By Charles A. Morse
web posted June 10, 2002
There are remarkable similarities between the al-Qaida terrorists of today, and the Communist terror conspiracy confronting America in the early 20th century. Like Osama bin Ladin's terror network, the left-wing anarcho-communists of 1920 were international, sought to destroy our capitalist system and Judeo-Christian way of life, and employed violence and terror as a tactic in their war against freedom. Our government, under the guidance of President Woodrow Wilson's Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, would break the back of this violent terror conspiracy without impinging on the civil liberties of freedom-loving Americans. Re-visiting this successful war on terror yields many lessons for today.
Immediately following the establishment of the Soviet directed American Communist Party in Chicago, September 2, 1919, massive political strikes against the American infrastructure were launched starting with the Boston police strike, September 9, the steel strike led by Communist William Z. Foster, September 22, and the coal miners strike, led by John L. Lewis. These political strikes, involving deliberate violent action, threatened to shut down the nation. The Communist party circulated a manifesto at the time calling for a nation-wide general strike on November 8, in honor of the second anniversary of the Bolshevist seizure in Russia. The manifesto called for the overthrow of the US government and victory for the "proletariats."
The previous June 2, 1919, a bomb exploded outside Attorney General Palmer's Washington D.C. home. The bombing was conducted simultaneously with bombings and assassination attempts against prominent citizens and government officials in nine states. The Attorney General and his family escaped injury while the two communists who planted the bomb were blown to bits. Palmer's neighbor across the street, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, witnessed the gruesome scene.
Palmer decisively acted in January 1920 when, after meticulously compiling a list of terrorist illegal aliens, swept in, and with the help of state law enforcement agencies, arrested thousands of subversives across the country on the same day. Former Communist official Benjamin Gitlow describes the scene in his memoir, "The Whole of Their Lives." In Boston, 500 were arrested, shackled, and led through the streets on their way to the Deer Island Prison. In New York, 3,000 were arrested in raids in which detectives charged into buildings with war whoops reminiscent of the Wild West. Terrorists without American citizenship would be forever banished from our shores virtually overnight. In cities from coast to coast, raids were conducted with spectacular success. The entire terrorist infrastructure would be virtually destroyed in one day never again to pose as a violent threat to our government and people. Communism, of course, would continue as communists would continue to enjoy the same constitutional protections the rest of us enjoy while, ironically, communist regimes around the world would deny those same privileges to their opposition. The terrorist threat against our country and people would not re-emerge until the communist inspired inner-city riots of the mid 1960's.
Of course, Palmer, like other American hero's with the courage, Patriotism and common sense to stand up and take action to save our country, would later be vilified by those who have no respect for constitutional rights. It's ironic that many of those who criticized Palmer for upholding the law of the land, would have abolished those same laws had they succeeded in their conspiracy to overthrow the government. An Office of Homeland Security, another large, new government bureaucracy, is not necessary as a means of destroying the terror threat against the lives and property of Americans. We need men and women in already positions of authority who have the courage and conviction to do the right thing.
Chuck Morse is a program host at Salem Radio/WROL in Boston.