In January 1920, U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer initiated a series of raids targeting supposed “radicals” and “anarchists”. This first ‘Red Scare’, more than 6,000 individuals, mostly immigrant labor activists, were rounded up, imprisoned, and some were even deported.
J. Edgar Hoover, who had just been appointed to head a division of what would become the FBI, organized a wave of raids that targeted union activists. His tactics for arrests and seizures would later be called brutal, as many people taken into custody were beaten and held in overcrowded, unsanitary facilities. There were reports of torture, beatings, and starvation. Many of the immigrants arrested in the raids were deported, including Emma Goldman a legendary champion of the right for workers to organize in union.
The Palmer Raids coincided with a period of historic strikes in 1919. These raids targeted leftists and fed into a media hysteria predicting a communist take-over and worker uprising. The reason for the raids was unfounded, but public opinion and media coverage was largely positive. One hundred years later, we all need to remember what happens when tyranny sets its sights on workers who join together and make their voices heard.