The Espionage Act Is an Embarrassment to Freedom

The Justice Department’s use of the Espionage Act of 1917 as the basis of the indictment of Donald Trump would be laughable if it wasn’t such a blatant attempt to further the Russian collusion hoax.

When the uniparty, under the leadership of Democrat Woodrow Wilson, declared war on Germany in April 1917, there was very little appetite among the people to enlist. Americans of German extraction had no interest in fighting their kinsmen and those of Irish extraction were dead set against fighting to defend Great Britain. Enlistment rates in the early months were frighteningly low.

The enlistment predicament was solved in June with the Espionage Act of 1917, heeding the urgings of President Wilson since December 1916 for a law that would silence domestic opposition to America’s entry into the war raging in Europe.

The official rationale for the Espionage Act was to crack down on wartime activities considered dangerous or disloyal that would assist America’s enemies, but Wilson used it to stifle any criticism of the war, crush anti-war activists and prosecute draft-dodgers. All publications critical of the government were denied access to the postal service, labor unions were emasculated, and two draft-dodgers in Oklahoma were executed.

My book on Dorothy Day’s first job in journalism was the occasion of my own education in the Espionage Act. After working at the New York Call, Day began a new job in May 1917 as assistant to Floyd Dell, the associate editor of The Masses, a monthly radical journal with punchy cartoons, startling satire, and poignant political commentary. It was decidedly anti-militaristic, determined to expose a grand collusion of the government and the war industries to the detriment of the working poor.

With summer approaching, Dell was anxious to get away to his New Jersey bungalow to finish his novel and Max Eastman, the editor, was in Hollywood for a speaking and fundraising tour. All during May, Dell rushed his new assistant through the process of putting the July issue together and out to its subscribers.

On July 3, Dorothy Day’s August issue of The Masses was presented for mailing at the post office in New York. The Masses was notified on July 5 that the August issue was “unmailable.” The humiliation and embarrassment of the 19-year-old Day must have been intense, but the editors later joked rumors that the feds “in spite of the pressure of war-business, celebrated Independence Day by deciding to suppress The Masses, cannot be verified.”

The Masses was the first publication to challenge its suppression in court. Pressed to justify its decision, the Post Office specified four cartoons and four texts in violation of the law, with each selection having been chosen by Day. None bore her name but one, “Emma Goldman and Alex Berkman Are In Jail,” was very possibly composed by her.

The Masses team valiantly put out September and October issues, but without access to the mail, they could not continue. The November-December issue was the last and Dorothy Day was out of work at the end of October.

Not satisfied with destroying the circulation of The Masses, the feds then filed criminal charges against the two editors, two cartoonists, and the business manager while Dorothy Day was on a hunger strike in Occoquan, Virginia. The trial, in April 1918, ended in a hung jury.

The Espionage Act has always been an embarrassment to freedom of speech. It has had little success in imprisoning America’s enemies but that was never its purpose. It has been quite useful in stifling a healthy dialogue questioning the authority of the Uniparty. With the indictment of Donald Trump, they are at it again, using the Espionage Act to go after those who would threaten the plans of the Military Industrial Complex. Let’s pray that they don’t get away with it.

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Notable Replies

  1. I was just educated on the Espionage Act. Another gift from Woodrow Wilson.

    This elucidation shines a whole new light on the indictment and much of the bloviating I’ve been subjected to over the past few days.

    Is this not entirely unconstitutional on it’s face? I know that the opposition only cares about such niceities when it serves them and that we are a nation of political will and not a nation of law. That said, I’d love to hear my favorite Joshie-Josh Hammer’s take on the Act.

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