1919 | Washington, DC

Clear and Present Danger

A. Mitchell Palmer goes hunting for Bolsheviks.

What we are very much concerned about, Mr. Chairman, particularly, is the situation in the country with reference to what we might call ultraradicals or Bolsheviks or class-war agitators and the possible outbreak of trouble in various parts of the country growing out of that agitation. What happened in the past you are, of course, familiar with.

On May 1, for instance, there were attempted to be sent by mail to some fifteen or twenty officials of the government and of some of the states bombs, which, however, were fortunately intercepted before they reached their destination, with the exception, I think, of one which did very considerable injury to the wife of a former United States senator and to a servant in his household.

On June 2 there were, I think, ten almost simultaneous explosions of bombs in various cities of the country which resulted in injury to property and loss of life, and which seemed to indicate a combined and joint effort of the lawless classes of the population to injure, if not destroy, the government. We have received so many notices and gotten so much information that it has almost come to be accepted as a fact that on a certain day in the future, which we have been advised of, there will be another serious and probably much larger effort of the same character which the wild fellows in this movement describe as revolution, a proposition to rise up and destroy the government at one fell swoop. All of that extends throughout the entire country.

I intend to put Mr. William J. Flynn in the place of director of the Bureau of Investigation. Flynn is an anarchist chaser. He is the greatest anarchist expert in the United States. He knows all the men of that class. He can pretty nearly call them by name, and we propose to have them well in hand. That cannot be done with the force we have now, and it cannot be done with cheap men. This is the biggest job in the business of crime detection in America today, and we propose to call for services of the biggest men in this work, and we have to pay them more than the ordinary five dollars a day; we must do it if we want to get anywhere with this work, and so we have gone over it carefully and conclude that in order to do this job right and cover the country from one end to the other, we must have at least two million dollars. 


A. Mitchell Palmer

From testimony given at a congressional hearing. Palmer received an appropriation in June 1919 and less than two months later, in order to firm up information regarding potential threats, he created the General Intelligence Division in the Justice Department. He appointed twenty-four-year-old J. Edgar Hoover to head it. Palmer’s first raids, during which suspected radicals were arrested, questioned, and sometimes beaten, took place in twelve cities across the country on November 7, the second anniversary of the Russian Revolution.