In the late 1910's to the early 1920's the immigrant anarchists movement had become violently opposed to the conservative government. This was expressed by the numerous bombings. A pamphlet was found at each of the bombings, called the "Plain Words" document, calling for the proletariat to rise up and overthrow the government. This document was traced to a small print shop in Brooklyn. The print shop was owned by two anarchists, Andrea Salsedo and Robert Elia, who were affiliated with Luigi Galleani, one the largest anarchist leaders in America before he was deported in the raids to attack communist under M. A. Palmer. Both Salsedo and Elia were taken into custody for their apparent involvement in the bombings.
The anarchist circle created a defense to try to free their comrades. Among the defenders were Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Knowing that a full raid in order to investigate the document was about to be made on the Brooklyn anarchist organization, they went down with two friends, Ricardo Oriani and Mike Boda, and his car to the town of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, to remove anarchist literature from their organization to avoid arrest. However, in the area there was a chain of hold-ups done by Italian Americans, and Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested after returning on the train with no evidence. They were charged with murder and robbery of a clerk and security guard transporting money in South Braintree that happened on April 15. Initially, Vanzetti was not charged with the hold up in South Braintree, but an entirely separate one at Bridgewater early that year. This was less severe than what Sacco was being tried for, as the hold up at Bridgewater only consisted at an attempt of theft, not murder. His trial occurred in August, and due to incompetent lawyers, he was convicted soon after the trial began. Vanzetti had always maintained his innocence, although he could not complain that he had an unfair trial. The reason for his conviction was probably his incompetent lawyers, not the court itself. After his conviction, he was charged for the South Braintree hold-up.
This case would turn into one of the most controversial in history, as there are fallacies to both sides. In the initial questioning, Sacco proved to be armed, and both men lied about their political affiliation. Later on, many witnesses would place them at the crime scene of the crime. However, if this could prove their guilt, there were many more incidents that proved their innocence. Vanzetti had a fairly reliable alibi backed up by many people in town. Many witnesses had a hard time placing each of the men in a get away car, and there were discrepancies about where they sat as it left the scene. And why would men with access to a car be regulars on the bus and need access to a borrowed car to remove to literature? Today, it is widely accepted that Vanzetti was innocent. Sacco, however, did not have a solid alibi. In 1921, both men were convicted and in 1927, they were executed. After 1982, a letter sent to Francis Russell from the sons of one of the anarchist defending Sacco and Vanzetti admits that Sacco was. However, only one source of documents is known that support this claim. There are still fierce defenders that have remained loyal to the cause.
Regardless of the actual guilt of Sacco or Vanzetti, most scholars believe they did not have a fair trial because of the fact that they were anarchists with criminal connections. The period after the Palmer raids were still characterized by a belief that anarchists were criminals. Judge Thayer, who benched the trial, did not allow all defense evidence in, and the prosecution evidence was allowed regardless of any objection. As William Thompson, a lawyer representing Sacco and Vanzetti,
"Katzmann [prosecuting attorney] would say something and Moore [head defense attorney] would object to it.... I told John McAnarney, "your goose is cooked. You will never get these men acquitted. The judge is going to convict these two men and see that nothing gets in the record..."This idea of justice persecuting the radicals is key to the Red Scare. In the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, it was not a national issue to avoid a revolution. However, it was a national issue to keep law and order. The reason for the discrimination against anarchist was not caused by genuine concern over the government, but concern for the American people's welfare. Although there was not proof that Vanzetti or Sacco was responsible for any crime, they were affiliated with the movement that was responsible for crimes. It was this criminal element that caused many Americans to applaud their execution.