KILL THE BANKER
KILL THE BANKER
Published: December 19, 2014
Bomb in Wall Street, 1920
A little violence can sometimes work to defend against predatory bankers. Consider the farmers of Le Mars, Iowa. The year was 1933, the height of the Great Depression.
A finance bubble on Wall Street had crashed the economy, the gears of industrial production had ground to a halt, and 13 million Americans had lost their jobs. Across the Corn Belt, farmers couldn’t get fair prices for milk and crops, their incomes plummeted, and their mortgages went unpaid. Seeing opportunity, banks foreclosed on their properties in record numbers, leaving the farmers homeless and destitute.
So they organized. Under the leadership of a boozing, fist-fighting Iowa farmer named Milo Reno, who had a gift for oratory, several thousand farmers across the Midwest struck during 1933, refusing to sell their products. “We’ll eat our wheat and ham and eggs” went the popular doggerel of the movement. “Let them”—the bankers—”eat their gold.”
They called it a farmers’ holiday and named their group the Farmers’ Holiday Association. In speeches across the Midwest, Reno inveighed against “the destructive program of the usurers”—by which he meant, of course, the ruinous policies of Wall Street and the banking industry. Farmers, he said, had been “robbed by a legalized system of racketeering.” He said that the “forces of special privilege” were undermining “the very foundations of justice and freedom upon which this country was founded.” He compared the farmers’ fight to that of the Founders, who had taken up arms. He warned that the farmers might have to “join hands with those who favor the overthrow of government,” a government that he considered a servant of corporations. “You have the power to take the great corporations,” he said, and “shake them into submission.” One of his deputies in Iowa, John Chalmers, ordered FHA men to use “every weapon at their command.” “When I said weapons,” Chalmers added, “I meant weapons.”