Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

GARNER, ELMER (1864-1944)

Born in Tama County, Iowa, on January 1, 1864, but raised near Downs in Osborne County, Kansas, Elmer J. Garner was an editor and publisher of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century who moved from Farmers Alliance advocacy in 1890 to the radical "old Christian right" of fellow Kansans Dr. John R. Brinkley and Rev. Gerald B. Winrod. Garner edited papers identified with the People's, Republican, and Democratic Parties, even though he claimed political independence. By some accounts his Farmers' Advance (Almena, Norton County) was the first Populist newspaper in Kansas, but during the 1890s Garner's Logan Republican also supported prohibitionists and free-silver Democrats such as William Jennings Bryan, as well as many Republican candidates. Despite his chameleonic politics, Garner consistently espoused prohibitionism, nativism, and isolationism; he also frequently employed anti-British, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic rhetoric in his advocacy of free silver and farm cooperatives and in his diatribes against the world financial conspiracy.

After a stint in Oklahoma editing the Oklahoma State Register (Guthrie) and the Cimarron Valley Clipper (Coyle), Garner moved back to Kansas, eventually settling in Emporia, where he ran a print shop and in the mid-1920s a newspaper, the Kansas State Bugle, that stood "one hundred percent for Protestant Americanism" and supported the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. Garner then moved to Wichita, where in 1930 he helped organize that city's "Brinkley for Governor Club" and launched Publicity, a four-page weekly tabloid devoted to Dr. Brinkley and "Brinkleyism." In this, his final publishing venture, Garner championed the goat gland doctor's political career and "populist" platform: free textbooks for Kansas children; public ownership of natural resources and utilities, including transportation; support for strong farmers' cooperative and trade union movements; prevention of centralized control of banking, finance, and farming interests; elimination of war profits; and a mandatory referendum to precede any declaration of war. But he also supported much of the New Deal during the mid-1930s until President Franklin D. Roosevelt's emphasis shifted overseas. Editor Garner was virulent in his opposition to a third term and subsequently called for the impeachment of "Roosevelt and his Jewish Camarilla."

Publicity softened its anti-Roosevelt message after Pearl Harbor, but it was too late. The justice department, through a federal grand jury, indicted Elmer J. Garner on sedition charges and eventually put him on trial in Washington DC with twenty-nine other defendants. They were said to have been a part of a nationwide conspiracy to subvert the country's armed forces. The "Great Sedition Trial," or United States v. McWilliams, ended for the eighty-year-old Wichita editor on May 4, 1944, about two weeks after it began, when Garner died in a Washington boardinghouse.

See also MEDIA: Brinkley, John Richard.

Virgil W. Dean Kansas State Historical Society

"Another Wichita Seditionist? Elmer J. Garner and the Radical Right's Opposition to World War II." Kansas History 17 (1994): 50-64.

Ribuffo, Leo P. The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983.

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