What were the major causes, both real and imaginary, of the Red Scare of 1919–1920?

The real major cause of the Red Scare of 1919–1920 was the rapid spread of Communism in Europe. The Bolshevik insurrection in Russia had inspired a number of radical movements and parties, who thrived in the chaos of post-war Europe. Many Americans were worried that a similar thing would happen in the United States. The main imaginary cause of the Red Scare was the belief that immigrants into the US were the chief disseminators of radical ideas.

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In 1919–1920 it seemed to many in the United States that Communism was very much on the rise. After the Bolshevik insurrection in Russia in October 1917, Communism rapidly spread throughout the still war-ravaged European continent. Communism often thrives in conditions of economic decline and political chaos, and post-war Europe couldn't have been a better breeding ground for the spread of radical ideas.

Although conditions in the United States were completely different from those in Europe, radical ideas were becoming more and more prominent in the land of the free. Radical labor organizations such as the IWW were becoming infiltrated by hard-Left extremists and anarchists, hell-bent on overturning the existing governmental system by force. Though there was never any serious danger of this being achieved, there were nonetheless sufficient numbers of radical agitators to add some substance to the Red Scare.

A number of terrorist incidents by self-proclaimed anarchists added to the sense that the United States was threatened by extremists and needed to counter what was becoming a growing threat.

At the same time, anarchism was wrongly linked in the popular mind with immigrants. Many, but by no means all, anarchists and hard-Left radicals were indeed immigrants, but the vast majority of immigrants were law-abiding Americans who believed in the system of government. Nevertheless, nativists used the Red Scare as an excuse to advocate limiting immigration into the United States, especially from those countries where English wasn't the native language or where Protestantism wasn't the dominant religion.

Radical ideas may well have been a real threat to the United States, albeit nowhere near as great as anti-Communists claimed, but immigrants as a whole were certainly not a threat, and yet, in years to come, they would be made scapegoats for the importation of "alien" ideas.

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