Anarchism Is Legal Again In State

OLYMPIA - Wobblies of the world, relax.

It's OK once again to be an anarchist in Washington.

Gov. Gary Locke yesterday signed Senate Bill 5671, repealing an 80-year-old law that had been passed in reaction to the homebred Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), radical labor activists better known as the Wobblies.

Under the law, it was illegal to advocate anarchy, defined as "the doctrine that organized government should be overthrown by force or violence."

It was also illegal for people to "assemble for the purpose of advocating or teaching the doctrines of criminal anarchy," or even to possess or display "emblems of seditious and anarchistic groups."

Displaying the letter "A" surrounded by a circle, for example, was a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The law was passed in 1909 and updated in 1919. It never mentioned the IWW, but the union movement was the clear target.

"People couldn't distinguish between a Communist and a Wobblie," said Tacoma historian Ron Magden. "There was a great fear in the general public - especially in the West - because they could blow you up. The law made them feel safer."

It didn't help that the Wobblies were central to two of the more notorious incidents in state history.

In 1916, a contingent of Wobblies was met at the dock in Everett by a sheriff intent on keeping them from helping striking shingle weavers. The Everett Massacre left seven dead and 50 wounded.

In 1919, IWW members and American Legionnaires faced off in a gun battle now known as the Centralia Massacre. An IWW member was later pulled from jail and lynched.

After the bill was approved, though, the Wobblies paid little attention to it, and there were few prosecutions. State Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, could find only four cases that reached the state Supreme Court, the most recent in 1941.

But Kline said that even though the statute was an unconstitutional violation of the right to free expression, it was better to get rid of it - because it might get used.

"The law goes after speech, the display of emblems, parades," Kline said. "The right and the left have a right to do it.

"Call me a paranoiac, but history is cyclical."