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THE PALMER RAIDS: PRECURSOR OF THINGS TO COME

The period after World War I was a time of great political and economic turmoil worldwide. The old world order was collapsing and new social and revolutionary movements were under way. Millions of people were uprooted, disoriented and frightened. Here in the U.S., cities were bursting with new immigrants who were poorly housed and working under dangerous industrial conditions. Labor strikes led to violent demonstrations and in some cases riots. In 1919, bombs exploded in eight cities, one on the doorstep of Attorney General Palmer’s Washington townhouse.

JOURNEY’S END: After a long sea voyage, 1920s-era immigrants get their first glimpse of America.

Palmer responded swiftly, creating a new General Intelligence Division within the Justice Department to hunt down radicals, left-wing groups and aliens. He put a tough, 24-year-old lawyer named J. Edgar Hoover in charge. Over a two-month period in 1920, agents swooped down on suspected Bolsheviks in union halls, bowling alleys and private homes in 33 cities, arresting 6,000 people — most of them immigrants.

The Palmer Raids trampled the Bill of Rights: making arrests without warrants, conducting unreasonable searches and seizures, wantonly destroying property, using physical brutality against suspects, and detaining suspects without charges for prolonged periods. Palmer’s men also invoked the wartime Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 and 1918 to deport noncitizens without trials, shipping 249 to the Soviet Union.

The people who sent the bombs were never discovered — but by the following year, when a bomb exploded on Wall Street, killing 33 people, that attack was seen not as a conspiracy but as the work of one deranged man.

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