What Happened During the McCarthy Trials?

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The McCarthy trials were a series of investigations into the U.S. Army conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1950. The trials began when McCarthy charged more than 200 members of the Department of State with being known communists. From there, McCarthy rose to fame as a communist hunter who accused and investigated people he suspected to be Communists; this came to be known as his witch hunt for communists.

In 1947, after a background check on Algiers Hiss, a state department official, revealed he was a spy, suspicions of communist spying intensified. Starting in January 1950, Joseph McCarthy capitalized on this collective fear and paranoia of communists and claimed that only he could save America from Russian spies. Because of the tense political atmosphere and the Cold War, his claims were taken seriously, and thousands of individuals were brought before the court and asked about their affiliations with the Communist Party.

The trials were brutal. McCarthy constantly interrupted and shouted out irrelevant questions. He verbally assaulted defendants, witnesses, attorneys and even fellow senators. His downfall began when he began to investigate the U.S. Army for “being too soft on communism.” These investigtions, which were televised, allowed the nation to realize that McCarthy’s witch hunt was fruitless. As he continued to attack decorated heroes and popular officials, the public support for McCarthyism began to diminish.

Another outcome of the trials was blacklisting. The fear of communism spread from the military and government to other areas of society, including Hollywood. The House Committee on Un-American Activities began to follow in McCarthy’s footsteps, attacking writers, actors and producers. Those who were accused were blacklisted and essentially shunned from the industry.