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The American Protective League

By the first year of WWI, American political leadership was ferreting out disloyalty and enforcing scientific conformity. Any number of private and secret societies appeared to forward this cause. The "Anti-Yellow Dog League" was one of these, composed of schoolboys above the age of ten, who searched out disloyalty each day from one of its thousand branches nationwide, barking like German shepherds when a disloyal yellow dog, otherwise someone looking like you or me, was flushed from cover and branded. Schools enthusiastically cooperated in "Dog Hunts," as they were called.

The U.S. Justice Department secretly empowered private associations as volunteer spy-hunters. One, the American Protective League (APL), earned semi-official status in the national surveillance game, in time growing to enormous size. Founded by a Chicago advertising man, the APL had twelve hundred units functioning across America, all staffed by business and professional people. It was a genuine secret society replete with oath and rituals. Membership gave every operative the authority to be a national policeman. The first location placed under surveillance in every neighborhood was the local public school. Assignments were given by the old (Federal) Bureau of Investigation and by the War Department’s Intelligence Division to report on "seditious and disloyal" conversation. From the authorized history of the APL comes this specimen case:

Powers County, Colorado: investigated fifty cases of mouth-to-mouth propaganda, a notable cause being that of a German Lutheran minister who refused to answer the questions as to which side he wished to win the war. He asked for time. The next day he declared very promptly that he wanted the United States to win. He was instructed to prove this by preaching and praying it in private as well as in public, which he agreed to do.

The APL checked up on people who failed to buy Liberty Bonds. It spotted violators of food and gasoline regulations, rounded up draft evaders in New York, disrupted Socialist meetings in Cleveland, broke strikes, threatened union men with immediate induction into the army. The attorney general of the United States reported to Congress, "It is safe to say never in history has this country been so thoroughly policed." (emphasis added) Nor, he might have added, the training of the young so well regulated.

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