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Palmer raids

The Palmer Raids were a number of quasi-legal attacks on Socialists and Communists in the United States from 1918 to 1921.

The raids are named after Alexander Mitchell Palmer, United States Attorney General under Woodrow Wilson. Palmer stated his belief that Communism was "eating its way into the homes of the American workman," and that American Communists were responsible for most of the country's social problems.

The crackdown on dissent had actually begun during World War I, but had accelerated significantly after the end of the war. Congress in 1919 refused to seat Socialist representative from Wisconsin, Victor L. Berger, because of his pacifist views concerning the war. With strong support from Congress and the public, in 1919 Palmer clamped down on political dissent. On June 2, 1919 a number of bombs were detonated in eight American cities, including one in Washington that damaged the home of Palmer. Following this, Palmer and his assistant John Edgar Hoover orchestrated a series of well publicized raids against apparent radicals and leftists under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Victor Berger was sentenced to 20 years in prison on the charge of sedition (the Supreme Court of the United States later threw out that conviction).

Without warrants, Palmer's men smashed union offices and the headquarters of Communist and Socialist organizations, concentrating on foreigners. They arrested over 10,000 people. In December 1919, Palmer's agents gathered 248 of the arrestees, including Emma Goldman, and placed them on a ship bound for the Soviet Union. In January, 1920, another 6,000 were arrested, mostly members of the anarcho-syndicalist union Industrial Workers of the World. Palmer announced that a Communist revolution was to take place on May 1 (May Day). Following initial panic, the non-appearance of the revolution led to criticism of Palmer over his disregard for civil rights and accusations that the entire Red Scare was designed to secure him the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.

See also: Anti-communism