The assassination of William McKinley by an anarchist… was still fresh in the minds of the US Justice Dept. The triumph of the Bolsheviks in 1917 prompted radicals in America to step up their campaign of violence. Anarchists agitated through organized labor and started a campaign of violence not seen since the end of the Civil War.
April, May, and June of 1919 was a time of terror… from a foreign threat hiding among us. Eastern European radicals first sent 30 letter bombs to businessmen and law enforcement officers around the country, killing two people. In June, the anarchists struck again, placing packaged bombs at the homes of government officials, including Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer. Two more people were killed- flyers were distributed around the country declaring war on capitalism. The American people demanded action.
Palmer responded by setting into motion… the newly created investigative bureau, headed by 24 year old J. Edgar Hoover. The orders were simple- find the radicals, arrest and deport them. Hoover launched sweeping raids in 23 states. Over 3000 people were arrested, many without warrants or indictments. Communist organizers, Eastern Europeans, and union agitators were targeted. As the raids grew in intensity, critics emerged to challenge their constitutionality. By 1920, the public seemed to lose interest in combating the terror threat posed by the anarchists.
Palmer once was considered a Presidential hopeful… but the raids ultimately cost him his political career. American public opinion turned against the heavy handed tactics of Hoover’s FBI, despite the threat still posed by anarchists. This was clearly on display during the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1920- Two self-confessed anarchists tried for murder and robbery, and public opinion was decidedly against the government’s case. The violence continued with little public outcry….