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Keep the Wretches in Order
America’s Biggest Mass Trial, the Rise of the Justice Department, and the Fall of the IWW
Foreword by Nancy Gertner

“Dean Strang tells a great story of America’s struggle with fear and injustice a century ago while asking us to consider, ‘What is the story of ourselves that we write today?’ American workers still fight what the Wobblies fought in 1918, as the Justice Department during WWI overreached in ways similar to our current ‘war on terror.’ Dean is a great attorney and a gifted writer, borrowing lessons from the past to help guide our future.”
—Alec Baldwin

Before World War I, the government reaction to labor dissent had been local, ad hoc, and quasi-military. Sheriffs, mayors, or governors would deputize strikebreakers or call out the state militia, usually at the bidding of employers. When the United States entered the conflict in 1917, government and industry feared that strikes would endanger war production; a more coordinated, national strategy would be necessary. To prevent stoppages, the Department of Justice embarked on a sweeping new effort—replacing gunmen with lawyers. The department systematically targeted the nation’s most radical and innovative union, the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies, resulting in the largest mass trial in U.S. history.

In the first legal history of this federal trial, Dean Strang shows how the case laid the groundwork for a fundamentally different strategy to stifle radical threats, and had a major role in shaping the modern Justice Department. As the trial unfolded, it became an exercise of raw force, raising serious questions about its legitimacy and revealing the fragility of a criminal justice system under great external pressure.


Portrait of author Dean A. Strang is a criminal defense lawyer in Madison, Wisconsin, and an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. He is the author of Worse than the Devil: Anarchists, Clarence Darrow, and Justice in a Time of Terror.




“A fascinating look at how the federal government, beginning in 1917 during World War I, set out to destroy the Industrial Workers of the World, better known as the Wobblies.”

“Strang humanizes this shameful chapter in our nation’s history. With empathy and verve, he tells the story of abuse of executive power, a partial and wacky federal judge (and autocratic first baseball commissioner), and many ruined lives of working men and women.”
—Brad Snyder, author of The House of Truth: A Washington Political Salon and the Foundations of American Liberalism

Keep the Wretches in Order transports us to a pivotal, if largely forgotten, moment in U.S. labor history, weaving individual stories into an epic tale of American injustice. With a historian’s eye for detail, a lawyer’s command of law, and a novelist’s virtuosity with prose and narrative, Strang brings to life this country’s largest mass trial ever. Through masterful storytelling, he exposes our legal system’s ugly underbelly, with profound and enduring relevance for today.”
—Jon D. Hanson, Harvard Law School

“A gripping story of the largest mass trial in our nation’s history. It was also the first, but certainly not the last, time that the federal government used criminal prosecutions to respond to domestic threats. This is a must-read for anyone seeking historical perspective on the uses and abuses of our criminal justice system.”
—Sarah Seo, University of Iowa College of Law

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June 2019
LC: 2018045778 KF
344 pp. 6 x 9
20 b/w illus.

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Cloth $36.95 a
ISBN 9780299323301
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