Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Palmer Raids (aka: the Red Scare) in Chicago.

Named after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, with assistance from J. Edgar Hoover, and fueled by paranoia generated by revolutions overseas and social unrest at home. Chicago saw some of the worst of the violence. Chicago police swooped down upon the gathering places of political dissenters and labor activists, arresting about 150 communists, socialists, and anarchists, plus a few more-or-less-innocent bystanders on New Year's Day 1920.

The feds got into the act, arresting thousands more nationally and confining many of the foreign-born pending deportations at New York's Ellis Island, where many had first landed in America.
About 200 people viewed as radicals were rounded up in Chicago as part of nationwide raids at the local and federal level to wipe the Communist Party out of existence. Law enforcement raided multiple meeting places and residences, taking both men and women into custody.
Those raids on union halls and bookstores stocking radical literature marked the apex of the Red Scare, as it was dubbed, a period when morbid fears of subversives targeting the American way of life led government officials to put civil liberties on hold. It was a time of sporadic violence and mass arrests. Police and Justice Department officials broke into homes for no other reason than those who lived there were foreign-born and held unpopular views, like opposing America's involvement in the recently concluded World War I. Others had agitated for better wages and working conditions. Hundreds were deported, many without having their day in court. And all of this was justified by officials announcing they had uncovered plots to overthrow the government, the supposed details of which would have seemed laughable in more sober times.
Authorities confiscate literature as evidence at an alleged gathering place for communists during the Red Raid in Chicago on January 1, 1920.
When some of those rounded up in the Chicago raids on New Year's Day 1920 went on trial, the prosecutor told the judge and jury of a nefarious scheme to shut off Chicago's electricity. According to the Tribune's report, he said, "With the city in darkness, the food supply would be seized by the victorious Reds and soup kitchens established where only the comrades and those who surrendered to the cause would be fed."
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union members were arrested during a raid on January 1, 1920. The Tribune reported, "Most of the Reds are said to have freely confessed membership in the society, confessions assuring their early exile."
What kind of person would do such a thing? According to the Trib's reporter, their facial expressions gave them away: "The picture of mothers begging husbands to join with the revolutionists in order to get milk for the baby caused smirks to appear on the faces of many of the defendants."
William Bross Lloyd of Wilmette was a socialist and millionaire who supported the Industrial Workers of the World union. Lloyd was listed among 35 men and three women indicted and charged in January 1920 with conspiracy to overthrow the government.
Federal authorities had planned a nationwide crackdown on suspected revolutionaries to begin Jan. 2, but the Cook County state's attorney and Chicago's police chief jumped the gun. In those paranoid times, public officials were even suspicious of other public officials. Explaining why he staged his raids a day early, State's Attorney Maclay Hoyne accused U.S. Attorney General Mitchell Palmer of dragging his feet in a moment of crisis, accusing him of a "petty, pusillanimous and pussyfoot policy," according to the Tribune. Hoyne also claimed the feds had tipped off Chicago's Reds, enabling some to escape Chicago's cops.
Fifty-five male and female "students" were arrested at the "soviet college" at 1115 N. Robey St. (now Damen Avenue) on January 2, 1920. Chicago police raided several establishments on January 1 and 2 and rounded up 200 "radicals" in an effort to wipe out the Communist Party in Chicago. The Tribune reported Edward J. Brennan, superintendent of the Department of Justice's local offices, as saying, "We mean we are going to deport most of them."
In the years leading up to 1920, a perfect storm of reasonable anxieties and irrational conspiracy theories brewed. In 1917, Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia and called upon the working class of other countries to follow their lead. In response, an American Communist Party (which quickly split in two) formed at a 1919 convention in Chicago, long the center of political dissent in this country. Seattle witnessed a general strike, a phenomenon that, in radical and conservative ideology alike, was thought to be a harbinger of revolution. The Boston police went on strike, as did steelworkers in Gary and other mill towns. A series of spectacular bombings and attempted bombings in April and June 1919 indicated that some radicals weren't willing to wait until election victories enabled them to put into place their theories of a society of equals. Among the targets was the Washington home of Palmer himself, and, as the mastermind of the anarchist bombers was an Italian immigrant, not only was he deported but immigrants in general also came under suspicion.
William "Big Bill" Haywood, seated left, in court on January 5, 1920, with George T. Speed, seated right, both members of the Industrial Workers of the World union executive board. The two were arrested during the Red Raids that rounded up socialists and "radicals" on suspicion of espionage. Haywood was a founding member and leader of the IWW who skipped bail and fled to Russia in 1921 while out on appeal.
Encouraged to come to labor at U.S. factories, millions of recent arrivals from Southern and Eastern Europe didn't seem like "real Americans" to citizens of older stock. Editorializing on a supposed Communist plot in 1920 to blow up an Illinois Central train, the Tribune noted: "That was the scheme of a group of foreigners who could not even speak English."
William "Big Bill" Haywood, center, appears in court January 5, 1920, to get his bond fixed after the Red Raid in Chicago in 1920. Haywood's bond was set at $10,000.
In fact, not all of America's radicals were foreigners. William Bross Lloyd had impeccable establishment credentials: a home in Wilmette and a grandfather, William Bross, who had been a publisher of the Tribune. That didn't stop Lloyd from serving as sergeant of arms at the Communist convention in 1919. The Tribune dubbed him "the man who would be king of the proletariat." When he was tried in July 1920, evidence was introduced of a previous conviction for flying the Communist flag from his automobile. According to the Tribune, Lloyd noted that he also flew an American flag, though "the Stars and Stripes were only for protection, while the other expressed his true feelings."
Edgar Owens, alleged state secretary of the Communist Labor Party, was arrested on January 8, 1920, in Moline, Ill. According to the Tribune, it was believed that Owens was training his son, Arvid, 14, to be a leader of the revolutionary orchestra at the first session of the American revolutionary assembly. "My sole ambition for him is that he shall be a rebel. I feel that I could rest content if he could contribute to the overthrow of this system that makes slaves of the masses."
Lloyd was sentenced to up to five years in prison, of which he served eight days before being pardoned by Illinois Gov. Len Small. Others didn't get off so lightly — or even have trials. Even before the New Year's Day raids, prominent radicals were deported aboard a ship dubbed the "Soviet Ark." From the high seas, Emma Goldman, a pioneering feminist, and other leftist luminaries telegraphed their solidarity with those awaiting deportation.

When authorities were putting together the passenger list for a new deportation ship, dubbed the "Chicago Ark," two sisters from Gary were included. According to a Tribune reporter: "The Dubrow sisters appeared in court with their mother and insisted she go with them." Historians estimate that during the Red Scare upward of 4,000 people were arrested nationwide, 500 of whom were deported.
Maurice Grodin explains the Industrial Workers of the World union headquarters during the Red Raids of January 1, 1920.
Those numbers would have been higher if Palmer hadn't been opposed by Secretary of Labor William Wilson, who objected to Palmer's methods and whose department had jurisdiction over immigrants. The U.S. attorney for eastern Pennsylvania resigned, saying that repressive measures were wholly unnecessary against "a handful of Russians and Jews in love with the Soviet form of government."

Jane Addams thought Palmer's methods were counterproductive. "The remedy for the feeling of unrest is conciliation and education, and free speech is the great safety valve," said Addams, who knew immigrants firsthand through her pioneering Hull House social center.

Faced with growing criticism, Palmer doubled down his bet, asserting that radicals planned a revolution for May Day, the international labor holiday. When it failed to happen, his ambitions to run for president were shattered. On May 1, the Tribune dispatched a reporter to likely spots for the uprising to begin. At an Italian restaurant on Jackson Boulevard he spotted "a girl of 16 with a red rose pinned on a necktie of scarlet," adding that "in Jefferson Park, numerous holders of the Red card were playing baseball."

Accordingly, he concluded: "The revolution just didn't happen."

The Palmer Raids Explained.

Palmer raids were a series of violent and abusive law-enforcement raids directed at leftist radicals and anarchists in 1919 and 1920, beginning during a period of unrest known as the “Red Summer.” Named after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, with assistance from J. Edgar Hoover, the raids and subsequent deportations proved disastrous and sparked a vigorous debate about constitutional rights.

Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, America was on high alert, fearing Communist revolutionaries on their own shores.

The Sedition Act of 1918, which was an expansion of the 1917 Espionage Act, was a direct result of the paranoia. Targeting those who criticized the government, the Sedition Act set into motion an effort to monitor radicals, especially labor union leaders, with the threat of deportation looming over them.

Anyone who was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World union was, particularly at risk.

In the spring of 1919, a series of bombs targeting government and law enforcement officials were discovered.

In April, a package bomb was delivered at the home of former U.S. Senator Thomas Hardwick in Georgia. It exploded, but Hardwick, his wife and the maid who opened the package survived (albeit with severe injuries).

Later in the month, the office of Seattle mayor Ole Hanson received a mail bomb sent from New York City that failed to explode.

Days later, a postal worker read a newspaper item about the Georgia bombing, and the description of that package reminded him of a group of parcels he had dealt with a few days before that lacked proper postage.

The clerk, Charles Caplan, intercepted 36 mail bombs targeting Oliver Wendell Holmes, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and other notable citizens.

The headlines that followed pushed a conspiracy narrative and set off a Red Scare wave in the country. There were riots in New York City and Cleveland centering around labor union-supported May Day celebrations.

On June 2, 1919, a bomb exploded at the home of  Judge Charles Cooper Nott Jr. In New York City, killing two people.

The very same day, a bomb exploded in front of Palmer’s home in Washington, D.C. The anarchist planting the bomb, Carlo Valdinoci, was the only casualty of the explosion.

Other devices detonated in Boston, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. Two anarchists working in a print shop traced to a flyer contained in each package were suspected but were never convicted due to lack of evidence.

A special division of the Bureau of Investigation—a precursor to the FBI—charged with collating all information on leftist radicals was created by Palmer in 1919 in response to the bombs.

J. Edgar Hoover, a Justice Department lawyer at the time, was put in charge of the group. Hoover coordinated intelligence from various sources to identify those radicals believed most prone to violence.

Hoover’s analysis lead to raids and mass arrests under the Sedition Act in the fall of 1919, with well-known anarchist figures Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman among those arrested.

Police raided locations like the Russian People’s House in New York City, where Russian immigrants often gathered for educational purposes. Department of Justice agents stormed a meeting room and beat the 200 occupants with clubs and blackjacks.

An algebra class was interrupted by armed agents, with the teacher being beaten. The detained were ordered to hand over their money to agents, who were then directed to tear the place apart.

Dragged and shoved into patrol wagons and taken into custody, agents searched among the detainees for members of the Union of Russian Workers. The questioning that followed revealed that only 39 of the people arrested had anything to do with the union.

Raids across the United States continued, with police pulling suspects out of their apartments, often without arrest warrants. One thousand people were arrested in 11 cities. Seventy-five percent of the arrestees were released.

In Hartford, Connecticut, 100 men were held for five months, during which time they weren’t allowed lawyers and were not informed of the charges.

Many of the alleged Communist sympathizers that were rounded up were deported in December 1919. The boat utilized for this, the USAT Buford, was nicknamed the Soviet Ark and the Red Ark. A total of 249 radicals were deported aboard the ship, including Goldman.

More violent abuses abounded: New York City deportee Gaspar Cannone was held secretly without being charged and beaten when he would not inform on others. When Cannone refused to sign a statement admitting to being an anarchist, his signature was forged.

During Goldman’s deportation hearing, she defiantly accused the government of violating the First Amendment and warned them of the mistake they were making. She would not return to America until 1940 when her dead body was shipped for burial.

More raids followed on January 2, 1920. Justice Department agents conducted raids in 33 cities, resulting in the arrest of 3,000 people. Over 800 of the arrested suspected radicals were living in the Boston area.

In Chicago, the state’s attorney and the police chief believed Palmer had tipped off local targets and thought rounding them up a day early was the only way to achieve the desired arrests.

Around 150 Chicagoans were arrested on January 1 in raids on union halls and radical bookstores. Only a portion of those went on trial, with the prosecutor alleging a hysterical Communist plot to shut off the city’s electricity and steal its food supply.

Abuses of arrestees were routine: In Detroit, nearly 1,000 men were detained and starved for almost a week in a small area without windows on the top floor of the federal building.

They were later transferred to Fort Wayne to be tortured during questioning. Family members of prisoners were assaulted in front of them as part of the interrogation.

The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, was created in 1920 as a direct result of the Palmer Raids. It was suggested in a January 13 meeting to reorganize the National Civil Liberties Bureau as the ACLU, which held its first meeting on January 19.

Palmer raids were a series of violent and abusive law-enforcement raids directed at leftist radicals and anarchists in 1919 and 1920, beginning during a period of unrest known as the “Red Summer.” Named after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, with assistance from J. Edgar Hoover, the raids and subsequent deportations proved disastrous and sparked a vigorous debate about constitutional rights.

Though the first raids were popular with American citizens, they eventually elicited much criticism, particularly after the second wave of raids, and Palmer faced rebukes from numerous sources, including Congress.

Palmer defended his actions in the press, but a subsequent report from a group of lawyers and judges revealing the extent to which due process had been disregarded caused further damage.

Assistant Secretary of Labor Louis F. Post joined in the chorus of criticism after reviewing deportation cases, claiming that innocent people were punished under Palmer’s efforts. Post invalidated well over 1,500 deportations. Only 556 arrestees remained deported.

An attempt by Palmer’s Congressional allies to impeach Post backfired, instead of providing an opportunity for Post to publicly outline and decry Palmer’s abuses.

During hearings, Palmer questioned Post’s patriotism and refused to admit wrongdoing.

He predicted an armed Communist uprising on May 1, 1920, to justify further raids and other actions. When that never materialized, his plans fell apart and he was subject to near-universal mockery.

A career politician, Palmer sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1920 but lost to James M. Cox. Palmer died in 1936.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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