First Red Scare: 1919-25
The First Red Scare was a period in the United States from 1919-25 marked by a widespread fear of Bolshevism and anarchism by industrial and political figures, based on real and imagined events.

Real events included those such as the Russian Revolution of 1917 and a widespread bombing campaign by followers of the Italian anarchist Luigi Galliani.

After World War I, the five-day Seattle General Strike and the anarchist bombing campaign of April and June 1919 that included severely damaging the home of U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer set off the initial wave of arrests and repression.

Later in the year the 1919 steel strike led by communist William Z. Foster and the 1919 Coal strike led by John L. Lewis that included local communist leaders of the United Mine Workers caused more fear.

Stoking these fears was the Boston police strike of 1919 causing industrialists and political leaders to fear that they would have no protection against insurrection.


Fear of radicalism was used to explain the suppression of freedom of expression in form of display of certain flags and banners. The First Red Scare effectively ended in mid-1920, after Attorney General Palmer forecast a massive radical uprising on May Day and the day passed without incident.

Palmer launched a campaign directed at immigrants and quickly deported nearly 200, most of whom were members of the Union of Russian Workers. Legislation banning marching with red flags was passed in jurisdictions around the country and in 1920 the five socialist members of the New York Assembly were expelled for their political beliefs.

Palmer and rising Justice Department star J. Edgar Hoover continued to beat the drums of the red scare, arresting hundreds and seizing radical publications, but the wind began going out of their sails when predictions of May Day riots never occurred.
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