What really happened around 1918 when WT leaders were imprisoned?

by dubstepped 34 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • dubstepped

    I had never thought about this until just now when I saw that Nathan Natas posted some early tract from Rutherford, and it made me think back to what little I could remember of the history I was taught. I now know that in most cases the dubs will spin stories in their favor. So I'm now assuming I was told some fictitious story about what happened when the leaders were thrown in prison and things looked bleak for the cult way back when.

    I honestly struggle to remember what I was taught, though I remember them tying all of the goings on into prophecy after the fact.

    So, does anyone know what the deal really was? Who was after them? Why? What happened before and after? Anybody got the scoop on that part of history?

  • TD

    I have a copy of the court transcript.

    Rutherford & Co were prosecuted under the Espionage Act. The specific charge was interfering with the ability of the United States to raise an army during wartime.

    At issue were a few pages from the book, The Finished Mystery

    Technically they were guilty (In my amateur bourgeoisie opinion) but it is not something that would likely be prosecuted today, although it is still illegal.

    One upshot of the whole affair was the practice of voluntary disassociation, which was instituted years later

    A JW who decided to join the military was considered disassociated by their actions, rather than disfellowshipped to avoid a potential repeat of the 1918 incident.

  • dubstepped

    So then, did they embellish their stories regarding what went down then? Obviously they embellished with prophecy, but it seems like they may have been fairly straight with their story?

    I can't remember if they claimed that it was simply government interference or if they claimed that religion was behind it.

    There weren't many followers back then so they couldn't have had much impact on raising an army.

    Thanks for the input TD!

  • Pete Zahut
    Pete Zahut

    It's all pretty fuzzy to me now too but wasn't there some nonsense about a prophet (Ezekiel:4) who lay on his side for 3 days which they said represented the time that the JW's were out of commission while they served their time in prison?

    As for you, lie down on your left side and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel on it; you shall bear their iniquity for the number of days that you lie on it.For I have assigned you a number of days corresponding to the years of their iniquity, three hundred and ninety days; thus you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.

    They also used to say that the clergy were all sending each other gifts and congratulating themselves because they finally got the Watchtower shut down. They somehow used Revelation 11:10 to prove this was also fulfillment of a prophecy.

    And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

    I can't believe I ever bought into such nonsense.

  • TD

    So then, did they embellish their stories regarding what went down then?

    JW literature routinely claims that Rutherford & Co were falsely accused under The Espionage Act of 1917.

    This is misleading at best. First of all they weren't simply accused; they were convicted in court. Yes, this was wartime and yes people were hysterical at the time, but a conviction is much, much more than an accusation.

    Second, the overall impression from JW literature is that they were accused of spying. The specific charge is never mentioned, because all but the most dull-witted JW's are very aware of the anti-war stance of their church and would understandably become curious about what was actually said. (And this would mean reading The Finished Mystery, which is one of the most embarrassing publications they've ever produced.)

    Third, JW literature sometimes claims that Rutherford and his associates were exonerated. This is not true. In 1919, the charges were dropped and the defendants were released. That's not the same thing as actually winning your case in court.

  • Brokeback Watchtower
    Brokeback Watchtower


    Rutherford introduced a vast advertising campaign to expose the "unrighteousness" of religions and their alliances with "beastly" governments, expanding on claims in The Finished Mystery that patriotism was akin to murder.[90][91] The campaign provoked anger among the clergy and governments in North America and Europe, where Bible Students began to be arrested, mobbed and tarred and feathered.[71][92] On February 12, 1918 The Finished Mystery was banned by the Canadian government for what a Winnipeg newspaper described as "seditious and antiwar statements".[93] On February 24 in Los Angeles Rutherford gave the first of his talk series "Millions Now Living May Never Die" (the title of the talk was changed five weeks later to "Millions Now Living Will Never Die")[94][95] in which he attacked the clergy, describing them as "the most reprehensible men on earth for the great war that is now afflicting mankind".[93] Three days later the Army Intelligence Bureau seized the Society's Los Angeles offices and on March 4 the US government ordered the removal of seven pages of The Finished Mystery if distribution was to continue.[96] In early May 1918 US Attorney General Thomas Watt Gregory condemned the book as dangerous propaganda[97] and days later warrants were issued for the arrest of Rutherford and seven other Watch Tower directors and officers on charges of sedition under the Espionage Act amid claims they were conspiring to cause disloyalty and encouraging the refusal of military duty. On June 21 seven of them, including Rutherford, were sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. They were released on bail in March 1919 after an appeals court ruled they had been wrongly convicted and in May 1920 the government announced all charges had been dropped.[9
  • Wasanelder Once
    Wasanelder Once
    The Watchtower Society got a library card with the League of Nations to do research I think.
  • dropoffyourkeylee

    Good points all. I also asked myself the same question growing up, and in researching it (before internet) I purchased a reprint of the court transcript, as well as study of the Espionage Act. I would add to the previous comments that the WT leaders were not singled out, rather, it was a nationwide sweep against anyone and everyone who was speaking out against US involvement in WWI. The selective service (the draft) was new, and there was widespread feeling in the US that the US should not be involved in a European War. 'Isolationism' is the word used for it in the history books. In addition, there were many many US citizens who were first or second generation immigrants from Germany, Italy, and the Balkans. The Russian Revolution had just occurred and there was a backlash against Socialists, Communists, as well as anything perceived as 'Red' (labor unions like the IWW). Rutherford and associates were not singled out; there were hundreds of people convicted of the same thing at the same time. Most memorable was Eugene Debs, convicted under the Espionage Act from giving an anti-war speech in Canton Ohio. He later ran for president from his jail cell in Moundsville WV and got almost a million votes. Rutherford and his associates (not all of them were directors of the society at the time) were convicted, then they appealed. They were released on bail and while waiting for the continuation of the trial, the war had ended and the prosecution decided not to pursue it any longer and dropped the case. The same thing happened to most of the other people who had been convicted under the Espionage Act and most were released by 1920.

    It is really an interesting time period in history, if you are interested in free speech issues in the United States, and the history of the WWI period.

  • dubstepped

    Fascinating stuff. It helps to round out the narrative some. They made it seem like this was all some pointed attack specifically at them, as narcissists love to do, and of course made themselves the heroes of the story.

  • ttdtt

    If the US Gov did nothing to them back then, the org may have just disappeared soon after.

    Just another quack religious leader that came and went. Alas :(

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