Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Sunday, August 25, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 65° Partly Cloudy
News >  Spokane

100 years ago in Coeur d’Alene: Wobbly found guilty of ‘criminal syndicalism’

A jury in Coeur d’Alene deliberated for only an hour and a half before finding W.M. Nelson, the former secretary of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) in St. Maries, guilty of “criminal syndicalism,” The Spokesman-Review reported on April 3, 1918. (Spokesman-Review archives)
A jury in Coeur d’Alene deliberated for only an hour and a half before finding W.M. Nelson, the former secretary of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) in St. Maries, guilty of “criminal syndicalism,” The Spokesman-Review reported on April 3, 1918. (Spokesman-Review archives)

A jury in Coeur d’Alene deliberated for only an hour and a half before finding W.M. Nelson guilty of “criminal syndicalism.”

Nelson was the former secretary of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) in St. Maries. He was arrested after police seized Wobbly literature that, the state contended, “advocated sabotage in lumber camps.”

Nelson’s defense was that he simply distributed bulletins that had come in from headquarters in Spokane and Chicago.

A former Benewah County deputy sheriff, who admitted to being a Wobbly, also testified on Nelson’s behalf saying that he had worked in the lumber camps and no such sabotage had been committed.

The judge sent the case to the jury by saying that employees have a lawful right to organize and picket peacefully. But under the new “criminal syndicalism” law, they had to find Nelson guilty if he was working for an organization “teaching and advocating” crime, sabotage or violence.

Nelson’s case had already prompted a riot in St. Maries, when angry Wobblies protested the fact that the trial had been moved to Coeur d’Alene.

Sentence had not been pronounced, but the maximum penalty was 20 years.

Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter

Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.

You have been successfully subscribed!
There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email webteam@spokesman.com