Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Story About A Leading Democratic Party Liberal: The Year 1917

Most everyone has heard of the Palmer Raids which occurred immediately after WWI. They were directed specifically against immigrants, radicals, and union types and together made up one of the greatest wholesale suspensions of "the Rule of Law" in American history.

The raids started at the behest of the great liberal and Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, who warned as early as 1915 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."

As the labor movement, draft resistance, and opposition to the war deepened with U.S. entry into WWI, Wilson ordered Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer to "put a stop to it". Palmer, in turn, raised the little tyrant J. Edgar Hoover from obscurity to lead the effort. What follows is a short excerpt of a mostly reactionary Wikipedia write-up on the subject:

Palmer Raids

Pressure to take action intensified after anarchists, communists and other radical groups called on draft-age males to refuse conscription and/or registration for the army, and for troops already serving to desert the armed forces. President Wilson ordered Attorney General Palmer to take action...

...Attorney General Palmer requested and promptly received a massive supplementary increase in Congressional appropriations in order to put a stop to the violence. Palmer then ordered the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Investigation to prepare for what would become known as the Palmer Raids, with the aim of collecting evidence on violent radical groups and arresting those in violation of federal criminal codes.

In 1919, J. Edgar Hoover was put in charge of a new division of the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, the General Intelligence Division. By October 1919, Hoover's division had collected 150,000 names in a rapidly expanding database. Using the database information, starting on November 7, 1919, BOI agents, together with local police, orchestrated a series of well-publicized raids against apparent radicals and leftists, using the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Palmer and his agents were accused of using various controversial methods of obtaining intelligence and collecting evidence on radicals, including harsh interrogation methods, informers, and wiretaps...

...In December 1919, Palmer's agents gathered 249 radicals of Russian origin, including well-known radical leaders such as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, and placed them on a ship bound for the Soviet Union (The Buford, called the Soviet Ark by the press). In January 1920, another 6,000 were arrested, mostly members of the Industrial Workers of the World union. During one of the raids, more than 4,000 radicals were rounded up in a single night. All foreign aliens caught were deported, under the provisions of the Anarchist Act. All in all, by January 1920, Palmer and Hoover had organized the largest mass arrests in U.S. history, rounding up at least 10,000 individuals.

The public reaction to these raids was favorable, and, in fact, may have forestalled reactionary violence by the public in the form of vigilantes. A group of young men in Centralia, Washington, lynched Wesley Everest, an IWW member, from a railway bridge. The coroner's report stated that the man "jumped off with a rope around his neck and then shot himself full of holes."

The related outrages were endless and extended well beyond the legal lynching of Sacco and Vanzetti. A Connecticut clothing salesmen was sentenced to sixth months in jail simply for saying Lenin was smart. The Washington Post noted with approval how in Chicago, a sailor shot another man merely for failing to rise during the national anthem. The stories are endless.

All this is pretty well known, but one question remains: Who was Alexander Mitchell Palmer?

The answer is that Palmer was a leading Democratic Party liberal, a leader of the Progressive wing of the party, a Quaker, and a pacifist. In 1917, he had turned down the offer of appointment as Secretary of War because of his pacifism. It was then that he was appointed attorney general. His nickname, "The Fighting Quaker", was "earned" for arresting people in the middle of the night. For his labors, Palmer almost became the Democratic nominee for President in 1920... only a hung convention because of a minor candidate prevented it.

Palmer himself justified his change of heart by commenting that "communism was eating its way into the homes of the American workman... "

In other words, "they hate our freedoms".

Palmer wrote:
In this brief review of the work which the Department of Justice has undertaken, to tear out the radical seeds that have entangled American ideas in their poisonous theories, I desire not merely to explain what the real menace of communism is, but also to tell how we have been compelled to clean up the country almost unaided by any virile legislation. Though I have not been embarrassed by political opposition, I have been materially delayed because the present sweeping processes of arrests and deportation of seditious aliens should have been vigorously pushed by Congress last spring. The failure of this is a matter of record in the Congressional files.

The anxiety of that period in our responsibility when Congress, ignoring the seriousness of these vast organizations that were plotting to overthrow the Government, failed to act, has passed. The time came when it was obviously hopeless to expect the hearty cooperation of Congress in the only way to stamp out these seditious societies in their open defiance of law by various forms of propaganda.

Like a prairie-fire, the blaze of revolution was sweeping over every American institution of law and order a year ago. It was eating its way into the homes of the American workmen, its sharp tongues of revolutionary heat were licking the altars of the churches, leaping into the belfry of the school bell, crawling into the sacred corners of American homes, seeking to replace marriage vows with libertine laws, burning up the foundations of society.

Robbery, not war, is the ideal of communism. This has been demonstrated in Russia, Germany, and in America. As a foe, the anarchist is fearless of his own life, for his creed is a fanaticism that admits no respect of any other creed. Obviously it is the creed of any criminal mind, which reasons always from motives impossible to clean thought. Crime is the degenerate factor in society.

Upon these two basic certainties, first that the "Reds" were criminal aliens and secondly that the American Government must prevent crime, it was decided that there could be no nice distinctions drawn between the theoretical ideals of the radicals and their actual violations of our national laws. An assassin may have brilliant intellectuality, he may be able to excuse his murder or robbery with fine oratory, but any theory which excuses crime is not wanted in America. This is no place for the criminal to flourish, nor will he do so so long as the rights of common citizenship can be exerted to prevent him.


It has always been plain to me that when American citizens unite upon any national issue they are generally right, but it is sometimes difficult to make the issue clear to them. If the Department of Justice could succeed in attracting the attention of our optimistic citizens to the issue of internal revolution in this country, we felt sure there would be no revolution. The Government was in jeopardy; our private information of what was being done by the organization known as the Communist Party of America, with headquarters in Chicago, of what was being done by the Communist Internationale under their manifesto planned at Moscow last March by Trotzky, Lenin and others addressed "To the Proletariats of All Countries," of what strides the Communist Labor Party was making, removed all doubt. In this conclusion we did not ignore the definite standards of personal liberty, of free speech, which is the very temperament and heart of the people. The evidence was examined with the utmost care, with a personal leaning toward freedom of thought and word on all questions.

The whole mass of evidence, accumulated from all parts of the country, was scrupulously scanned, not merely for the written or spoken differences of viewpoint as to the Government of the United States, but, in spite of these things, to see if the hostile declarations might not be sincere in their announced motive to improve our social order. There was no hope of such a thing.

Radicals seek to take our property, therefore radicalism is the simple crime of theft. Freedom of "thought and word" extends only to those ideas which "improve our social order".

Liberals, Democrats, Progressives, Pacifists?

Those are the people who want to arrest us, aren't they?

Let any "leftist" of any persuasion who wants to engage in the 2008 elections explain why they think that "Al", or "Hil", or "Barack" or "John" are not capable of exactly the same transformation as is recorded above... and at precisely this moment in time, sitting on the three legged stool of "terrorism", "immigration", and craven opportunism.

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