1920 January 2

Red Scare: The Second and Larger “Palmer Raids;” Massive Violations of Civil Liberties Perpetrated


The second and larger of the two infamous Palmer Raids 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 first and smaller set of raids in twelve cities occurred on November 7, 1919, a date chosen to coincide with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The raids are named for Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer.

Although J. Edgar Hoover, a Bureau of Investigation official, was directly involved in the planning of the raids, he managed to escape the lasting taint that Palmer suffered. Hoover went on to be appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation on May 10, 1924, and served until his death on May 2, 1972. In that capacity, he was responsible for the greatest and longest-lasting violations of civil liberties of any U.S. government official.

The Palmer Raids provoked protests by thoughtful Americans. Twelve prominent attorneys wrote a blistering critique, Report Upon the Illegal Practices of the United States Department of Justice, issued on May 28, 1920.

Read the Illegal Practices report: https://archive.org/details/toamericanpeople00natiuoft

Read about the Palmer Raids and their Legacy: Christopher M. Finan, From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America (2007)

Watch a video about the Palmer Raids: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qutgIfhUL7g

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

Read the 1920 ACLU pamphlet “Seeing Red” on the post-WW I hysteria: http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/groups/aclu/1920/0800-nelles-civilliberty.pdf

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