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The American Protective League – Organization Formed on the Advice of the U.S. Attorney General


The U.S. system of justice has its long history, different stages of formation, and various approaches to its development. There were also a number of organizations that had certain important aims and assignments. Among them is the American Protective League (APL). It was formed at the beginning of the twentieth century as private organization that worked with federal law enforcement agencies in order to avoid harmful influence of the German Empire. But it also had other targets, like movements of radical anarchists, anti-war activists, and left-wing labour or political organizations. The APL was formed by A.M. Briggs, a wealthy Chicago businessman. It had about 250,000 dues-paying members representing 600 cities of the United States. The APL was authorized to operation by the U.S. Attorney General, Thomas Gregory; the League assisted the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), which in its turn was a precursor to the modern FBI.

Being a private organization, the APL had a semi-official status: it was officially approved by the Attorney General, who authorized the APL to operate under the direction of the U.S. Department of Justice. We have also mentioned that the APL assisted the Bureau of Investigation. And this assistance was rather supportive for the Bureau, because actually none of its agents had direct statutory authorization to use weapons or to make general arrests. BOI agents worked with and searched for information for the United States Attorneys; all the directions came from the Attorney General or the Bureau Chief.

But Washington often lost full control over operations, because the agents and attorneys pursued the disloyal in their own manner and on their own initiative. Some of the American Protective League members were accused of acting as vigilantes, who broke civil liberties and rights of American citizens. Rather striking were the so-called "anti-slacker raids” organized as punitive measures against those people who had not registered for the draft. The officers of the APL were also accused of illegally detaining people associated with or suspected in anarchist, labor or pacifist movements. 

Documentary evidence shows that about 10 percent of all efforts made by the representatives of the American Protective League were focused on destroying of the activities of the I.W.W., an anti-war union movement maintaining the ideas of radical anarchists. 
Rather unexpected was reaction of the acting president Woodrow Wilson, who despite of the abovementioned illegal methods decided not to take any action to punish the APL members and to curtail their activities. 

A few months after the signing of the Armistice, when World War I had come to end, the League acted no more; in part that was a result of opposition by the President's incoming Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer. That was the end of powerful and numerous organization of the USA.

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