The Hoover-KBR Continuum

palmer raids IWW office
Office of the Industrial Workers of the World, New York City
after the Palmer Raid of November 1919

Just in case you were wondering what the KBR detention camps were for…

A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau.

New York Times

Those arrests, which were proposed in July 1950, were never carried out. But if you go a little bit further back in history, you will get to the time when Hoover was able to arrest thousands of people whose politics he didn’t approve of.

A. Mitchell Palmer was the United States Attorney General under President Woodrow Wilson. Palmer had appointed Hoover as his special assistant. Palmer and Hoover were apparently worried that communists were going to overthrow the American government so they hatched a plan to use the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 to persecute communists, anarchists and social reformers.

In November and December 1919, 10,000 people were arrested and held without trial, many of them for an extended period of time. The Department of Justice subsequently found no evidence of a planned revolution and eventually released most of the prisoners. However, 248 of the suspects, including the famous anarchist and activist Emma Goldman, were put on a ship and deported to Soviet Russia.

There were 6,000 more arrests in January 1920. Again, detainees were held for weeks or months without being charged, without the possibility to post bail, and without access to legal counsel. And again some were deported.

But the idea that the KBR camps are for political prisoners or dissidents is preposterous.


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