In all the media coverage of Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban and the accompanying cacophony of Islamophobic conspiracy theories wafting from his administration, an important historical precedent has been overlooked.
In 1919, the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czar and instituted a revolutionary government led by Lenin. In the aftermath of World War I, nations were in turmoil. Political systems and borders were dissolving before peoples’ eyes. Western powers sought in vain to save the old order by sending expeditionary forces to stop the Bolsheviks. The political and financial élites also feared similar mass uprisings.
In the U.S., workers began demanding higher wages and improved working conditions. This unrest had been stayed during the War, when workers and employers labored on behalf of the war effort. Once victory was ensured, workers saw the chance to further their interests. They began to demand unions and struck thousands of factories and plants. The U.S. Communist party was also founded in 1919 by, among others, John Reed.
Onto this stage stepped Pres. Wilson’s Attorney General, Mitchell Palmer. Responding to anti-immigrant hysteria then rampant, he founded the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover and began a series of raids on radicals, labor activists, and immigrants. He:
…Deported 249 Russian immigrants without just cause. The so-called “Soviet ark” was sent back to Mother Russia. With Palmer’s sponsorship, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was created under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover. In January of 1920, federal agents broke into the homes of suspected anarchists without search warrants, jailed labor leaders, and held about 5,000 citizens without respecting their right to legal counsel.
They became known as the Palmer Raids, and eventually were recognized as one of the darkest stains on civil liberties in early 20th century America. They led, several years later, to the 1924 Immigration Act. It meant a virtual closure of this country’s doors to immigration. None of my ancestors who arrived in this country in the early 1900s from Europe would’ve been permitted entry after 1924. Instead of “lifting our lamp beside the Golden Door,” we extinguished it.
Americans opposed to Palmer’s massive violations of constitutional rights organized and eventually founded the ACLU. The conclusion of Warren Beatty’s Reds offers a powerful set of interviews with survivors of that era (among them Roger Baldwin and Hamilton Fish) who helped launch the groundbreaking U.S. civil liberties organization.
So it’s no coincidence that this NGO took the lead in resisting Trump’s travel ban (and raised $80-million in donations in the process). May it go from strength to strength in leading the resistance.
Today, we gave nowhere near as ominous a world predicament as post-WWI. But anti-immigrant sentiment is at a high pitch. Parties tied to these prejudices are ascendant in Europe and the U.S. Conflict in the Mideast has driven millions of refugees from their homelands toward neighboring havens, to Europe and beyond. This same conflict has driven Islamist terror to strike the west in revenge.
The hysteria that afflicted America and the world in 1919 is the same which besets us now. Fortunately, by 1920, the Palmer Red Scare was a thing of the past. But its anti immigrant, anti-democratic prejudices remain with us to this day.
The latest evidence of this is the first ICE arrest of a child legalized under the provisions of the Dream Act. The detention of Daniel Ramirez, 23, happened earlier today here in Seattle. Police also arrested the young man’s father in the immigration raid.
Trump officials claim the young man is a gang member, which his attorneys flatly deny. Since the victim, in the lawsuit filed on his behalf, is represented by Laurence Tribe, Erwin Chemerinsky and the heavy-hitter firm, Gibson Dunn, it’s likely the government’s claim is fabricated.