Federer Has Nothing But Cheap Smears on the Scopes Trial

Bill Federer, a poor man’s David Barton who puts out a daily column about America’s “Godly heritage,” has a column about the 90th anniversary of the Scopes trial. In trying to contrast Clarence Darrow with William Jennings Bryan, he has nothing but cheap smears and golly-gee-whiz praise to offer.

The Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 pitted evolution against creation.

Clarence Darrow defended evolution. Darrow previously defended Leopold and Loeb, the homosexual teenage thrill killers who murdered 14-year-old Robert “Bobby” Franks in 1924 just for the excitement. Darrow obtained a pardon for anarchists in 1886 who blew up a pipe bomb in Chicago’s Haymarket Square which killed seven policemen and injured 60 others.

Darrow defended the “mentally deranged drifter” Patrick Eugene Prendergast in 1894 who confessed to murdering Chicago mayor Carter H. Harrison Sr. He defended Eugene v. Debs, the American Railway Union leader who was prosecuted for instigating the destructive Pullman Railroad strike. He also represented the Western Federation of Miners leaders charged with the 1905 murder of former Idaho Gov. Frank Steunenberg…

In 1925, Darrow defended John Scopes, a Tennessee high school biology teacher who taught the theory of origins called “evolution.” The Scopes Monkey Trial ended July 21, 1925.

This is a typical right-wing smear. That attorney defended someone I think is bad, so they’re bad too. Never mind that the Constitution they claim to revere so much guarantees a right to counsel for those accused of a crime, including those who are guilty. Never mind that one of those Founding Fathers they love to turn into plaster saints was criticized for the same thing when he defended British solders after the Boston Massacre, at great risk to his career and his family. If they can use it to smear someone they don’t like, they’ll be happy to use it.

And remember, the side that Federer is defending here is the side that wanted teachers thrown in jail for teaching science because it contradicted their religious beliefs. These are the same people who claim to be for “smaller government” and religious freedom. They obviously don’t mean it, of course.

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  • coragyps

    By damn, anybody that’s on Eugene V. Debs’ side is on my side, Mr. Federer!

  • colnago80

    In fairness, there appears to be credible evidence that Darrow engaged in bribing jurors.

  • Mr Ed

    John Adams represented Captain Thomas Preston, I guess anything he did after that was poisoned.

    These lovers of democracy and the constitution just can’t stand the very idea of a vigorous defense.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    colnago80 @ # 2 – You know by now what they (we) say about the necessity of citations…

  • eric

    SLC: he was accused of that on a different trial, but the court found he had no knowledge of the bribery attempts. IOW, he was found innocent of that charge. It is particularly irrelevant to the Scopes trial, given that the pro-evolution side was really trying to get an appeal to the Supreme Court. They weren’t even trying to get a straight out victory in a TN district court, so jury tampering would have made no sense at all.

    In any event, replacing Federer’s ridiculous ad hom with a more credible ad hom still leaves you with an ad hom argument, having nothing to do with his arguments at trial.

  • Artor

    Colnago, in what way is your assertion “fair?” Besides, don’t you have some genocide somewhere to go cheer for?

  • colnago80

    Re Butler @ #4

    Fair enough:


    Re eric @ #5

    Ah gee, I seem to recall that a certain trial in California that took place in 1995 resulted in a not guilty verdict for an individual accused o committing a double murder. That doesn’t seem to have stopped critics for claiming that he was really guilty you know.

    Actually, not guilty does not mean innocent in American jurisprudence, it means not proven, an entirely different kettle of fish.

  • militantagnostic

    Never mind that one of those Founding Fathers they love to turn into plaster saints was criticized for the same thing when he defended British solders

    Anyone who has had experience with notoriously unreliable electrical system of an older English Car* knows that British solder is indefensible.

    Joseph Lucas, not Satan is the real Prince of Darkness.

  • freehand

    colnago80, nobody who thinks that OJ is guilty despite the verdict believes that he is guilty because his lawyer had defended some other creeps. This post is about Federer arguing (by implication) that the lawyer Darrow was reprehensible and wrong because he had previously defended yucky people.

  • raven

    And remember, the side that Federer is defending here is the side that wanted teachers thrown in jail for teaching science because it contradicted their religious beliefs.

    One of the big xian hobbies is…persecuting people. They do it whenever they can.

    1. It’s a core value of the religion and very old. It started as soon as they could persecute people, when Constantine made it the state religion. They soon passed laws persecuting the Pagans and the…Jews.

    It’s been one genocide, massacre, pogrom, and war after another up until the present day.

    What holds them back these days in the First World are centuries of struggle resulting in laws against xians persecuting whoever they want. They’ve been put in a box. Which they hate.

    2. Xians still occasionally kill people in the USA, the MD assassins, xian terrorists, and child human sacrifice.

    But mostly they just have witch hunts. The current favored victims are…science supporters in fundie colleges who get fired and secondary school teachers in fundie areas.

  • raven

    Xians still hunt witches. It’s a favorite sport of theirs.

    1. In Africa it is mostly children and old women, and hundreds a year are killed.

    Creationists Take Down Another Top Professor – The Daily …


    4 days ago – But many faculty members at Bethel College accept evolution and consider it part of their … Christian with whom many in the Missionary Church could identify. …. Siddique had already come under fire in 2010 for his public …

    Professors Sue Christian College After Dismissal Follows …


    May 15, 2014 – Two Christian college tenured professors have sued their employer after the … Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee, has come under fire after its board … existence and states that humanity did not evolve from other species.

    In the last year, at least 4 professors at fundie colleges have been fired for supporting science and evolution. Bethel, Bryan, and a Nazarene college.

    They do this a lot and have fired at least 10 or so professors in the last decade. This is simply modern day witch hunting in the USA. Xians never miss a chance to show the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of their religion.

  • The ideal right-wing world terrifies me. It seems that if you’re charged with a crime, you’re guilty. No need for legal representation.

  • raven

    It seems that if you’re charged with a crime, you’re guilty.

    Saint Orwell already explained it in 1984. Thoughtcrimes, Doublespeak, rewriting history like David Barton does. Stalin and Pol Pot ran the demonstrations.

    Galileo was tried for “suspected heresy”. Anyone up to and including the Pope can be guilty of suspected heresy.

  • colnago80

    Re freehand @ #9

    Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Many of the critics of the trial in question commented on the career of F. Lee Bailey, who has defended a number of allegedly guilty clients and got some of them off. For instance, Dr. Carl Coppolino, who was found not guilty of a murder in New Jersey but later was found guilty of a murder in Florida. Interestingly enough, it appears that the the good doctor may have been guilty of the murder in New Jersey but innocent of the murder in Florida!

    However, the comment was in response to a comment by eric, who pointed out that Darrow had been acquitted of the bribery charge. That was certainly relevant to the outcome of the Simpson trial. The fact that both men were acquitted of the charges against them in no way, shape, form, or regard shows them to be innocent.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    For either of you who might feel curious: the obscured link provided by colnago80 @ # 7 goes to an Amazon.com page selling a book (The People v. Clarence Darrow “by Geoffrey; (Introduction by Alan Dershowitz) Cowan (Author)”).

    Readers’ comments on the book indicate it concerns Darrow’s personal life and the course of the prolonged trial he faced for jury bribery – and his acquittal. None of the “credible evidence” colnago80 claimed shows up anywhere on the linked page.

  • colnago80

    Re Pierce Butler @ #15

    It shows up in the book numbnuts.

  • From H.L. Mencken’s “obituary” of Darrow’s opponent, William Jennings Bryan:

    I allude to his astounding argument against the notion that man is a mammal. I am glad I heard it, for otherwise I’d never believe it. There stood the man who had been thrice a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic — and once, I believe, elected — there he stood in the glare of the world, uttering stuff that a boy of eight would laugh at! The artful Darrow led him on: he repeated it, ranted for it, bellowed it in his cracked voice. A tragedy, indeed! He came into life a hero, a Galahad, in bright and shining armor. Now he was passing out a pathetic fool. — http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/menck05.htm

  • eric

    Ah gee, I seem to recall that a certain trial in California that took place in 1995 resulted in a not guilty verdict for an individual accused o committing a double murder. That doesn’t seem to have stopped critics for claiming that he was really guilty you know.

    I seem to recall the Dreyfus affair. And the Salem witch trials. And many of the detentions at Guantanamo Bay. These are cases where innocent people were impugned, tried, and later evidence came out that they were innocent. Of course, these cases have f*ck all to do with the Scopes Trial because they involve different people and different circumstances. Hey, just like the OJ Trial! So what do you want to do here, SLC? Do you want to keep trading irrelevant examples historic cases of falsly accused vs. wrongly acquitted, insinuating that Darrow is like the latter but not like the former? Or do you want to admit that you have nothing, nada, zilch, of substance with which to impugn Darrow?

  • whheydt

    Scopes was guilty. He admitted that. The issue at hand was whether or not the *law* he was guilty of violating was valid. Unfortunately, due the ignorance of TN law by *both* Darrow and Bryan, the judge handed down a fine that was twice what was allowed under relevant state law, and it was that excessive fine that got the conviction overturned on the first level appeal, ending the appeals process and leaving the law on the books. In that sense, the Scopes Trial was a failure.

  • colnago80

    Re whheydt @ #19

    In fairness to Bryan and Darrow, they did not practice law in Tennessee, perhaps excusing them for not being cognizant of the laws concerning fines. Apparently the judge, who did practice law in Tennessee was also ignorant of the laws concerning fines so what was his excuse?

  • colnago80

    Re eric @ #18

    Let’s revisit the earlier parts of the discussion

    At comment #2, I suggested that there was credible evidence that Darrow engaged in bribing jurors.

    At comment #5, you suggested that Darrow had been found innocent. That was seriously in error right there as he was found not guilty which essentially means not proven.

    At comment #7, I suggested that a certain accused double murderer in California had been found not guilty, which essentially means not proven

    At comment #18, you cited other trials where a defendant had been found guilty, only later being exonerated. You then suggested that pointing to the Simpson trial was irrelevant.

    Well, I disagree with you here. You are the one who categorically and inaccurately stated that Darrow had been found innocent. Darrow was not found innocent, any more then Simpson was found innocent. They were both found not proven. The author of the book, which I cited, who unlike you and I took the trouble to investigate the case, takes exception to Darrow’s innocence.

  • kaelik

    When I first started reading Dispatch comments, there was a guy named DukeDog. His tremendous stupidity camouflaged yours colnago80. But it does no longer.

    1) You think a guy bribed jurors in a completely unrelated case based on your total lack of evidence and that fact that someone wrote a book about it once.

    2) You thought your baseless accusation was relevant to bring up in this thread.

    Those are some pretty stupid things.

  • whheydt

    Re: colnago80 @ #20…

    Which makes it a good example of why, generally speaking, in modern cases, when you have a high-powered out of town attorney, he adds a *local* attorney to the team.

    As for why the judge blew it…no idea. It’s possible it was an off the cuff decision with no research to be sure he got it right. It’s also possible that, being a very low level, local judge, he wasn’t much of a legal whiz.

  • John Pieret


    Scopes was guilty. He admitted that.

    Weeeellll … maybe not quite so fast. As recounted in Ray Ginger’s Six Days or Forever?,, one of the two definitive books on the trial (the other being Edward J. Larson’s Summer for the Gods):

    Scopes drove out to the edge of town [with a reporter] and parked the car. He said that he had been worried about something all through the trial. The fact was that he had not violated the law.

    The reporter expressed confusion. Scopes explained that he had missed several hours of class, and the evolution lesson had been one of them. The boys who had testified against him could not remember whether they had studied evolution or not. And he had been afraid since the trial began that he might be put on the witness stand, where he would have had to admit his innocence.

    As for why the judge blew it…

    Judge Raulston assured the parties that local practice in misdemeanor cases allowed the judge to impose the minimum penalty on persons adjudged guilty, and Darrow agreed to that procedure — a decision he would deeply regret, since it allowed the Tennessee Supreme Court to overturn the conviction on a technicality that was not appealable to SCOTUS … which was the whole point. That may have been the “local practice” but how many times before had misdemeanor cases been appealed, much less to SCOTUS? It was a bumblefuck all around.

  • charles

    John Pieret at 24.

    It has been a long time since i read it, but in “Center of the Storm” Scopes describes a meeting (with ACLU representatives?) planning to break the law. The 4th paragraph of the second comment at Amazon, may cover both this and what you said.