America’s Forgotten Reign of Terror

Exactly a hundred years ago this morning—on January 3, 1920—Americans woke up to discover just how little their own government regarded the cherished Bill of Rights. During the night, some 4,000 of their fellow citizens were rounded up and jailed for what amounted, in most cases, to no good reason at all and no due process, either.

Welcome to the story of the Palmer Raids, named for their instigator, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. Though largely forgotten today, they shouldn’t be. They constituted a horrific, shameful episode in American history, one of the lowest moments for liberty since King George III quartered troops in private homes.

The terror during the night of January 2-3, 1920, shocked and frightened many citizens. In her 1971 book, America’s Reign of Terror: World War I, the Red Scare, and the Palmer Raids, Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht wrote:

[T]error is not just a body count. Terror exists when a person can be sentenced to years in prison for an idle remark; when people are pulled out of their beds and arrested; when 4,000 persons are seized in a single night; and when arrests and searches are made without warrants. Moreover, for each person sent to prison for his views, many others were silenced. The author amply documents the government’s insensitivity to civil liberties during this period, its frequent brutality and callousness, and the personal grief that ensued.

The targets of the Palmer raids were radicals and leftists deemed by the Wilson administration to be hostile to “American values.” Ironically, none of those arrested had done anywhere near as much harm to those values as the man living in the White House—Woodrow Wilson, arguably the worst of the country’s 45 presidents. More on that and the Palmer Raids after some background.

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Author: HP McLovincraft

Seeker of rabbit holes. Pessimist. Libertine. Contrarian. Your huckleberry. Possibly true tales of sanity-blasting horror also known as abject reality. Prepare yourself. Veteran of a thousand psychic wars. I have seen the fnords. Deplatformed on Tumblr and Twitter.

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