The Lynching Story
by Westbrook Pegler
(From 'T Ain't Right, 1936, pp. 256-259)
As one member of the rabble, I will admit that I said "Fine, that is swell," when the papers came up that day, telling of the lynching of the two men who killed the young fellow in California, and that I haven't changed my mind yet for all the storm of right-mindedness which has blown up since. I know how storms of right-mindedness are made.
The city editor calls a fellow over and tells him to call up a lot of names on the office right-mindedness list and get about a column of expressions of horror and indignation.
There are various standard lists in all shops. One is the list to be called up when some police captain in Boston bars some dirty book from public sale. This one includes a lot of one-book novelists who will say that the Boston police captain undoubtedly is just an ignorant cop who ought to be out shooting hoodlums.
There is another group to be called up for expressions on the restlessness of modern youth when some drunk gril falls out the window of a penthouse while drunk. There is a feminism list, a nudism list, an is-jazz-music? list, and so forth.
Well, the city editor tells the fellow to get about a column of horror and indignation over the lynching, and he goes into the phone booth and comes out about a half-hour later with a mess of copy-paper all scratched up with chicken-track notes. He has nailed the president of the university, the head of the Bar association, a couple of publicity-crazy judges, the governor, the head man of the local crime committee, and several prominent ladies who go in for right-mindedness and good works in a grim way.
Then the editorial page cartoonist, if there is one, draws a picture of a robust female in a loose wrapper with her head bowed and a broken sword in one hand and an apothecary's scale, with the chains all tangled up, in the other. Or, if there isn't a cartoonist in the house, a drawing drops in by mail from the big syndicate. Now the storm of right-mindedness is gathered together in the forms, and a little while later it begins breaking over the community.
But all the time the two men who kidnaped the young fellow and took him out on a bridge, where they knocked him on the head with a concrete block and threw him into the water, are permanently dead. They did it, and they got theirs and however hard the storm of right-mindedness may blow up, one certain thing is that no lawyer is ever going to get them loose on a writ of habeas corpus or a writ of erro based on the fact that some stenographer, in typing the indictment, hit a comma instead of a semicolon. Neither is any Len Small, come to the governor's office ten or fifteen years later, going to turn them loose in payment for some service which some hoodlum politician performed for him in the last election or might perform in the next. Not even Ma Ferguson, of Texas, can pardon a corpse.
The fine theory of all expressions of horror and indignation is that punishment is not supposed to be vengeance but a protective business, whereas the rabble, which constitutes by far the greatest element of the population, want to make the murderer suffer as the victim or his family did. And, though they would be willing to let the Law do it for them if the Law could be relied upon, they know too well what lawyers will do when they get a chance to invoke a lot of legal technicalities which were written and passed by lawyers to provide lawyers with opportunities to make money.
I claim authority to speak for the rabble because I am a member of the rabble in good standing, and I claim to know how lawyers work because I have worked around the Courts in the newspaper business long enough to observe that there is never a criminal so vile but that his lawyer, under the pretext of obedience to his duty and by virtue of a lawyer's law enacted to help lawyers cheat other laws, will try to get him loose.
I have talked this over with several men who took part in the preparation of the recent storm of right-mindedness over the California lynching, and every one of them said that he and his wife, both, said, "Fine; that's swell," or words to that effect, when they first heard the news.
But they distinguish between their private, personal feelings and opinions in the matter, as spiritual members of the rabble, and their public actions and utterances as members of the right-minded element. Having no public position myself, I can be consistent.
I am told there have been other lynchings since those in San Jose and that the approving statement of the Governor of California probably acted as incitement in these cases. These lynchings will be matters of horror to the right-minded group, the more so if there happened to be an innocent man among them. But in the same period of timesince the California case there will have been probably fifty murders in the country, and the victims will include quite a few innocent men and women, too.
I would pay more attention to storms of right-mindedness if they ever blew against the attorneys-at-law who argue and plead that one-to-ten years is a fair price for a good man's life, and play dirt tricks on the law to cheat the rabble of even that little if they can.
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