The University of Wisconsin Press

U.S. History / Law / Ethnic Studies / Terrorism

Worse than the Devil
Anarchists, Clarence Darrow, and Justice in a Time of Terror
Dean A. Strang

“A probing, sensitive account. Dean A. Strang, himself a skillful defense attorney, has exposed American racism at its worst, and perversion and corruption of the legal system at its best.”
—Stanley Kutler, author of Wars of Watergate

In 1917 a bomb exploded in a Milwaukee police station, killing nine officers and a civilian. Those responsible never were apprehended, but police, press, and public all assumed that the perpetrators were Italian. Days later, eleven alleged Italian anarchists went to trial on unrelated charges involving a fracas that had occurred two months before. Against the backdrop of World War I, and amidst a prevailing hatred and fear of radical immigrants, the Italians had an unfair trial. The specter of the larger, uncharged crime of the bombing haunted the proceedings and assured convictions of all eleven. Although Clarence Darrow led an appeal that gained freedom for most of the convicted, the celebrated lawyer's methods themselves were deeply suspect. The entire case left a dark, if hidden, stain on American justice.

Largely overlooked for almost a century, the compelling story of this case emerges vividly in this meticulously researched book by Dean A. Strang. In its focus on a moment when patriotism, nativism, and terror swept the nation, Worse than the Devil exposes broad concerns that persist even today as the United States continues to struggle with administering criminal justice to newcomers and outsiders.

“Dean A. Strang’s fascinating book excavates a conspiracy trial in Milwaukee back in 1917 that sheds crucial insights into the failings of our legal system and the hazards of succumbing to mass hysteria against immigrants and alleged terrorists. The book provides urgent lessons for us all. And along the way, the author provides vivid portraits of Clarence Darrow and Emma Goldman.”
—Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive

Dean A. Strang
is a criminal defense lawyer in Madison, Wisconsin, and an adjunct professor at the law schools of the University of Wisconsin and Marquette University. For more than fifteen years he lived on the Milwaukee block that was the scene of the September 1917 riot.

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William H. Thomas Jr.
“An important and timely book. . . . An invaluable contribution to our understanding of the history of the FBI and of the pernicious legacy of national security policy on the right to dissent.” —Athan Theoharis, Marquette University, author of The FBI and American Democracy


March 2013
LC: 2012032689 HV
276 pp.   6 x 9   20 b/w photos, 1 map

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“In engaging prose and with a terrific eye for detail, Dean A. Strang gives us the full story of a fascinating—and almost forgotten—moment of conflict from Milwaukee’s past. His book explores debates over civil liberties and terrorism, immigration and radicalism as they were lived and fought over a century ago."
—Beverly Gage, author of The Day Wall Street Exploded


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Updated February 23, 2013

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