Welcome to the second installment in my ongoing examination of an organization variously known as "the Family" or "the Fellowship." Founded in 1935 by a minister known as Abraham Vereide with the support of a group of wealthy Seattle business men, the fundamentalist Christian sect's influence would grow to the point that by the 1950s it held an annual National Prayer Breakfast attended by the President of the United States and other key political and business figures. This tradition continues to this very.
The Family played an enormous role in shaping the modern Christian fundamentalist movement, but it has been plagued by dark rumors of intelligence ties and fascist sympathies since its early days. Indeed, even the very founding of the group is quite suspect. As recounted in the first installment, Vereide claimed to have a religious experience one April night in 1935 and then the next day encountered a Major Walter Douglas. Douglas was a former military officer who none the less was still addressed as major by his associates and who was apparently a man of some means. After Vereide recounted parts of his vision to Douglas, the major put the minister in contact with a group of wealthy Seattle business men who agreed to support Vereide's vision of "reconciling" labor to capital.
Vereide's concept of reconciliation was quite curious in this context as he essentially believed that the wealthy --whom he dubbed "key men" --were ordained their fortunes and influence by God and that labor, by coveting this wealth, was in defiance of the divine order. The wealthy frequently found a certain appeal in Vereide's message as it largely absolved them of any real moral responsibility for their actions towards labor. The hardships of the poor, regardless of their origins, were "God's will."
Its origins date back to the First World War when the military (specifically the Military Intelligence Division; MID) and the newly minted Bureau of Investigation (the predecessor to the FBI) were devising a way to guard the national's industrial resources against sabotage by German agents. These were interesting times. The chief architect of this network was a man named General (eventually) Ralph Van Deman, the so-called "father of American military intelligence."
"From the first weeks of the war in April 1917, Washington focused its security agencies on controlling what MID called 'the manifold domestic problems arising from... our mixed population,' specifically the large German American community, elements of which had been vocal in their support of the kaiser right up to the eve of America's entry into the war. The threat of German American disloyalty and German imperial espionage created, in the view of Van Deman and colleagues at the Justice Department, an urgent need for vigilance against spies and subversion. Even though an extensive wartime study found the German intelligence did not have a significant spy network in the United States, Van Deman somehow concluded that the Germans must be using itinerant traveling agents, making the threat omnipresent. Of equal concern, mass hysteria over the possibility of subversion inspired vigilantes across America. When the Justice Department urged citizens to 'report disloyal acts,' the number of complaints soon reached fifteen hundred a day, mostly, said the attorney general, from 'hysterical women and... men, some doubtless actuated by malice and ill will, and the vast majority utterly worthless.' Patriots also formed 'dozens of organizations...devoted to running down of spies,' something Major Van Deman called 'an extremely dangerous development.' Yet, with MID requiring millions of man hours for its burgeoning domestic security operations, he also saw potential in these groups, feeling that a national organization of civilian spies 'might be of great value to the government.'
"The most promising of these groups, the American Protective League, had been formed in the first weeks of war when a Chicago businessman, Albert M. Briggs, convinced the Bureau of Investigation's regional supervisor to cooperate with a citizen surveillance network. For the first nine months of the war, the APL's executive operated out of Chicago under a so-called War Board with representatives from nine agencies including the Bureau of Investigation and MID – the latter represented by Maj. Thomas B. Crockett, the APL's assistant chief, now commissioned into the Army. After conducting a very careful investigation of this and other civilian organizations, Major Van Deman summoned the APL's leaders to offer him both a commission and a mission on the assurance that his members would be willing 'to do absolutely nothing except what they were requested to do by the Military Intelligence Branch.' Through what the army's chief of staff described as an 'arrangement with the Justice Department,' the APL was now placed at the disposal of M.I.D. After moving its headquarters to Washington in November, the APL reformed its executive to include just two government representatives, a lieutenant and captain from MID assigned to monitor the league's counterintelligence mission. Working closely with BI director Bruce Bielaski, Van Deman presided over the APL's transformation into a civilian counterintelligence auxiliary. It deployed over 350,000 volunteer agents in 1,400 local units who, working like constabularly spies in colonial Manila, amassed over a million pages of surveillance reports on German Americans. In just fourteen months, the league would conduct a total of three million wartime investigations for the government including 440,000 cases of suspected subversion for MID."
(Policing America's Empire, Alfred McCoy, pgs. 300-301)
|a badge used by the APL|
"Although it was more professional than its APL auxiliaries, MID itself pursued a wartime mission that suffered from a similar combination class bias and ethnic anxiety. With the league investing millions of man-hours on routine security work, MID was free to deploy its officers for convert counterintelligence against radical unions and socialist parties, using the full panoply of legal and extralegal tactics the army had developed in the colonial Philippines. From the MID's inception Van Deman viewed radical unions, particularly the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the famed socialist union known as the Wobblies, as a serious security threat. To justify a sustained campaign, in June 1917 Van Deman reported that the IWW's 'strong opposition to the war' threatened the army's strategic copper production from Western mines and warned that it's organizing activities in the California oil fields would bring 'acts of sabotage leading to the curtailment of supplies.' Consequently, he conceded wide autonomy for action to his western regional command, which operated from a sprawling San Francisco headquarters that supervised thirty-seven local offices. In this war on the radical left, MID's regional officers allied themselves with plant security forces and recruited hundreds of agents from private detective agencies already expert at union infiltration...
"... MID was also actively combating the militant organizing efforts of the IWW. From the first months of war, the union proved a disruptive force in the West, conducting mining strikes in the Southwest, militant actions on the San Francisco waterfront, and aggressive organizing in the docks, forests, and mines of the Pacific Northwest. In contrast to the eastern states, where Justice Department supervision restrained the APL's recourse to physical force, in the West military intelligence joined violent vigilante groups in a bid to crush the union.
"In the first months of the war, employers and citizen groups across the West struck at the IWW in a desperate effort to contain worker discontent. To quash union agitation in the Pacific Northwest, local and federal officials mobilize the Minute Men, which soon attracted twelve thousand members, and the Legion of Loyal Loggers and Lumbermen, which the army organized as a closed-shop company union of thirty-five thousand men to secure spruce timber for aircraft production. Workers who refused to join were beaten, blacklisted, and drafted into the army. In South Dakota the APL worked with a group called the Home Guards to force unionists from the Aberdeen wheat fields, prompting a U.S. attorney to praise the group as 'the Ku Klux Klan of the Prairies.' Similarly, in the mining district of Bisbee, Arizona, the Citizens Protective League led mobs in packing some twelve hundred suspected IWW members into boxcars and sending them, without food or water, into the New Mexico desert. After the governors of eight western states pressed Washington to 'put all IWW's in concentration camps,' President Wilson endorsed a 'secret investigation' of the union by the Justice Department. Simultaneously, MID's Western Department, with Van Deman's approval, organized the Volunteer Intelligence Corps, which recruited a thousand 'patriots' by April 1918 as part of an abortive plan to supplement the BI as the lead agency in domestic security operations.
"With it sprawling port facilities and surrounding forests, Seattle was a magnet for radical labor and a major battleground for MID. The region's internal security agencies – BI, MID, and ONI – joined forces for a multifaceted attack on the IWW's influence in the city with an innovative range of repressive tactics: the posting of army sentries on the waterfront, censorship of the mail, deportation of 'undesirables,' 'indiscriminate arrests' of waterfront unionist by ONI, and the 'discharge of certain undesirables from the... ship yards.' Political intervention led to the replacement of Seattle's police chief with one who was 'a very able and patriotic officer' and to the defeat in the March 1918 elections of a pro-union mayor, Hiram C. Gill, who was discredited by an earlier indictment for taking bribes from bootleggers. Adding to these pressures on the union, the local Military Police commander, Colonel M.E. Saville, mobilized a forceful civil-military attack, prosecuting 'seven disloyal I.W. W.'s' organizing 'a Counter-Espionage system among the spruce workers,' and 'smashing the political vice ring in Seattle' by barring Camp Lewis soldiers from the city's bars and brothels.
"Moving beyond the legal to the extralegal, MID's Seattle office continued the repression with actions that closed union halls, tar-and-feathered union members, intercepted mail, and conducted an undercover campaign to infiltrate the IWW's clandestine structure of coded membership and cellular networks. On May 2 the Seattle police, as MID reported approvingly, dealt a decisive blow by raiding the IWW headquarters, rounding up 213 members, and ringing the building with patrols to prevent access."
(Policing America's Empire), Alfred McCoy, pgs. 308-310)
|a banner of the Wobblies|
"The strike of 1934 scared Abram into launching the movement that would become the vanguard of elite fundamentalism, and elite fundamentalism took as its first challenge the destruction of militant labor. Destruction was not word Christians used, however. They called it cooperation.
"The April after the strike, Harry Bridges traveled to Seattle to convene a meeting of a new federation of maritime workers, with 'maritime' broadly defined to include pretty much anyone within driving distance of the ocean. For a brief moment that year, he came close to turning the old Wobbly dream of One Big Union into a political reality. But it wouldn't last. Indeed, the revived Wobbly dream began unraveling right there in Seattle, where Abram finally plucked up the theocratic strand and began pulling it taut into the twentieth century."
(The Family, Jeff Sharlet, pgs. 108-109)
They key figure behind this group was Arthur B. Langlie, a lawyer who would go on to become both the mayor of Seattle and the governor of Washington state with the assistance of Vereide and his "key men." Vereide first encountered Langlie during a retreat in the summer of 1935.
"That summer Abram took a core of Christ-committed leaders – a railroad man and a lumberman and a banker, a car dealer, a clothier, and a navy commander – on a retreat to the Canyon Creek Lodge, alongside a river amid the peaks of the Cascades. He gathered his troops around the tall stone hearth and led them in a 'spiritual inventory,' each man taking turns listing aloud that which troubled their city, their state, their corporation. Hunger, pride, whores, Harry Bridges, booze, degenerates, sloth, corruption, the Teamsters. Women with short hair. Communism in the colleges. Sailors, a dirty, immoral lot. Pessimism. Racy movies. The Soviet Union. The color red, in general, the 'red tide,' the 'red menace,' the 'red-hued progeny' of Stalin. Also brown, for the Brownshirts, a force so vital, so strong, so bursting with muscle – could America possibly compete with the fabulous rising of Italy, Germany, Austria? Round the room the men went, moaning their fears and their losses and their failures. They fell to their knees, old men's joints creaking, overwhelmed by the godlessness surrounding them, and, yes, they confessed, within them. 'Utter helplessness,' Abram recorded.
"They have been reading the Bible for months, and most must have known its darkest corners, the truth of an angry God not as a bearded man in heaven shaking an ancient finger but more like the wilderness growling in the dark at the edge of the city. 'He was like a bear waiting for me,' warned Jeremiah, 'like a lion in secret places.' To them the thud of the billy club and the shriek of the gas canister were the sounds not of repression but of Christian civilization making its last stand. The tribes of labor were whooping. If history taught any lesson, it was that no Custer could save society from the coarse-clothed savages. 'Subversive forces had taken over,' observed Abram. 'What could we do?'
"It was at this moment on the edge of hysteria when a young lawyer named Arthur B. Langlie, kneeling among the big men, discovered his calling. A flat-face, blue-eyed Scandinavian like Abram, Langlie was thirty-five years old that July, known equally for his wide smile and his zealous religion, a sharp-nosed teetotaling man who could work a party with just a glass of water in his hand.
"He rose from his knees. 'Men, it can be done,' he said. 'I am ready to let God use me.'
"Abram's brotherhood was ready to use him, too. On the spot one rich man said he would finance Langlie's crusade, and others followed with promises of time and connections. Langlie would be their key man. Abram's heart must have been pounding. This was what God had shown him. The brothers gripped hands in a circle before the fireplace and sang a song in the mountains for the city they meant to save."
(The Family, Jeff Sharlet, pgs. 116-117)
"That meeting also marked a turning point in Langlie's long and successful political career. Langlie came to the prayer movement as a representative of a brotherhood of young businessman across the state of Washington called the New Order of Cincinnatus. Twelve hundred strong, the Cincinnatans presented a 'New Order' of moral and economic force in opposition to FDR's New Deal. Younger than Abram's establishment figures, the Order ran candidates for office under the banner of the ancient Roman general Cincinnatus, summoned from his farm five centuries before Christ to assume dictatorial power over a populace too exhausted by infighting to make decisions for itself.
"When several of Langlie's Cincinnatans showed up at the city comptroller's office to register, they came flanked by men of the Order wearing identical white shirts, joining a rainbow of like-minded lovers of discipline and intimidation – not just Mussolini's Blackshirts in Hitler's Brownshirts but the Greenshirts of the Romanian Legion of the Archangel Michael, the Blueshirts of Ireland, and, in America, the Silver Shirts, the initials of which, SS, deliberately chosen, justified the flamboyant color. The men of the order gave themselves military ranks and considered adding a sieg heil-style salute to their public image, but decided that would be 'too fascist.' The Order's first 'National commander,' an excitable former Republican operative, saw models for such qualities in the strongmen across the Atlantic and bureaucrats who made their governments run like Henry Ford's assembly lines. The Order craved efficiency. One of its first goals after its formation in 1933 was a Washington state constitutional convention at which local police forces would be eliminated and replaced with troopers trained at retooled state colleges.
"Langlie never officially joined the Order, but he became its chief candidate. The year of the big strike, the Order took control of Seattle's city council by invoking middle-class fears of Wobbly insurrection. Poverty, it maintained, was part of the natural way of things. The Order had two solutions to economic malaise: slash taxes and attack vice. As councilman, Langlie purge the city's police department, which routinely ignored Sunday liquor sales, Chinese gambling halls, and the prostitution that prospered in a port city like Seattle. He then turned his ax towards the fire department (poor moral specimens) and public school teachers (indoctrinating the youth with godless notions). With his allies in the Order, he succeeded in passing a budget so brutal that the city's conservative Republican mayor, whose first act in office had been to literary lead a police charge against the previous year's strikers, vetoed it as contemptuous of human suffering. So Langlie decided to depose him. The Order's rise won attention as far away as Manhattan, where a titillating New York Times thrilled to the movement's youthful fervor.
"In Abram's telling, Langlie stood, pledged himself, and simply ascended to public office. Langlie had in fact taken his city council seat without the trouble of an election; his opponent, wary of a public fight with the Order, simply stepped down and appointed Langlie to replace him. But despite the Order's white-shirted military manner and the financial backing of Abram's brotherhood, his first bid for the mayoralty failed. The Democrat who'd been ousted in 1934, a flamboyant corrupt opportunist name John Dore, charged Langlie with running as the candidate of a 'secret society.' Dore wound up his campaign with a ninety-minute speech denouncing Langlie as a fascist so dangerous that his own almost-open corruption was preferable. The city that had thrown Dore out in a special election only a year before agreed with this diagnosis: Democrats, radicals, and even Republicans united to return the crook to power."
(The Family, Jeff Sharlet, pgs. 117-119)
Langlie's defeat proved to be a temporary set back, however. He was elected mayor of Seattle in 1938 and governor in 1941. The first time around he only held onto the post for one term, but was reelected in 1949 and served to 1957 this time around. This proved to be the first major victory for Vereide and his brotherhood thanks in no small part to the contribution from the "Order" (interestingly, a rather notorious 1980s neo-Nazi group with strong ties to Washington state was also referred to as the "Order").
Unlike the APL and other like-minded groups, the New Order of Cincinnatus was more concerned with electoral gains than the more direct assaults on labor that the former groups specialized in. But the Order and the Family clearly shared the same seething anti-union animosity as the nation's burgeoning industrial security apparatus. And indeed, it would seem that military men, former and otherwise, played a key role in the rise of the Family.
Its also interesting to note that Washington state was also a strong-hold for the above-mentioned Silver Shirts. I've written at great length on the Silver Shirts and their founder, William Dudley Pelley, before here. Suffice to say, Pelley himself is a curious character who seems to have had quite a deep background. His influence in Washington state was at its peak during the mid-1930s as the Family was beginning to spread its wings.
"The Silver Shirt Legion in the Pacific Northwest has been studied in more detail. Karen Hoppes found sixteen hundred member spread throughout twenty-six local branches in Washington state. While some of the local units had only ten active members, those in larger, urban areas attracted more than four hundred active members. Hoppes found the membership in the Evergreen state, like that nationally, divided almost equally between the middle class and manual laborers. The Washington unit was among the largest in any single state and highly organized (with its base at the Silver Lodge in Redmond).
"Pelley was very proud of the Washington branch and visited the area frequently. However, he did the state organization no favor by feuding with some local leaders and shifting others to alternative positions. Pelley fell out with state leader Frank W. Clark over finances, leading Clark to establish his own National Liberty Party and to take a number of Silver Shirts with him. He replaced Clark with the indefatigable Roy T. Zachary, but, in a move that vitiated the Washington branch, he soon assigned Zachary to head the Christian Party. Zachary proved to be an excellent organizer, and Washington was the only state with Pelley on the ballot in the 1936 presidential election. However, the state unit suffer because of Zachary's inattention and was further weakened by Pelley's decision to relocate Zachary to the national headquarters in Ashville as Silver Shirt 'field marshal.' One of Pelley's most loyal followers, Zachary readily agreed to the move, even though it entailed significant financial difficulties for him. Zachary's successor, Orville W. Roundtree, was just as dedicated to Pelley and was equally efficient, but he desperately needed the assistance Zachary could have provided."
(William Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-Wing Extremism and the Occult, Scott Beekman, pg. 102)
|Pelley with his Silver Shirts|
Certainly Pelley comes off as far to uncouth a figure for Vereide to have associated with, but would the Family have found uses for the Silver Shirts during their early days in Washington state? Certainly they would embrace far more nefarious company as the years wore on. More on that in the next installment. Stay tuned.
"contemptuous of human suffering"ReplyDelete