1919 December 31

AG Palmer Promises “War on Reds,” Delivers Palmer Raids


Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer in a New Year’s message to the country on this day promised a “war on Reds” in America. He delivered on his promise by launching the second and largest set of Palmer Raids two days later on January 2, 1920.

In his speech, Palmer denounced American Bolshevists as “criminals, mistaken idealists, social bigots,” and people suffering from “hyperanaesthesia.” The top 100 Bolshevists included 69 criminals and 30 fools.

The first Palmer Raids had occurred on November 7, 1919, which occurred in twelve cities. The date was chosen to mark the second anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The raids were directed in particular against the Union of Russian Workers (URW), which the Justice Department believed was a center of Communist activity. The Palmer Raids were marked by brutality and denial of due process rights. In New York City alone, 650 people were arrested and 43 of those were later deported.

The second and larger of the two infamous Palmer Raids began on January 2, 1920 and involved the arrest of more than 3,000 alleged radical aliens and workers in 30 cities. The raids were accompanied by brutality, prolonged detention without bail, and denial of access to family, friends, and attorneys. The round-ups continued on January 3 and 4.

The raids provoked a backlash, most notably in a report by twelve prominent lawyers on May 28, 1920 entitled the Report Upon the Illegal Practices of the United States Department of Justice.

Read: Kenneth Ackerman, Young J. Edgar: Hoover and the Red Scare, 1919–1920 (2011)

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