Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Palmer Raids - a Lesson from History

Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer, in the full swing of America's Red Scare, forecast the imminent revolt of left-wing radicals who would, "on a certain day…rise up and destroy the government at one fell swoop." 

Though Congress was reluctant to grant him the requested funding, he proceeded to raid suspected organizations, making labor unions a particular target. As part of his effort, he got an injunction against a planned strike against the coal industry by the United Mine Workers.

August 1, 1919, he appointed a 24-year old to oversee and develop a new division in the Justice Department, The General Intelligence Division. Oh, by the way, the 24-year old was one J. Edgar Hoover.

With a new Secretary of Labor appointed by President Wilson, Palmer's methods came under scrutiny, including a predicted "radical uprising" on May Day, 1920. But when said event failed to materialize, his support wained.

To read more of this fascinating, and frightening, time in America, check out the Wikipedia article under Palmer Raids and on Palmer himself, a Quaker and a one-time progressive. 

As I read about the Palmer Raids, I found myself thinking of what's happening in Arizona and the suggestion of some politicians to rewrite the 14th Amendment.

Call it xenophobia ... call it whatever you want ... I call it sick!

Palmer quickly moved outside the law, and though the law eventually caught up with him and undid his ferocious work, Palmer, with his appointment of Hoover, insured that a dark stain of xenophobia would have a secure place in the American heart.

Like those who followed him, Fr. Coughlin and Joseph McCarthy, Palmer cried wolf again and again, fueling hatred and suspicion across the land, accusing Congress of failing to defend the Constitution against enemies within.

A tried and true technique, to be honed to perfection by Adolf Hitler.

A tried and true technique embraced by today's radical conservatives.

In tumultuous times, fear-mongers and hyper-patriots gain the ear of millions. 

In the end, they will have run their cycle; those who drink deeply at the wells of fear and hatred always do themselves in, becoming increasingly ridiculous in their claims and proposals, driving away most of their adherents. 

Radical conservatives can and will damage America's heart, but saner voices will prevail.  

Lessons from history.

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