Does the name Luigi Galleani mean anything to you?
Unless you're very old, or a student of early 20th century anarchism, probably not. Yet this guy was the Osama bin Laden of his day, fostering a movement that advocated violent revolution, demonizing American capitalism and inspiring countless acts of terrorism in both Europe and the United States. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the famed pair who were executed in 1927 for robbery and murder in Massachusetts, were followers of Galleani, and their political views -- radical anarchism -- took the place in the public imagination that radical Islam holds today.
Many Americans in recent years are understandably horrified at the easy transit of terror from the world's unhappy regions to our comfortable shores. It's tempting to conclude that this is a new development, unprecedented, facilitated by the rise of social media and the peculiar resentments that seethe through the Caucusus and the Middle East.
Not so. Even a century ago, powerful and destructive ideologies were spread to these shores via pamphlets and newspapers. Galleani emigrated to the United States in 1901 after being deported from various countries and imprisoned in Italy, and lived in New Jersey and Vermont. He was an emotional and effective speaker, and radicalized many young Italian immigrants who were working in factories and the Vermont marble quarries under harsh conditions. He published "Cronaca Suvversiva," which encouraged terrorist acts and contained recipes for bomb-making. The Bureau of Investigation (the precursor of the FBI) in the early 1900s focused a lot of its energies on Galleani and his followers, who were suspected in a number of terrorist acts, including bombings in New York, a plot to blow up St. Patrick's Cathedral, and a mass poisoning in Chicago.
And in Boston, in 1916, Galleanist Alfonso Fagotti stabbed a policeman during a riot in North Square; the next day Galleanists bombed a Boston Harbor police station. That act was followed in 1917 by the worst act of terrorism then in the United States: a bomb that exploded at the Milwaukee police station, thought to be constructed by another Galleanist, killing nine policemen and one woman.
Not surprisingly, these activities contributed to anti-immigrant sentiments. Italians were a prime target of the Ku Klux Klan in New Jersey. And although their European ancestry and their predominantly Catholic faith places them now in the American mainstream, Italian immigrants 100 years ago were considered racially different and religiously suspect.
In this atmosphere, racist eugenics theories flourished. The Immigration Act of 1924 put limits on immigration of Italians and Eastern European Jews, and outright prohibited the entry of people from the Middle East, East Asia and India. The act passed with only nine dissenting Senate votes.