April 26, 1919: News Tribune announces book about Duluth’s role in “Secret War”

On this day in Duluth in 1919, the Duluth News Tribune’s Walter O’Hara announced that a book was in the works that would tell “untold tales of Duluth’s part in war.” The book would be written by W. E. Culkin and Louis McLeod and tell of Duluth District of the American Protective League, “an organization of private citizens that worked with Federal law enforcement agencies during the World War I era to identify suspected German sympathizers and to counteract the activities of radicals, anarchists, anti-war activists, and left-wing labor and political organizations.” The group had disbanded just 25 days earlier. It had formed just before the United States entered World War I, with car dealer Edward J. Filiatrault placed in charge of 208 volunteers—all prominent businessmen—in seven divisions: industrial, railroad, transportation, commercial, telephone, telegraph, steamboat and docks, and a “flying squadron” made up of “fifteen prominent Duluth citizens owning automobiles.” According to historian Walter Van Brunt, Filiatrault and his gang did a bang-up job: “The activities of the Duluth Division of the American Protective League has [sic] gone down in history as being the premier organization as regards to efficiency of any district in the United States. This division has the record of clearing up more cases of pro-Germanism and sedition by thorough investigation; of causing the greatest number of arrests, and detentions in a great many cases; of deportations of guilty parties to the various Federal prisons; [and] of the rounding up of a number of army deserters. … The Duluth Division has also to its credit the discovery of seventeen wireless stations, located in the wilds of northern Minnesota, capable of receiving and delivering messages to either coast. These stations, all of which were demolished, had been operated by German ex-officers or under German supervision. The Flying Squadron covered in excess of fifty thousand miles in the performance of their duties.” As far as we can tell, the book was never written. One clause in O’Meara’s 1919 story hints at the undercurrent of racial unrest in Duluth that would explode the following June; he noted that members of the APL “worked as silently and as effectively as the Ku Klux Klan.”

Edward Filiatrault. (Image: Zenith City Press)