Did J. F. Rutherford lie about being Exonerated?

by Jim Whitney

The core foundation of the Watchtower religion is their claim that they were commissioned as a modern day prophet, and appointed as the Faithful and Discreet Slave Class (Matt. 24:45) … This appointment means that they are now in charge over the Master’s household and all his belongings. Were this core teaching to be proven in error, it would mean that the entire claim of the Watchtower Society being Jehovah’s one true visible organization here on earth is false … and their entire body of doctrine, teachings, policies, and interpretations are likewise suspect as false. The following shows that the Watchtower claim is seriously questionable.

Secondly, a major fulfillment of Bible prophecy is their lynch-pin that anchors the claim by the Watchtower Society in their self-application of Revelation 11, where they teach that the Anointed Bible Students are the symbolic “Two Witnesses” … whose preaching work at that time, via the Finished Mystery book, carried a stinging message of the establishment of the Kingdom… and resulted in their work being “killed” when seven of the Society officers were sentence to federal prison … and then “resurrected” (revived) eighteen months later upon the release and EXONERATION of the same Watchtower officers … a revival that now placed them in a new lofty position of being charged with care of the Master’s household, and care of all his belongings here on earth. All this is interconnected with the return of Jesus Christ in his second Presence, waging war with Satan and the demons and casting them to the earth … establishing the Kingdom by taking his throne in heaven … all done between the years 1914 to 1918 to fulfill the prophetic 1,260 days, or 42 months (the prophetic Time, Times, and Half a time) …

This is very heady … and the current Governing Body still hold to these claims and interpretations … they still cling to 1914 as the time of Jesus Christ invisible Second Presence … and their appointment as his slave in 1918, after they were inspected and found to be spiritually clean and ready … so, the question is: If this claim is shown to be seriously flawed, seriously different from that which is applied … then the entire Watchtower system must be false, and not representing the true God Jehovah or his now glorified son, and enthroned King, Jesus Christ.

What then really happened between 1917 and 1918 when the Watchtower officers were tried, convicted and sentenced to federal prison? Were they given a fair trial, or were they persecuted and railroaded into prison by a world that hated their message? Were they guilty or innocent of a serious crime? Was their work that all-important that it deserved the attention of the Government, or were they engaged in seditious acts? Were they finally proven to be good innocent Bible Student who Jehovah saw fit to have released from prison and EXONERATED, or was something else at play in matters of law? The following will summarize the events as they took place … you be the judge.

The mental image the Society has conveyed to average Jehovah’s Witnesses, or has allowed to be perpetuated, is that of the earnest Bible Students humbly and faithfully publishing the Good News of the Kingdom … when they then boldly published the Finished Mystery book – claiming it to be the posthumous work of Pastor Russell, the seventh in the Series Studies in the Scriptures – they were suddenly invaded by jack-booted thugs who seized the works of the Society in New York and Pennsylvania … arresting seven of the Society officers … dragging them in the middle of the night before a mean-spirited magistrate, who upon the presentation of trumped-up charges and scant evidence, sent them to prison in order to stop the Good News of the Kingdom … this RAILROAD job, as the Society claims, was orchestrated by the religious clergy, and behind the scenes direction of Satan the Devil who pulled all the strings. But, Jehovah was not to be outdone by the Devil , and when his time was right, the Society officers were released and EXONERATED of all charges … so it was back to work caring for the Kingdom interests …


BY the April 1917: The US Government joined the Allies and had been at war with Germany … subsequently the Congress had passed the anti-sedition act, which prohibited interference with the selective service operations, and prohibited inducing members of the armed services from treason and abandonment of their assignments. It was total war, so these laws are not uncommon for governments during such times.

By July 1917: The Watchtower Society publishes and releases the book, The Finished Mystery. This book went into circulation up until the late fall of 1917. Early on complaints and allegations were made that the book contained seditious material. However, there were also other charges being made that the Society officers were attending and giving depositions to help Bible Students avoid the draft, claiming conscientious objection … when there was no such organizational doctrine at the time … and worst of all, some of the Society officers were corresponding with members of the military on active duty during wartime, and trying to induce them to dessert.

By the fall of 1917: The government commenced an investigation into the allegations. They gathered copies of the Finished Mystery book in various parts of the USA. Although, most of these were seized by local authorities acting on their own, and then turned over to the Government. The government mostly investigated the charges of the Society corresponding with active duty members of the armed services … collecting letters and depositions … all this must have been known by at least the top officers of the Society. How was this effort a Railroad job?

By March 1918: The US Attorney had all the materials in evidence, along with testimony, presented to a Grand Jury to review and determine if there was sufficient evidence to issue an indictment. The Grand Jury took nearly a full month to consider the charges, testimony and evidence … and likely Rutherford and other top Society officer must have known about this event … giving them time to retain counsel and prepare to defend themselves … How was this a Railroad job?

Late April 1918: The Grand Jury issues an indictment naming four major charges, including sedition, treason, interfering with the draft, etc. They name “Eight” Society officers (not seven as claimed by the Society) … and this becomes a significant issue later on. Yet, the actual arrest warrants and warrant to seize documents did not take place until early May 1918. How was this a Railroad job?

Early May 1918: The government did arrive at the Society offices in New York and Pennsylvania to search the premises, and they did seize certain documents associated with their investigation. They also arrested eight Society officers and took them to a local court for arraignment. The defendants were released on $2,500 bail … a lot of money at the time, but still very affordable. They were given full opportunity to retain counsel and prepare their case. They hired two attorneys, one for Rutherford and three top officers, and another attorney for the other five officers. How was this a Railroad job?

Early June 1918: The Society did not like the Judge assigned to their case. They motioned the court to have a new judge assigned to them, because they felt that the Judge assigned would be unduly biased and unfair to their side. They were granted their wish and a new Judge assigned … a judge who then promised the Society he would do everything he could to protect their rights. So, if this was a rush to judgment, where then is the rush. How was this a Railroad job?

Early June 1918: Did Rutherford’s attorney or the co-counsel use the time to prepare their clients defense? No, Rutherford instead had requested his attorney spend time in the US Attorney’s office trying to convince him to drop the charges, and then in the Justice Dept. in Washington, D.C. trying to persuade them to get the charges dropped. The other attorney also helped, and they reviewed the Finished Mystery book to determine what material was offensive, so that the book could be revised and published without offending the Government. Rutherford went so far as to request that the Government (Satan’s visible organization) review the book and delete offending passages, so they could publish it without incurring any criminal charges … yes, these bold, brave, earnest Bible Students were consorting with the Devil and his organization to modify the pure message of truth directed from Jehovah. How was this a Railroad job?

Early June 1918: In Judges Chambers, the Society was allowed a couple of days to present various motions for consideration … motions that the Government did not fight, except one … and motions which were largely granted by the Judge, with further assurances that he would protect their rights even in areas they had not thought to address. The Society was given every possible latitude and consideration to make a fair case. The Judge did not grant more time as requested, because he felt that they should have used their time to prepare instead of wasting it trying to get charges dropped … and the Society had already been given time by changing Judges, and being allowed to present pre-trial motions, along with more time to prepare for trial in July … so … How was this a Railroad job?

Government Motion in Judges Chambers: This was fascinating, because while the Society was allowed many motions, the Government only made ONE motion … what was that? To drop all charges against the “eighth” officer. But, wait, the defense, the Society’s attorney objects … why? The Judge and the Prosecution were amazed … the Society would really object to letting one of their own guys off the hook? Yes … because they stated that they feared this “eighth” officer would become a witness against them, thus helping the Government’s case … but in this one motion, the Judge ruled in favor of the Government and dropped the charges … now, the defense was down to seven Society officers. How was this a Railroad job?

Jury Selection: Normally, juries are selected very rapidly, with a brief questioning period to weed out conflicts of interest, hardship cases, or unduly biased jurors. In typical trials, even today in 2004, prospective Jurors are only questioned a few minutes each by both sides … and a full Jury panel can be decided upon in a hour or so … but, not the Society … they were pioneering new paths for Jury selection, going deeply into each Juror's past and present views and life experiences … this went on so long, that finally the Judge had to put a stop to it … and he still then allowed continued questioning of prospective Jurors, but on a group basis. How was this a Railroad job?

Jury stacking: While the complete jury was not stacked, it did have two Jurors of interest. One was a friend of the US Attorney … and today, this could mean dismissal from the panel … but, did the Society’s attorney reject this Juror? They could have. No, they allowed this friend of the US Attorney to remain on the Jury. Then, a “lifelong” friend of Rutherford’s attorney was discovered on the panel … he had also done a lot of business with Rutherford’s attorney, and they continued their friendship … the Government did not object, and this friend of Rutherford’s attorney was allowed on the full Jury … in a criminal trial, which this was, only one Juror is needed to deadlock the Jury or potentially cause the other Jurors to find the defendants not guilty. How was this a Railroad job?

The Trial: The trial commenced June 6th, 1918 and lasted two weeks, until June 20th, 1918. This is a fairly long trial … and in that time both the Government and the defense put on their witnesses, with both having the right and engaging in direct and cross examination of all witnesses. As it turned out, the Watchtower defense attorneys objected to almost everything the Government tried to do … they even went so far as to object when the Government attorney simply asked the name and residence of a witness … while the Judge saw through this … he sustained many objections of the defense, or he allowed ‘exceptions’ into the court record so as to protect the appeal rights of the Watchtower defendants. How was this a Railroad job?

Testifying against themselves: An interesting aspect of this trial is that the defendants often said things that hurt their own case. One of the writers of the Finished Mystery book even said that they rushed the book to press because they wanted it to appear to fulfill prophecy by being released at a certain time … and also this would enhance book sales and make more money for the Society. How was this a Railroad job?

Rutherford pulls a boner: Of anything a defendant should never do is to take the stand … even if innocent … because the prosecution can open up a lot of issues and it all becomes fair game … it can destroy an otherwise good defense. Rutherford, being an attorney himself and a self-proclaimed Judge, should have known better … his attorneys should have told him NO – NO –NO in no uncertain terms … but, no, Rutherford took the stand … the real boner was AFTER the US Attorney and his own Attorney were done with direct and cross examination, Rutherford then turned to the Judge and requested to say more … he was cautioned, but he was allowed to proceed anyway … did Rutherford use this time wisely to passionately present his case, stating the facts and giving the Jury reason to believe him, and see his side of the story? Oh no, Rutherford chose to do a marketing promotional of the Bible Student religion … none of what he stated was relevant or convincing. The Judge was astonished. How was this a Railroad job?

The Conviction: The trial ended on June 20, 1918 ... and on June 21, 1918, after the Jury deliberated for 24 hours, including the lifelong friend of Rutherford’s attorney, convicted all seven Society officers of all charges … and then the sentencing phase resulted in each defendant receiving 20 years in federal prison, except one Society officer who was given ten years. Did the Society’s officers accept this judgment and now quietly wait on Jehovah to miraculously release them in his own time? Something the Society expects of JWs today when they experience injustice … to WAIT on Jehovah … No, they instead Immediately commenced working on an appeal … exercising every right and remedy at their disposal … petitioning the Justice Department, and even the President of the US, etc. … They did not rest until 18 months later when they were finally released. How was this a Railroad job?

EXONERATED? The final touch on this event, as painted by the Society all these decades since then, is that Jehovah fulfilled Revelation 11, by reviving his Two Witnesses back to life and restoring them as if to a high heavenly position … they claim that the Society’s seven officers were “Exonerated” of all charges … why … because they were indeed not guilty and that all this was a railroad job at the direction of the Devil and his visible servants, the Government and False Religion. What does the court transcript have?

THE FACTS: The Society’s attorneys were successful in showing cause that there were “errors” made in trial … based on many exceptions and objections made by the defense attorneys ... and allowed by the trial judge in an effort to protect their rights. In law, the term “Exonerated” is not found … at least I have never been able to find a legal definition of exoneration. Rather, when a person has been wrongfully convicted and later deemed innocent, they are given a “Pardon” … because legally, a “Pardon” is used in criminal law to both “forgive” the guilty and to release the innocent … a pardon assures that if there was any possible crime, it was forgiven too.

What then did the Government do? The Government issued what is called a WRIT OF ERROR. This merely means that the Government agrees and recognizes that “errors” were made in trial, and that it is not saying the defendants are innocent, but rather, that the defendants will have to be retried to correct the errors. The Government decided that since the war was over, it was not worth it to try the case again, though they could have. How was this a Railroad job?

Conclusion: If you read the trial transcript, containing the letters in evidence, the offending passages from the Finished Mystery book, the correspondence between the Society and the active duty military personnel, the testimony of the witnesses for both the prosecution and defense … the self-condemning testimony of the Society officers, the events leading up to the arrest, the arguments in judges chambers, the jury selection, and the final conviction and “Writ or Error” you come to realize that there is a big difference between what the Society claims and what actually took place. Again, you be the judge!

SOURCE: The full Trial Transcript, including arguments in Judges Chambers and Jury Selection and sentencing … about 1,500 + pages … I am working on a complete review and full citation of all source references to be published sometime in the future. If you have questions, feel free to PM me. There is much more that is in the trial that is fascinating … but the above highlights the issue here.