On the evening of January 2, 1920, raids by the
Federal Department of Justice took place in 30 cities
across the United States.
In all, the Justice Department rounded up and
deported about 3,000 people as foreign agitators,
bomb-throwing anarchists, Communists and generally a
menace to American society.
If you`ve heard of the Palmer Raids at all, you`ve
mostly heard of them as the outrageous violation of
civil rights, paranoia, witch hunt, and so on.
Building on earlier
immigration laws, Congress passed the Deportation Act of
1918 with three purposes in mind. This law authorized
the deportation of any alien who:
 opposed all organized
 advocated the
overthrow of the government "by force or violence"; or
 belonged to any
organization teaching these views. For example, the
Secretary of Labor eventually ruled that the Communist
Party advocated violent revolution. Therefore, any alien
who was a member of that organization could be deported.
The Bureau of Immigration (then part of the Department
of Labor) often decided who would be deported under this
Even though deportation
matters were not normally the concern of the Department
of Justice, Attorney General Palmer soon created an
alliance with officials in the Bureau of Immigration to
find and deport alien "reds." J. Edgar Hoover, Palmer`s
chief investigating officer, ordered Justice Department
agents to go undercover and join suspected radical
By December 1919, Palmer,
Hoover, and their allies in the Bureau of Immigration
had decided to arrest alien members of the Communist
Party and other foreign radicals. Hoover issued the
instructions to Department of Justice agents which
called for the arrests to take place during a series of
raids planned for the evening of January 2, 1920.
The problem with seeing anti-Communism and the search
for foreign agitators as a witch-hunt is that there are,
in fact, no such things as witches. But there were, and
still are, foreign agitators, terrorists, and
Back then, not only could violent strikes, rioting
and shooting be traced to honest-to-God foreign
agitators, but so could the assassination of President
McKinley, and the bombing of the
House of Morgan
on Wall Street. The bomb, which
exploded on September 16, 1920, killed 33 people,
and injured 400. You can still see the scars on the
granite at 23 Wall Street. It may also have killed open
immigration for the period of 1924-1965. Big Business
finally capitulated to popular demands for immigration
reform. (As Norman Matloff pointed out
Business is once again prominent among the special
interests wanting immigration. So is the Higher
Education lobby, which may be more difficult to crack.)
This was too bad for those who wanted to come here in
those years. But an online almanac shows an equally big
gap in major terrorist attacks:
nothing between 1920 and 1975.
One of the Palmer deportees was Emma Goldman. In
1892 her lover Alexander Berkman had gone to jail for a
botched attempt to assassinate an industrialist
named Frick. In 1901 she had
inspired Czolgosz to assassinate McKinley.
Amazingly, it took the Government until 1919 to deport
her. Sound familiar?
When she was deported in 1919, she claimed she
looked up and saw the
Statue of Liberty, thinking that America was
behaving like Tsarist Russia, boo hoo. It wasn`t. For
one thing, the Tsar was dead. For another, the United
States was deporting her to Moscow, not Siberia. For a
third, she made herself such a nuisance to the
Bolsheviks, that they subsequently
deported her from Russia.
VDARE.COM does stand for traditional American rights
(see our pieces on
free speech, and
tyranny in general). But, like Palmer, we question
whether those rights apply to aliens – especially
In 1921, Attorney General Palmer told a Senate
"I apologize for nothing
that the Department of Justice has done…. I glory in
it. I point with pride and enthusiasm to the results of
that work; and if … agents of the Department of Labor
were a little rough and unkind … with these alien
agitators,… I think it might well be overlooked in the
general good to the country."
VDARE.COM does not endorse Palmer`s attitude towards
police brutality, (although as a matter of fact this
cavalier attitude to police brutality is also the
current position of
Jonah Goldberg and the
Wall Street Journal). But his contention that he
did good work deporting the radicals in question is
certainly defensible. A little historical perspective,
please: between the wars, Italy, Germany, Russia, and
Japan were all taken over by radical movements.
Other countries had narrow escapes.
The Constitutional Rights Foundation (email
them) has a couple of worthwhile discussion
questions on the Palmer Raids. I`ve taken them out of
context, deliberately. VDARE.COM`s readers may have
different answers to these questions than the CRF was
Do you agree or disagree
with the 1918 law that required the deportation of
aliens if they believed in certain radical ideas or
joined organizations that argued for the violent
overthrow of the government?
Read the Fifth Amendment
of the Bill of Rights. Do you think this amendment
should protect only American citizens, or should it also
protect aliens living in the United States?
Can you imagine any
modern circumstances in the United States where a group
of people are so dangerous to society that it would be
justifiable to jail or deport them without due process
Here are few questions of my own:
Will Attorney General
John Ashcroft be able to take as firm a line with
Islamic terrorists and their supporters?
Will President Bush be even willing to try?
Why have no mass deportations occurred, or even been
proposed (except by the wonderful Ann
Will the constitutional rights of enemy aliens
override justice and public safety, as they have in the
Here`s an analogy, which relates to the question of
aliens` rights and mass immigration of the last thirty
Some years ago, a friend of mine was objecting to the
activities of the
Guardian Angels in a certain neighborhood, which
housed, among other things, the local lunatic asylum. He
said that the Angels were trying to prevent prostitutes,
drug addicts and mental cases from harassing the
citizens. They were overlooking the fact that in this
neighborhood, for practical purposes, prostitutes, drug
addicts and mental cases were the citizens.
The question is: "How did America get that way?"
October 31, 2001