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Witch Hunts Continued

Published onDec 01, 2022
Witch Hunts Continued

In colonial Massachusetts during the years of 1692 and 1693 occurred the Salem witch trials. The Salem witch trials were a result of greedy political power and wealthy families feuding. Samuel Parris was the first ordained minister in Salem which caused a lot of controversy amongst the villagers. The Puritans in Salem blamed the tense disagreements and arguing on the devil. For many years before the Salem witch trials people believed the devil could give one his power in exchange for their devotion. These individuals were named witches. [1]

In 1692, Samuel Parris, the recently ordained minister’s daughter was acting out and was accused by a doctor in the town that her behavior was the result of the devils influence. Parris’s daughter along with another girl blamed three other women for the devils power being brought upon them. One of the three women confessed and admitted that there were other witches that had it out for the puritans. This was the beginning of the Salem witch trials. [2]

Officials questioning Martha Corey

The term “witch hunt” began with the Salem Witch trials however, there have been several other witch hunts in history. During the original witch hunt, innocent men, women, and children who went against societies norm were sentenced to death. This relates to a later witch hunt called the Lavender Scare. The Lavender scare occurred between the 1940s and 1960s where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people were targeted. [3]

A report that was released on December 15, 1950, saying homosexuals did not qualify for a job in Federal Government.

The Lavender Scare relates to the Red Scare as the Red Scare was an anti-communist campaign also known as McCarthyism. However, the Lavender Scare resulted after the Cold War when the United States was being questioned. Homosexuals were considered a threat to the government, “President Truman's aides also thought the homosexuals-in-government issue posed a more dangerous political weapon than the communists-in-government issue” [4]. The government considered them a threat not because they thought homosexuals were communist but because of how they could be used by communist. The Lavender Scare is not often talked about in schools but it is incredibly important when understanding our political world today. Homosexuality is not a recent national political issue but one that has been around for centuries.

David K. Johnson is the author of The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government. Johnson brings to light The Lavender Scare changing the way Americans think. "Every once in a long while, a work of unprecedented scholarship comes along that promises to change the way America thinks for the better. By bringing to light a virtually unknown moral wrong, a national disgrace, David Johnson's meticulously researched and documented The Lavender Scare does just that."—Chris Bull, Washington

An Interview With David K. Johnson

Authors note: The interview is transcribed here from the original [4]

Question: From the 1930s to the end of the Second World War, Washington D.C. offered a fairly benign, if not hospitable, environment for gays and lesbians to live and work. The city was growing rapidly, thousands of jobs were being created in the federal government, and gay men and women were taking advantage of these opportunities. And then what happened?

David K. Johnson: By 1940 Washington D.C. was being called "America's Number One Boom Town." Roosevelt's New Deal agencies drew thousands of young men and women to the city looking for work, especially clerical and administrative jobs. This created an urban environment that allowed a gay and lesbian subculture to flourish. The city was home to several gay bars. Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, was a well-known cruising area for gay men. World War II accelerated the urbanization—thousands of servicemen and women streamed through the city, fostering an "anything goes" mentality. The memoirs of gay civil servants from the period describe a work environment within federal agencies that turned a blind eye toward employees' private lives.

But after the war a concern began to grow throughout the nation that American morality was in a state of decline. Publication of the Kinsey report fed these fears, particularly Kinsey's statistics that suggested widespread homosexual behavior. Congress responded by passing a tough sexual psychopath law for the District of Columbia to crack down on deviant behavior. At the same time the U.S. Park Police initiated a "Pervert Elimination Campaign" for D.C. parks frequented by gay men. With the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his charges that communists and homosexuals had infiltrated the federal government, the men arrested in Washington's parks on sex charges seemed to threaten not just the morality of the city but the national security. Their arrest records were forwarded to the executive agencies and hundreds began losing their jobs.

Question: Your title The Lavender Scare evokes the much better known Red Scare. How were the efforts to root out communists on the one hand and homosexuals on the other related?

Johnson: The Lavender Scare helped fan the flames of the Red Scare. In popular discourse, communists and homosexuals were often conflated. Both groups were perceived as hidden subcultures with their own meeting places, literature, cultural codes, and bonds of loyalty. Both groups were thought to recruit to their ranks the psychologically weak or disturbed. And both groups were considered immoral and godless. Many people believed that the two groups were working together to undermine the government.

Much of the extension and strengthening of the national loyalty/security system in this period, I argue, was motivated as much by the perceived need to ferret out homosexuals from the government as it was by the pressure to remove communists. We cannot understand the Red Scare unless we also understand the Lavender Scare.

Joseph McCarthy is remembered as a great anti-communist crusader, but at the time many of his senior Republican colleagues were pressuring him to drop his claims that the State Department sheltered "card-carrying communists." They knew those charges were dubious and based on outdated information. Instead, they suggested that he focus on the problem of homosexual infiltration.

A survey of McCarthy's mail suggests that his supporters were more concerned about allegations that the federal government was harboring sexual deviants than they were about political deviants. President Truman's aides also thought the homosexuals-in-government issue posed a more dangerous political weapon than the communists-in-government issue. But McCarthy largely resisted this pressure, so it fell to his more senior but less publicity-savvy colleagues, such as Senators Styles Bridges and Kenneth Wherry, to hold hearings on the threat posed by homosexuals.

Question: Why were homosexuals considered a threat to national security?

Johnson: The politicians behind the Lavender Scare asserted that homosexuals were susceptible to blackmail by enemy agents and so could be coerced into revealing government secrets. In other words, the official rationale wasn't that homosexuals were communists but that they could be used by communists. A Senate subcommittee spent months investigating this claim and came up empty-handed. They found no evidence that even a single gay or lesbian American civil servant had ever been blackmailed into revealing state secrets. The only proof they offered was the well-known case of Colonel Alfred Redl, an Austrian double agent who was exposed just before World War I. Nevertheless, the subcommittee's final report stated emphatically that homosexuals posed a threat to national security and called for their removal from all federal agencies.

A variation on the blackmail rationale—one expressed in many tabloid journals of the 1950s—held that communists promoted "sex perversion" among American youth as a way to weaken the country and clear the path for a communist takeover. In this line of reasoning, homosexuals (especially effeminate gay men) acted as a fifth column, by preventing family formation and fostering moral decay.

Question: If there was no proof that homosexuals posed a threat to national security, why did politicians insist that they had to be purged from the federal payroll?

Johnson: The Republican claim that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were "honeycombed with homosexuals" proved to be a potent political weapon. It resonated with many conservative Americans who were already resentful of the New Deal and Fair Deal bureaucracies and felt antagonism for Washington bureaucrats. To many Americans in the postwar era, Washington D.C. was a white-collar town full of long-haired men and short-haired women—social scientists and other experts—who were imposing their ideas on the country. They felt this smothering bureaucracy threatened American traditions of individualism and self-reliance. Large government programs, they argued, limited personal initiative and weakened moral fiber. Fearful that America was in a state of moral decline, they pointed to the New Deal as well as New Deal bureaucrats as the source of the problem. So the demonization of gay and lesbian civil servants was part of this larger attack on the New Deal.

In the Salem Witch trials, witches were persecuted for going against societies norms similarly, in the Lavender Scare “ended promising careers, ruined lives, and pushed many to suicide. But, as Johnson also shows, the purges brought victims together to protest their treatment, helping launch a new civil rights struggle” [5].

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