Melee breaks out during a speech by the leader of the fascist Silver Shirts organization in downtown Spokane on July 18, 1938.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 7/01/2008
  • Essay 8641

On July 18, 1938, a crowd of about 700 people gathers outside the Red Men Hall in Spokane to protest a speech by national Silver Shirts leader Roy Zachary. A melee erupts when police try to clear the sidewalks; 11 protesters are arrested. The speech, with anti-Semitic themes, is delivered to a crowd of about 200. Charges against the protesters are later dropped.

American Nazis

As early as 1934, Spokane newspaper stories had warned that an "American nazi" organization was trying to establish a foothold in Spokane. The Spokesman-Review reported that the Silver Shirts, so-named from their attire, were passing out fascist literature. In 1936, a small Silver Shirt office was established in downtown Spokane.

The group periodically brought in incendiary speakers, prompting protests outside the halls. The tension came to a head when Roy Zachary, the "national field marshal of the Silver Shirt Legion of America" came to speak to about 200 people in a downtown hall. A crowd of protesters estimated at 700 gathered outside the hall, carrying signs saying, "We don't want Fascism, we don't want Silver Shirts" and "This is Spokane, Not Berlin" ("Silver Shirt Melee").

Melee Sparked

Police chief Ira Martin ordered the sidewalks cleared, sparking a melee that resulted in the arrest of seven men and four women for disorderly conduct. The speech continued as scheduled. Zachary was quoted as thundering, "When we eliminate communism and Jews from the United States it will not be with the ballot, but with guns, wading in blood." He also said he "can't help but admire Hitler" ("Silver Shirt Melee").

Several of the arrested protesters were members of the local chapter of the Communist Party, but they denied organizing the protest. It was organized by the local League for Peace and Democracy and other anti-fascist, anti-Hitler groups.

Charges against the protesters were dropped. The police court justice was quoted as saying that he didn't approve of the Silver Shirts and their doctrines.

Sources:  "American Nazis Seek Foothold in Spokane," Spokesman-Review, September 15, 1934; "Silvershirts Organize Here," Ibid., August 12, 1936; "Silver Shirt Melee Puts 11 in Jail," Ibid., July 19, 1938; "Foes of Silver Shirts in Toils," Ibid., July 20, 1938; "May Dismiss 11 in Picket Case," Ibid., July 28, 1938.

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