How were Americans justified in their fear of immigrants after WWI?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First of all, we have to realize that not everyone would say that Americans were justified in their fear of immigrants after World War I.  There are many people who would argue that American nativism during this time period was misguided.  However, if we have to argue that fear of immigrants was justified, we can do so by pointing to the fact that some immigrants were politically radical during this time, which was also the time right after Russia’s Tsar had been overthrown and the communists had come to power.

At this point in world history, there was a fair amount of worry about communism and anarchism.  Communists had, of course, just overthrown the Russian monarchy and set up a country that they controlled.  The communists were explicitly trying to spread their system, making it logical for people in other countries to worry about them.  At the same time, anarchist thinking was somewhat prevalent in many European countries, particularly those whose economies were less strong.  Anarchists were detonating bombs and assassinating political leaders, trying to destabilize countries’ political systems.

In the United States, there was reason to fear that immigrants would be politically radical.  Many of the “new immigrants” were from countries where communism and/or anarchism were strong.  Some of the immigrants were certainly politically radical.  An anarchist immigrant had assassinated President McKinley in 1901.  Radical immigrants were largely behind the attempted bombings of public figures’ homes that led to the Palmer Raids of late 1919.  Because there were immigrants who were likely to be sympathetic to the radical political factions of this time, and because those radical factions seemed like a threat to commit violent acts, we can argue that Americans were justified in their fear of immigrants after WWI.