This appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal as a cute sidebar story. For me it was anything but. It could happen again:
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The night before America entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson told a friend, “... Lead this people into war, and they’ll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance.”
Within weeks, Wisconsin was being called “The Traitor State.” Our 700,000 immigrant and first-generation German residents had no desire to make war on their brothers and cousins. One journalist visiting in 1917 called us, “really the most backward state I've struck in its sentiment toward the war.” Embarrassed by the charges, the state Council of Defense and the Wisconsin Loyalty Legion joined forces to suppress anti-war opinion through persuasion, intimidation and harassment.
Under their state-sponsored propaganda campaign, anyone with ties to Germany could be attacked for disloyalty. “Conformity would be the only virtue,” Wilson had predicted.
In Ashland, people who spoke against the war were tarred and feathered. When Republican Sen. Robert La Follette voted against America’s entry into the war, he was called “a pusillanimous, degenerate coward.”
Everything German became suspect. In Wausau, the National German American Bank changed its name to The American National Bank. La Crosse banned the teaching of German in its elementary schools. Sauerkraut was renamed “liberty cabbage” and wieners became “hot dogs.”
In less than 18 months, public opinion in Wisconsin swung from largely anti-war to overwhelmingly pro-war. It was a triumph of public relations, achieved long before marketers had viral videos, Facebook posts or hourly tweets in their toolkits.
Ashland, Wisconsin, Monday April 1, 1918: PROFESSOR OF NORTHLAND TARRED AND FEATHERED TAKEN FROM ROOM BY MOB: Masked Men Take Him Half Mile From The City, Give Him a Coat Of Tar and Feathers and Let I Him Walk Back Home. Professor E. A. Schimler, teacher of languages at Northland college, was taken from his room last night about midnight by nearly a dozen masked men, taken to a lonely spot about a half mile from the city, stripped of his clothing and given a substantial coat of tar and feathers. After treating him to the coat of tar and feathers, the men in the party jumped into waiting automobiles and sped back to the city. Schimler, when left by the mob, found his undergarments and walked back to his boarding house. The police were then called … when he arrived at city hall, he was in such a condition that there was no question in any one's mind but that the mob was very liberal in the use of tar and also had on-hand a lot of feathers.Or how about the jaw dropping Wisconsin State Council of Defense:
“…the Wisconsin State Council of Defense worked with federal officials to ensure that Wisconsin citizens would support the American cause during World War I. It outlines food drives, Liberty Loan promotion, recruiting activities, the Council's journal "Forward", and other home-front efforts which, in the words of one historian, tried "to change an antimilitaristic democracy into an organized war machine."
Or the Loyalty Legion...would I kid you?