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NJ Man Charged Under Espionage Act

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Jan 24, 2018

Throughout the spring of 1917 Robert Goldstein  had been battling with Chicago censors for permission to show his movie “The Spirit of ’76.” Many of them felt it would offend the British, who were now allies in the war to make the world safe for democracy. After winning this local battle, Goldstein planned to premier his epic in Los Angeles – but he should’ve followed the changing mood of the country, especially in little New Jersey.

In mid-June of that year, President Wilson had signed the Espionage Act, making it a federal crime punishable with up to 20 years in prison.

“For any person (a) willfully ‘to make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to interfere’ with the military success of the United States or ‘to promote the success of its enemies’; (b) willfully to ‘cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States’; or (c) willfully to ‘obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States.’”

On Aug. 9, The New York Times announced, “Government Investigators Looking After Anti-American Utterances Many Quarters. … Sections of Espionage Act to be invoked in Checking Attacks Upon This Country’s Welfare.”

Frederick Krafft was a 58-year-old New Jersey Socialist who had run twice for governor. According to a later article in the New York Call, “Krafft was addressing a large open-air meeting at Market and Washington Streets, Newark, under the direction of the Socialist Party. The meeting was disturbed by two or three young men, causing Krafft to ask that a policeman be sent for. The officer, regardless of the fact that the Socialists have always held meetings, without permits, demanded a permit for the meeting, and arrested the speaker because he could not produce one.

“Krafft was released that same evening on cash bail and ordered to appear in court to answer the charge of speaking without a permit.”

On Aug. 16, the New York Sun reported that the local matter was now a federal case. “In holding Frederick Krafft, of N.J., in $5,000 bail for the Federal Grand Jury at Newark yesterday Commissioner Matthews declared that any speech intended to weaken the spirit of American soldiers constitutes an attack on the nation’s most vital fortifications.”

Two days later, the Trenton Times dared to print what Krafft was alleged to have said.

“Frederick Krafft, of Bergen County, who said to an audience at a street meeting, ‘I don’t know why the hell this country should send soldiers across the pond. It’s a damned shame. I don’t know why the Socialists of America should not have the same right as the Socialists in Germany to vote for or against the war.’”

The Trenton paper concluded, “The state constitution declares that ‘Treason against the state shall consist only in levying war against it, or adhering to its enemies, giving them aid and comfort. … Krafft’s language will surely give ‘aid and comfort’ to the Germans and their friends who are doing their best to defeat the conscription act. He deserves to be indicted and have his loyalty tested before a jury.’”

The Chicago Legal News explained, “The purpose of the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917, as a whole was not to wait and see if the seed of insubordination at a later date in some military camp sprang to life and brought forth fruit, but it was to prevent the seed from being sown initially. It is that this new statute was to enable the civil courts to prevent the sowing of the seeds of disloyalty, for as to the fruits of disloyalty to which a misguided soldier might be led by disloyal advice.”

Just what were the acts Krafft had committed?

“The indictment contained four counts, the first of which charged defendant with, ‘knowingly, willfully, and unlawfully attempting to cause insubordination in the military and naval forces of the United States, in that he, the said Frederick Krafft, did then and there speak to Martin T. Gunning, corporal in Company K, First New Jersey Infantry, who had been duly mustered into the military service of the United States, and Albert Barton, corporal in the First New Jersey Infantry, who had been duly mustered into the military service of the United States, and divers other persons who were members of the military forces of the United States; and did then and there say …”

What were the words that would put Kraft in prison?

 “I can’t see how the Government can compel troops to go to France. … If it was up to me, I’d tell them to go hell. … It’s a damn shame. … I can’t see why the Socialists here have not the same rights as in Germany. … They send their own Senators down to Washington and they will not let the people do it,” and divers other words and sentences which are to the grand jury unknown.”

And finally, that the purpose of what he said was “to influence, persuade, and cause the said persons, who were members of the military forces of the United States, to become disloyal to the United States, etc. … to influence, persuade, and cause the same persons who were members of the military forces of the United States to mutiny to the injury of the military forces of the United States … to influence, persuade and cause the said persons, who were members of the military forces of the United States, to refuse to do the duties imposed on them as  such members of the military forces of the United States, to the injury of the United States.”

Krafft was to stand trial on Sept. 7, 1917. The result of the trial would have effects across the country and be felt by Robert Goldstein in Hollywood, Calif.

Next Week: Guilty or not?

tpfcjf@comcast.net

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