The events were precipitated by a melee on July 17, 1913, in which three soldiers and two sailors confronted an IWW street speaker and were assailed by the crowd. The Seattle Times, under the flamboyant publisher Alden Blethen (1845-1915), combined this event with a patriotic speech given at the same time by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. The resultant article had the effect of whipping up sentiment against the IWW and Socialists, and against Mayor George Cotterill (1865-1958) for his policy of allowing "anarchist" street speakers.
Rioting in the Streets of Seattle
The following night, on July 18, the rioters, seeking revenge for the previous night's attack, planned their assault while police were busy with the Potlatch parade crowd. The headquarters of the Socialists at 5th Avenue and Virginia Street and those of the IWW at Occidental Avenue and Washington Street were sacked. Literature and furnishings, including two pianos, were piled in the street and set on fire. At 4th Avenue and Pike Street a Socialist news stand owned by Millard Price was demolished. Windows were broken and other property destroyed.
The mob entered a mission on Occidental Avenue and began destruction there, before someone realized it was not IWW-affiliated and called off the attack.
Secretary Daniels said that his speech, which had been portrayed by the Times as an attack on the IWW, was not intended to refer to that organization nor to the local situation, but was simply a call to patriotism. He said it was the same speech he had given in Erie, Pennsylvania, and was not specific to Seattle.
A rear admiral in charge of the reserve fleet expressed regret about the outbreak and said he had dispatched a patrol to round up the troublemakers.
The Seattle Times on the other hand expressed no such regrets in its news article:
Anarchy, the grizzly hydra-headed serpent which Seattle has been forced to nourish in its midst by a naturalized chief executive for eighteen months, was plucked from the city and wiped out in a blaze of patriotism last night.