America’s History of Fear

A radio interviewer asked me the other day if I thought bigotry was the only reason why someone might oppose the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan. No, I don’t. Most of the opponents aren’t bigots but well-meaning worriers — and during earlier waves of intolerance in American history, it was just the same.

Screeds against Catholics from the 19th century sounded just like the invective today against the Not-at-Ground-Zero Mosque. The starting point isn’t hatred but fear: an alarm among patriots that newcomers don’t share their values, don’t believe in democracy, and may harm innocent Americans.

Followers of these movements against Irish, Germans, Italians, Chinese and other immigrants were mostly decent, well-meaning people trying to protect their country. But they were manipulated by demagogues playing upon their fears — the 19th- and 20th-century equivalents of Glenn Beck.

I’m no fan of Glen Beck, but I don’t believe the Irish, Germans, Chinese et al had a multi-decade world-wide documented history of terrorism, sanction for which was based on religion.

For the most part, immigrants who have been in the US for a while come to appreciate our high standard of living, rule of law, and the benefits of citizenship, and cause no more trouble than other Americans.

The fear of Catholics was based on the fact that there were some radical Catholics in the 19th century; that fear spread to the point of believing that every Catholic church was a storehouse for weapons. Even convents were not exempt.

If you read some of the anti-Catholic books and pamphlets put out by “well-meaning” Christians, you’ll realize that fear is not rational.

That, coupled with the fact almost 3,000 Americans lost their lives to those who presented themselves upon entering our country as “students”; only to find out later those “students” flew planes into buildings. I do not recall ever feeling uncomfortable in my lifetime regarding individuals entering the U.S. until that incident occurred. IMHO it is a natural reaction from Americans to be suspect after such a dramatic loss.

I think this pretty much expresses my thoughts also.

There was the Oklahoma City bombing and other domestic terror incidents like the siege in Waco where military equipment was brought in.

Fear has always been used to manipulate people.


Possibly a 150,000 people have been murdered in America since 9 / 11. I would live in fear of these murders more than any terrorist.

Yes, this. there is no comparison between our times now and the “Know Nothing” movement of the 19th century.

Just because some of the reasons given to oppose immigration were wrong doesn’t mean the people didn’t have good reasons to oppose historical immigration. If a group of people has any propensity to carry out coordinated mass executions I’d say that is a good reason to exclude them. Let their own supposedly good folks sort it out in their homeland. Once they do then you can think about welcoming them. We have a duty to protect our own people first and foremost.

The American Indians suffered immigration, look what happened to them. I guess Americans today; would not like to end up a minority like the Indians.

Dwarfed by the numbers the US has killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, ect since.

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