[In 1919,] Blacks were damned as Wobblies, socialists, Bolsheviks, or anarchists simply for agreeing with ideas that went beyond political orthodoxy. Even black nationalist (and anticommunist) Marcus Garvey received the communist label because he rejected the subordinate "place" of African Americans. Some blacks, like Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph, editors of the socialist Messenger, who coined the term "New Crowd Negroes" to describe the generation of militants, were genuine supporters of social and economic revolution but rejected communist affiliation. Others, like members of the African Blood Brotherhood, embraced the Communist Party. But the federal government and wider public were disinclined to distinguish degrees of adherence or advocacy. Any African American who dissented from Democratic or Republican politics and the socio-economic system of American capitalism was likely to be excommunicated as a "Bolshevist.
(Theodore Kornweibel, Jr., Seeing red: federal campaigns against Black militancy, 1919-1925, p. 20.)
The parallels between the red scares of old and the war on terror of today have long been obvious. Worth noting now is that the link between communism and terrorism in the right wing lexicon has become quite explicit. Over the summer, I linked to this description of a talk at the Heritage Foundation, by John J. Tierney, Jr., entitled, "The Politics of Peace: What's Behind the Anti-War Movement?":
To describe current anti-war protest as a reaction to the invasion of Iraq or an anti-Bush phenomenon is to miss the point. A closer look at the protestors and their associations reveals a pedigree going back at least to the Vietnam era and beyond to the "progressive" and protest politics of earlier decades. The leaders of the "anti-war" movement today are leftists in ideology. Almost all oppose capitalism and believe in socialism; many are Communists. At root, they are anti-American rather than anti-war. Anti-war groups comprise an authentic political movement. They have distinctive forms of organization, outlets for propaganda, favored strategies and tactics, and access to information technology that increasingly allows their communications to be instantaneous and global. In short, they are a political force.
The phrase "seeing red" is from none other than former Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer of the the infamous Palmer Raids.
When Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, in late 1919, submitted to the Senate a lengthy report on the Investigation Activities of the Department of Justice, he warned that America stood at Armageddon: Bolshevists, anarchists, and seditionists were besieging the nation. As part of their diabolical plans, "practically all of the radical radical organizations in this country have looked upon the Negroes as particularly fertile ground for the spreading of their doctrines. These radical organizations have endeavored to enlist the Negroes on their side, and in many respects have been successful." As a consequence, "the Negro is seeing red." (Kornweibel, xiv)
I'm not sure everyone knows that it was Palmer who recruited J. Edgar Hoover to the Bureau of Investigation (what the FBI was first called) in 1919. Hoover was appointed to the anti-radical General Intelligence Division, where he began his legacy by orchestrating the 1919 Palmer Raids, in which 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists were arrested.
Why did the FBI and its domestic intelligence partners remain so consistently hostile to African American aspirations and advocates up through the 1960s? Those who have looked no earlier than the civil rights era have missed an essential point. It was during World War I and the postwar Red Scare that their response to Black Militancy for the next fifty years took shape. In 1917 and 1918 the federal government conducted wholesale investigations of "subversives" and domestic "enemies," including many black suspects.
It was in this earlier period that coordinated domestic spying first came into play, with special emphasis on Black dissent.
The Justice, State, Navy, War, and Post Office departments coordinated these efforts to ensure a thorough crackdown on dissent and suspected treason, subversion, and sedition. Blacks were stereotyped as easily duped by enemy agents. Black disloyalty was assumed to be widespread. No sooner did the war end than fears of German intrigue were transformed into an even greater specter: Bolshevism would sweep across the world and engulf even America. Once again blacks were believed to be especially receptive to the diabolical manipulation of communists, socialists, or other radicals.
J. Edgar Hoover's first major assignment within the Bureau of Investigation was to establish and systematize its anti-radical efforts. Immersing himself in the radicals' own literature, he embraced its apocalyptic visions and became convinced that America was imperiled not only by white Bolsheviks and anarchists, but by black militancy as well. In his mind there was little difference between civil rights activism, Pan-Africanism, and promotion of communism or socialism; all threatened to unhinge the racial status quo and unleash internal dissension that would leave the nation vulnerable to attack from within or without.... By 1920 these assumptions had become fixed in the minds of those responsible for national security. (Kornweibel, 178-79)
For more on the parallels between the War on Terror and Cold War anti-communism, with specific connection to the Civil Rights Movement, see "MLK, Communist Training Schools, Cindy Sheehan, and Rosa Parks," parts I and II.