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Law and Order in Montana 3-7-77

Vigilantes are an often revered part of Montana's history. From Absarokee to Zurich, tales are told to elementary, middle-school, and high-school students about "vigilante justice" that was nothing if not swift. Helena, the capital, even boasts its own tribute to the vigilantes with a "Vigilantes Day" including a parade and other events. But perhaps the greatest tribute Montana has given them is the symbol 3-7-77 on the patch worn by Montana Highway Patrol troopers across the state. The numbers were added to the shoulder patch in 1956 and added a final gloss of respectability to the actions of the original law enforcement group. Promoted to chief administrator that year, Alex Stephenson personally designed the new insignia as a tribute to law and order. "We chose the symbol," he explained later, "to keep alive the memory of this first people's police force."

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Numbers 3-7-77 pnned on the back of a lynched man hanging from the famous Helena Hanging Tree

The Year Montana Rounded Up Citizens for Shooting Off Their Mouths | SmithsonianMag |

The vast majority of people were rounded up for casual statements, off-the-cuff remarks deemed pro-German or anti-American. Citizens turned against one another, joining "patriotic" organizations like the Montana Loyalty League with its stated goal of keeping the Treasure State from "going over body and soul to the Kaiser."

Montana's law fortified the restrictions in the Espionage Act, which Congress passed with the full support of the Woodrow Wilson administration in June 1917, two months after America entered World War I. It was intended to root out saboteurs, making it a crime to interfere with U.S. war efforts or to promote the country's enemies, but that wasn't enough for Montana. Paranoia rippled across the state, fueled by newspapers like the Billings Gazette and the Helena Independent with the latter featuring an October column asking:

    Are the Germans about to bomb the capital of Montana? Have they spies in the mountain fastnesses equipped with wireless stations and aeroplanes? Do our enemies fly around our high mountains where formerly only the shadow of the eagle swept?

The anti-German fervor of the day wasn't unique to Montana, but what lead to the Sedition Law was deeper and shadier than simply misguided notions of patriotism. The majority of the state legislature, and newspaper editorial boards, were beholden to the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. One of the largest mining companies in the world, Anaconda Copper sought to quash political dissenters and union organizers such as the Industrial Workers of the World. (In the summer of 1917, anti-war labor organizer Frank Little was dragged out of a Butte boarding house and lynched from a railroad trestle.) In February 1918, Governor Sam Stewart called an emergency session of the legislature and within days the Montana Sedition Law passed. There was little opposition to the harshest law in the country, one that criminalized vague notions of "disloyal, profane, violent...or abusive language." It passed unanimously.

Pardons Granted 88 Years After Crimes of Sedition | NY Times - May 3, 2006 |

'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2017 at 05:55:14 PM EST
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