Red Scare

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 260

Throughout much of the twentieth century, the United States worried about Communist activities within its borders. This concern led to sweeping federal action against ALIENS and citizens alike during periods known today as Red scares. Using the derogatory term Red for Communist, the phrase is a form of criticism: it implies overreaction resulting from excessive suspicion, unfounded accusation, and disregard for CONSTITUTIONAL LAW.

The first Red scare followed the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in November 1917, and lasted until 1920. It was marked by antiradical legislation in U.S. immigration law, extensive federal probes of suspected radicals and their organizations, and mass arrests and deportations of aliens. The second Red scare arose prior to WORLD WAR II, and reached new heights during the COLD WAR years.

The origins of the first Red scare lay in the Russian Revolution and the horrendous experience of WORLD WAR I. COMMUNISM was not yet perceived as the only enemy; ANARCHISM (the advocacy of violent overthrow of government and law) also caused fear. In the United States, no great effort was made to separate these two political philosophies, for they both seemed to represent a single threat: foreign attempts to undermine the nation's government and institutions. Congress responded by putting new anti-radical protections in the Immigration Act of 1918 (§§ 1?3, as amended, 8 U.S.C.A. § 137 (c, e?g)). Although antagonism toward different races and beliefs had marked immigration law for decades, this change introduced political limits: it allowed for the deportation of aliens on the grounds of anarchist beliefs or membership in anarchist organizations. Riding a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, lawmakers frequently grumbled about "foreign troublemakers."

Early in 1919, Congress began pressuring the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT to take action against radicals. It had a receptive audience in Attorney General A. MITCHELL PALMER. A self-styled enemy of foreign subversion who hoped to become president, Palmer was given to making public statements like "fully 90 percent of the communist and anarchist agitation is traceable to aliens." Then, on June 2, 1919, a bomb exploded outside Palmer's Washington, D.C., home. Found among the remains of the dead bomber was a pamphlet signed by "the anarchist fighters," warning of more violence to come. The attack set in motion changes that would leave a lasting mark...

To continue reading

Request your trial