up a meeting conducted by the Rev. Gerald L. K. Smith, were arraigned on Monday before Municipal Judge George L. Quilici. The outcome was such as might have been expected from Quilici's previous activities as a fellow traveler and patron of radicals.

This wasn't just any random protest (with occasional bottle-throwing and window-smashing) of a speech by a bizarre right-wing political figure. This was the case that became Terminiello v Chicago (1949). Arthur Terminiello, an Alabama priest known -- at least to his supporters and himself -- as "the Father Coughlin of the South," was brought in by Gerald L.K. Smith to address the Christian Veterans of America. You can decide for yourself what his role in "bringing about the investigation of the Pearl Harbor scandal" might have been. The Supreme Court's summary of the ensuing events is a little dry:

Petitioner in his speech condemned the conduct of the crowd outside and vigorously, if not viciously, criticized various political and racial groups whose activities he denounced as inimical to the nation's welfare.

Upholding Terminiello's conviction for disturbing the peace, the Illinois Supreme Court gave a little more detail:

An hour before the meeting, a strong picket line was formed in front of the auditorium. The number in the picket line gradually increased to several hundred and a crowd estimated at 1000 persons gathered outside to protest the meeting. Despite the presence of approximately seventy policemen, a number of disorders occurred. Some persons braved the picket line. Others were escorted by police. Friends were separated. Clothing was torn. Missiles of all kinds were thrown at the building. Twenty-eight  windows were broken. Stench bombs fell on the steps to the auditorium. Forty boys in a flying wedge bowled over policemen forming a cordon on the steps and almost broke into the hall. ... Cries of "Nazis," "damned Fascists" and "Hitlers" greeted those attending the meeting and frequently the crowd shouted and chanted in unison.

Anything starting to sound familiar?

A transcript of defendant's speech was introduced in evidence. The following excerpts are illustrative: ... "Now, let me say, I am going to talk about -- I almost said, about the Jews. Of course, I would not want to say that. However, I am going to talk about some Jews. ...  Now this danger which we face -- let us call them Zionist Jews if you will, let's call them atheistic, communistic Jewish or Zionist Jews, then let us not fear to condemn them. ... We must not lock ourselves up in an upper room for fear of the Jews. I speak of the Communistic Zionistic Jew, and those are not American Jews. We don't want them here; we want them to go back where they came from."

How did it look in the audience?

The testimony relative to the reaction of the audience during the speech is conflicting. The complaining witness, Ira Latimer, stated that the audience did not merely cheer and applaud; that the people were disturbed and angry, and that the reference to the actions of non-Christian doctors and nurses in Germany drew "Ahs," "Ohs" and other expressions of anger from the audience. Lucille Lipman, a Quaker of Irish extraction, testified that when defendant said there was no crime too great for the Jews to commit, the woman next to her said, "Yes the Jews are all killers, murderers. If we don't kill them first, they will kill us," ... On the other hand, witnesses appearing for defendant testified that the audience was quiet, attentive and orderly at all times, and denied that anyone shouted threats against Jews.

Smith, by far the better-known figure (one of his claims to fame was having been with Huey Long when Long was assassinated), made a familiar claim, as the Trib reported at the time: "This is the first time in history where a criminal goes free and the innocent go to trial." Terminiello was convicted of disorderly conduct and fined $100; he appealed, and the case ended up at the Supreme Court. Justice Douglas wrote for the majority in overturning the conviction:

... A function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. ... That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute, is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest. ... There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view. For the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas, either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups.

Vinson, dissenting, thought Douglas overreached; the jury had correctly decided the address amounted to "fighting words," and since nobody had complained at the time, there was no reason to go back and pick on the wording of the statute. Jackson's dissent (perhaps flavored by his experience as a prosecutor at Nuremberg) was broader and, for free-speech fans, more provocative: If we're going to send the cops to stand between Terminiello (and the people he incites) and his enemies, we need to give the cops some room in deciding when a breach of the peace has gotten out of hand. Given the date, this is of particular interest:

The ways in which mob violence may be worked up are subtle and various. Rarely will a speaker directly urge a crowd to lay hands on a victim or class of victims. An effective and safer way is to incite mob action while pretending to deplore it, after the classic example of Antony, and this was not lost on Terminiello. And whether one may be the cause of mob violence by his own personification or advocacy of ideas which a crowd already fears and hates, is not solved merely by going through a transcript of the speech to pick out "fighting words." The most insulting words can be neutralized if the speaker will smile when he says them, but a belligerent personality and an aggressive manner may kindle a fight without use of words that in cold type shock us.
Let's give Jackson the last word, for the moment, as the primary returns roll in, and you may apply it to any part of the Bill of Rights that you wish: "No liberty is made more secure by holding that its abuses are inseparable from its enjoyment"

* The spelling is Col. McCormick's, but the cartoonist is Joe Parrish. I especially like the squirrel.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home