Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Palmer Raids


Background

The crackdown on radical left-wing political groups had actually begun during World War I. After a series of bomb attacks of court buildings, police stations, churches and homes tied to violent immigrant anarchist groups, the Department of Justice and its small Bureau of Investigation (BOI) (predecessor to the FBI) had begun to track their activities with the approval of President Woodrow Wilson. In 1915, Wilson himself warned of hyphenated Americans who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life. Such creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy must be crushed out.[1]

Handicapped by the secrecy of these groups and limited Federal law enforcement capabilities, the Bureau of Investigation significantly increased its workload on anarchist movements after 1917 when the Galleanists (followers of Luigi Galleani) and other radical groups commenced a new series of bomb attacks that reverberated through several major American cities. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was also a background factor: many anarchists believed that the worker's revolution there would quickly spread across Europe and the United States.

On June 15, 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act. The law set punishments for acts of interference in foreign policy and espionage. The Act authorized stiff fines and prison terms of up to 20 years for anyone who obstructed the military draft or encouraged "disloyalty" against the U.S. government. After two anarchist radicals, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman continued to advocate against conscription, Goldman's offices at Mother Earth were thoroughly searched, and volumes of files and detailed subscription lists from Mother Earth, along with Berkman's journal The Blast, were seized. As a Justice Department news release reported:

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Rex 84, short for Readiness Exercise 1984, was a plan by the United States federal government to test their ability to detain large numbers of American citizens in case of massive civil unrest or national emergency.

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