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The Roots of the FBI’s Suppression of Dissent

Gavel and Books

With each day’s headlines, the American people are waking up to the fact that the FBI routinely works to silence the voices of those who oppose the policies of the Deep State.  What many do not realize is that this type of intimidation by federal “law enforcement” officers has deep roots that go back to the earliest days of the FBI.

A walk-through history reminds us that the agency’s culture of abuse is nothing new.

After much priming by the pro-war press, Congress declared war on April 6, 1917, bringing the nation into World War I.  On June 5, 1917, the registration of all men between the ages of 21 and 31 was ordered, and the reality of war was brought home, provoking significant opposition.  The government had legitimate concern about the possibility of German and other Axis agents operating in the United States.  However, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, it was also, perhaps even more, concerned about any form of opposition to the Wilson Administration from American citizens.

In 1919 and 1920, under the direction of a young agent named J. Edgar Hoover, President Wilson’s FBI carried out what are known as the “Palmer Raids.”  Thousands of citizens in numerous cities were arrested, often without warrants, sometimes holding them for months without charges or attorneys.  In Detroit, nearly 1,000 men were detained and starved for almost a week in a small area without windows on the top floor of the federal building, accused of being “radicals” and “anarchists.”  The raids swept up an estimated 3,000 to 10,000 persons deemed “radicals” and “anarchists.”  Many of those arrested were beaten and denied due process for nothing more than having a foreign accent.

At the time, a “group of legal scholars including future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, Ernst Freund, and Harvard Law School Dean Roscoe Pound published a scathing critique of the raids, saying they lacked arrest warrants, directed officers to seize documents at will, and permitted unrestrained force.”

Future Supreme Court Justice Harlan Stone attacked the raids in his testimony before the Senate in 1921.  He argued that “any system” that permits law enforcement agencies to “restrain the liberty of individuals, without safeguards … will result in abuse of power.”  Stone argued that the FBI “maintained many activities which were without any authority and federal statutes and engaged in many practices which were brutal and tyrannical in the extreme,” including “indiscriminate arrest of the innocent with the guilty, unlawful seizures by federal detectives, intimidating preliminary interrogations of aliens held incommunicado, high-handed levying of excessive bail, and denial of counsel.”

In the face of widespread criticism, J. Edgar Hoover doggedly defended the Bureau’s illegal and abusive acts, even arguing that to allow the persons arrested to speak to lawyers would “defeat the ends of justice.”

Finally, a single courageous federal judge stood up against the illegal Palmer raids.  Ordering 13 prisoners freed, Circuit Court Judge George W. Anderson charged that the Wilson regime had created a “spy system” that “destroys trust and confidence and propagates hate.”  “A mob is a mob whether made up of government officials acting under instructions from the Department of Justice, or of criminals, loafers and the vicious classes,” he said. Judge Anderson had been nominated to the First Circuit by President Wilson, but he had the character to resist Wilson’ policies.  Only rarely have courageous judges sought to hold the FBI accountable to law.

Six decades later, in 1979, the Palmer raids were reviewed by the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations which scathingly noted that the Palmer raids had come to “symbolize the misuse of police power for a political purpose.” Yet, Congress did virtually nothing to bring the FBI under control.

The Palmer raids are a particularly grim warning today, as the FBI attacks the political opponents of the Biden regime, most recently demonstrated by a raid on and arrest of a pro-life Catholic activist in front of his seven children.  In response, 22 Congressional Republicans at least had the courage to send a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, stating that this latest raid “appears to be an extraordinary overreach for political ends.”  The question remains whether Congress will have the courage to actually restore the rule of law which requires a great deal more than just writing letters.

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