A month after Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were deported along with another 238 "aliens" and suspected anarchists (December 1919) the United States political police celebrated the new year by beating and arresting thousands of immigrants throughout the country on suspicion they were about to violently overthrow the government, the usual claim of police engaged in wholesale human rights violations. Assistant Secretary of Labor Louis F. Post recorded in his diary that there did seem to be a movement afoot to overthrow the government, but it was coming from law enforcement agents persecuting "workingmen of good character" who objected to "government of the people by Tories and financial interests." In short, then as now the wealthy classes were determined to overthrow democracy in order to perpetuate their dominant economic position. (Philip S. Foner, Postwar Struggles, 1918-1920, International Publishers, 1988 pps. 28-9.)
The Palmer Raids
The knock at the door is followed by a rush of police. They have no warrants.
They haul men out of bed and line them up to be searched. They seize all their papers and smash up their furniture and books. They swarm over dance halls, clubbing, kicking, and knocking musicians to the floor. They grab bowlers in bowling alleys and drag diners out of restaurants. They stage mass round-ups in pool halls, homes, and cafes. They arrest an entire orchestra and all the dancers at a left-wing dance. In a Connecticut town, they arrest anyone who comes to visit the “radicals” they have previously corralled.
Throughout the country grateful citizens gather on street corners to shake hands and salute Attorney General Palmer’s good work.
“Well, now we’ll be rid of these agitators for good...So they got the Reds! The damned traitors!”
The Palmer Raids (2)
The parade of bandaged heads, black eyes, and blood-spattered clothes weaves through police stations from coast to coast. Handed confessions to sign and beaten if they refuse, the victims are thrown in overcrowded jails and detention centers for weeks on end while their property is destroyed, their jobs are taken away, and their new lives in America ruined.
The much-discussed weapons cache for violent revolution—the pretext for the raids—turns out to be three pistols. In New Jersey several iron bowling balls, too, are confiscated as “bombs.”
The raid’s mastermind, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, warns against the “alien filth” subverting the country, easily detected in the form of “sly and crafty eyes...lopsided faces, sloping brows and misshapen features.” Such traits, says Palmer, reflect “cupidity, cruelty, insanity and crime.”
Palmer’s prospects for capturing the White House go on the rise.
The “Fighting Quaker” On The Great Peril
“Like a prairie fire, the blaze of revolution is sweeping over every American institution of law and order. It is eating its way into the homes of the American workman; its sharp tongues of revolutionary heat are licking the altars of the churches, leaping into the belfry of the school bell, crawling into the sacred corners of American homes, seeking to replace marriage vows with libertine laws, burning up the foundations of society. There can be no nice distinctions drawn between the theoretical ideas of the radicals and their actual violations of our national law. The government is in jeopardy!”
—Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer
How To End Radicalism
“If you want to get rid of every socialist, of every communist, of every trade unionist, of every agitator, there is one way to do it, and that is to cure the ills of society. You can’t do it by building jails; you can’t make jails big enough or penalties hard enough to cure discontent by strangling it to death. No revolution is possible, no great discontent is possible unless down below it all is some underlying cause for this discontent; men are naturally obedient, too almighty obedient.”
1920: New York City
The Land of Fear
“The wholesale raids of immigrant aliens by representatives of the Department of Justice, by immigration officials and by chambers of commerce, has struck fear into the souls of millions of aliens in this country whose patriotism is above reproach. They are in terror. The Government has come to mean to them arrest often without warrant, the breaking up of families, the imprisonment and detention incommunicado. It means that they are not wanted in America. And they are going back. I believe they are going back by the hundreds of thousands, probably by millions. As soon as transportation facilities are available, I expect vast armies of central and southern European peoples to return to their homes. Many, possibly a majority, will say as we would say under similar circumstances: ‘We want to live among our friends. We want to live in peace and in quiet. We want to have some assurance of safety, both for our persons and our property. And whatever the physical discomforts of old Europe may be, we prefer to bear them rather than the apprehension, the fear of arrest, and fear of deportation that haunts us by day and by night in America.’”
An Immigrant’s View of The U.S.
“When I come to this country, I come loving it. I am going right off to get to be citizen, I think. How proud I am when I sail up the harbor! Pretty soon this is my country, I think, pretty soon I buy me house. You know what the first English I learn is? ‘Damn hunky.’ That’s what I learn, that’s what they call me, but when war come, hunky good enough to fight. ‘Americans All,’ then. You hear what fella say is difference between government in Austria and government here? He say there kaiser rule, here mill boss rule. That’s true. We do what mill boss say. If we join union, mill boss call us ‘Damn hunky’ and kick us out. Is that free country?
“Is it free country when they take fella out of his house and send him off? That John Dudash, next door to me, they come in middle night, they smash his trunk with ax, they look for gun, he ain’t got any. They throw his things, they take him away. Where is he? No one can know. His wife and children cry. By and by he come back. What for they take him? He don’t know; no one knows.
“Maybe next time they come my house. Priest ask John did they have warrant? Don’t need warrant when they search hunky house. Now I go home. My uncle he’s old; my cousin he get kill in war; my uncle he write, ‘Mike, you come and help me on farm.’ What money I have I take. I vote in my own country. I ain’t ‘damn hunky’ there; no, sir. No one call my kids ‘hunky’ there. In my country no one break in my house.”
Stanley Coben, A. Mitchell Palmer: Politician (Columbia University Press, 1963) pps. 217-33
Irving Stone, Clarence Darrow For The Defense (Signet, 1941) pps. 417-19, 421
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The Rebel Girl (International Publishers, 1955), pps. 255-7
Dee Garrison, Mary Heaton Vorse - The Life of an American Insurgent (Temple University, 1989) pps. 161-2
Robert Justin Goldstein, Political Repression in Modern America (Schenkman, 1978) pps. 157-8
Mary Heaton Vorse, A Footnote To Folly: Reminiscences of Mary Heaton Vorse, (Farrar and Rinehard, 1935) pps. 311-12