Palmer Raids

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In June 1919, Attorney General Palmer told the House Appropriations Committee that all evidence promised that radicals would "on a certain day…rise up and destroy the government at one fell swoop." He requested an increase in his budget to $2,000,000 from $1,500,000 to support his investigations of radicals, but Congress gave him only an additional $100,000.[3]

An initial raid in July 1919 against an anarchist group in Buffalo achieved little when a federal judge tossed out Palmer's case. He found that the three arrested radicals, charged under a law dating from the Civil War, had only proposed transforming the government by using their free speech rights and not by violence.[4] That taught Palmer that he needed to exploit the more powerful immigration statutes that authorized the deportation of alien anarchists, violent or not. To do that, he needed to enlist the cooperation of officials at the Department of Labor. Only the Secretary of Labor could issue warrants for the arrest of alien violators of the Immigrations Acts and only he could sign deportation orders following a hearing by an immigration inspector.[5]

On August 1, 1919, Palmer put 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover in charge of a new division of the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, the General Intelligence Division. It would investigate the programs of radical groups and identify their members.[6] The Boston Police Strike in early September proved the nation had not emerged united from the war. On October 17, the Senate passed a unanimous resolution demanding Palmer explain what actions he had or had not taken against radical aliens and why.[7]

Raids and arrests in November 1919

Palmer established a working relationship with Labor Department officials, who required probable cause for each warrant and then proof to win a deportation order [8] Justice easily established probable cause with affidavits that no one in the overwhelmed Bureau of Immigration at Labor contested.[9] Together they agreed to target a group with approximately 4,000 members called the Union of Russian Workers. Justice officials knew its publications but were unaware that in the two years since the Russian Revolution it had become nothing more than a social club.[10] The government prepared coordinated raids against the background of further labor unrest. On October 31, Palmer got an injunction to prevent a strike against the coal industry by the United Mine Workers.[11]

At 9 pm on November 7, 1919, a date chosen because it was the second anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, agents of the Bureau of Investigation, together with local police, executed a series of well-publicized and violent raids against the Russian Workers in 12 cities. Newspaper accounts reported some were "badly beaten" during the arrests. Many later swore they were threatened and beaten during questioning. Government agents cast a wide net, bringing in some American citizens, passers-by who admitted being Russian, some not members of the Russian Workers. Others were teachers conducting night school classes in space shared with the targeted radical group. Arrests far exceeded the number of warrants. Of 650 arrested in New York City, the government managed to have just 43 deported.[12]

Palmer now replied to the Senate's questions of October 17. He reported that his department had amassed 60,000 names with great effort. Required by the statutes to work through the Department of Labor, they had arrested 250 dangerous radicals in the November 7 raids. He proposed a new Anti-Sedition Law to enhance his authority to prosecute anarchists.[13]

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