Two Red Scares in American history occurred within 40 years of each other during the 20th century.
What is a Red Scare?
A is a period of heightened anti- alarm during which paranoia and mass hysteria are prevalent.
In response to the supposed rise of , strict measures are put in place by the government that limits debate and promotes patriotism and xenophobia.
The First occurred between 1917 and 1920. The events of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia at the time initiated it.
In addition, a series of anarchist attacks that included bombings hit various cities in the , accompanied by labor unrest and strikes.
Inspired by the and enraged by low wages, dissatisfied workers across several unions in Seattle went on a labor strike for five days in February 1919.
A whopping 65,000 workers walked out, shutting down the city’s port and other industries.
The Boston Police Strike occurred in September of 1919 when 80% of the Boston police force went on strike in response to opposition to their attempt to organize a union.
With the police on strike, robberies, and other crimes, including riots, skyrocketed. Eventually, units of the Massachusetts militia were called in to quell the unrest. This resulted in two citizens’ deaths.
On June 2nd, bombs rocked seven cities across the were planted by anarchists, many of whom were disciples of Luigi Galleani, an Italian anarchist leader who advocated for violence as a means to change.
The anarchist bombings of 1919 lasted from April to June and caused two deaths, two injuries, and an untold number of buildings destroyed.
In 1920 a bomb exploded on Wall Street where anarchists had placed 100 pounds of dynamite in a horse carriage and detonated it killing 40.
The Espionage Act was enforced by then-UnitedPresident Woodrow Wilson. A. Mitchell Palmer under
The law made it a crime for anyone in the United States to interfere or interject themselves against the war effort or to help or promote the interests of the country’s enemies.
Those guilty of breaking the law were subject to up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The Sedition Act of 1918 reinforced the Espionage Act. It made “abuse” of the government or practically anything representative of the , including symbols like the flag, the military, or the constitution, illegal.
Both the Sedition and Espionage Acts were used by influential figures like J. Edgar Hoover and to persecute supposed left-wing radicals, Communists, and others that had made enemies of the government or influential individuals connected to the government in a brutally repressive way.
The primary enemy of the the . The dreaded ugly beast of reared its head from within the , at least according to some powerful politicians. became
One of those politicians was Second a man who promulgated mass hysteria and was the man behind McCarthyism., a staunch right-wing Republican senator who became the face of the
Rise of McCarthy
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy was a relatively unknown young Senator from Wisconsin. In February of 1950, McCarthy boldly claimed that he was privy to a list of 205 card-carrying members of the that the State Department employed.
That was the opening salvo in his relentless crusade against Second . in the early 1950s, essentially ushering in the
McCarthy’s position as chairman of the Senate Permanent Investigation Subcommittee gave him tremendous power and the ability to bring his campaign against to the forefront.
House Un-American Activities Committee
Founded in 1938, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) frequently worked on finding and exposing real or supposed agents and other subversive elements active in the .
HUAC targeted the and Hollywood film studios.
The pressure from HUAC and the associated negative publicity directed toward the movie studios led to large-scale blacklists that excluded suspected radicals from employment. This led to unemployment for many talented individuals.
Hoover And The FBI
Hoover, known to be a fervent anti-, took part in both Red Scares.
As director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during the Second , Hoover had much more power to unleash his ill feelings into action against left-wingers and .
Under Hoover’s direction, the FBI performed wiretaps and surveillance and went undercover to infiltrate leftist groups suspected of being agents.
The FBI’s Results
Hoover and the FBI’s surveillance tactics led to the 1949 conviction of 12 members of the African Communist Party and the arrest and subsequent execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
They were found guilty of espionage and passing information to the Soviet Union as spies.
From 1952 to 1954, McCarthy was constantly in the spotlight and on the front page of papers across the country for investigating and interrogating various government departments and their members.
McCarthy called to the stand countless witnesses in the 1950s though he failed to deliver a plausible case against any of his targets.
His firm conviction and clever presentations led to many suspects losing their jobs and receiving widespread condemnation and shame for disloyalty.
The peak of McCarthy’s powers culminated in the “McCarthy Hearings” of 1954. This was 36 days of televised hearings that enthralled the American public and featured McCarthy prominently.
McCarthy was eventually discredited by suspected army doctor Joseph Welch who famously uttered,
“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
to McCarthy during his trial.
The work of highly regarded journalist Edward R. Murrow, who systematically and skillfully criticized McCarthy, blew further holes into the Senator and his unfounded paranoia and attempted witch-hunt.
McCarthy would eventually be censured by the Senate for his libel and die shortly after in 1957.