The Red Scare

America in Fear

What is it?

This was a period directly after World War I when the U.S. government went after communists and radicals. It lasted from around 1918-1921. People who were communist or anarchist were arrested. The government arrested a few thousand people, raided houses and businesses, and they also obtained records. Americans were gripped with the fear that a revolution similar to the Bolsheviks in Russia was going to happen. There was a lot of patriotism going around at that time, and that is one of the main reasons the Red Scare got so large.

J. Edgar Hoover

He was the leader of many of the legislative investigations of communist activities. He was a key player in the Red Scare. He helped with wiretaps, surveillance, and infiltration. He was the director of the FBI. He helped in the 1949 conviction of twelve prominent leaders of the American Communist Party. Helped build the case against Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg.

Communist Revolution’s effect on our fears

In 1917, the Bolsheviks took control of Russia. This party was led by Lenin, and they were extremely radicals communists. Along with taking complete control of Russia, they changed it to a communist nation. They believed completely in overthrowing capitalism. Americans feared that ideas and people like this threatened their government. They liked being a Capitalist system and the freedom it gave them, and they wanted to keep it that way. They were willing to do anything to preserve the safety of their government and nation.

Why the nation was afraid of radicalism

Around this time people started to become more aware of radicals and began to fear them. Radicals have always existed (even in the civil war), but nobody paid a profuse amount of attention to them until now. In 1919 there was a massive series of radical anarchist bombings; this scared us. Some Americans even built bomb shelters. They also sent bombs to many U.S. officials; in fact, a maid of a U.S. senator had her hands blown off by one. This just added to our new found fear of radicals and foreigners.

A. Mitchell Palmer

Palmer helped to create the “case against the reds.” The color red is used to represent communism. He led the Palmer’s Raid, hoping to rid the country of Bolsheviks and others who potentially proposed a threat. Without warrants, they would arrest Bolsheviks, communists and anarchists, break into houses, break into businesses and break into offices of communist/socialist operations. He even went as far as to deport Bolsheviks. He thought that these people were an imminent threat to us as Americans and our government; however, that was obviously not the case. I think he just committed lots of unnecessary crimes and harassed a lot of people for no reason at all. He was trying to do a service to our country, but I believe he it was all for no use.


He dropped out of school at age nine, though he says he dropped at age fourteen. He helped with the defense of Arturo Giovanitti, an Italian immigrant. He began attending meetings of "Circolo di Studi Sociali", an anarchist group. He subscribed to an anarchist newspaper. He met Vanzetti when hiding from WWI draft.


He like to read about philosophy, religion, and voraciously. In order to deal with the loss of his mother he moved to the USA. In 1911, he became homeless. After reading books on political philosophy. He then became an anarchist. He read the same newspaper as Sacco. He met Sacco in Mexico.

Words to Know

  • anarchist- an advocate of anarchism, any who opposes the government
  • capitalism- an economic political system in which a countries trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit
  • nativism- the old native prejudice against the foreign business