Public panic – especially of the moral kind – has cropped up with regular frequency to plague societies throughout history. Take the First Red Scare, a period of mass public fear that led to police and government abuses so extensive that they birthed the American Civil Liberties Union. Or less heavy, a 1920s moral panic about canoes and their potential use by youngsters to get it on. Below are twenty five things about those panics and other widespread mass hysteria bouts from history.
America’s Other Anti-Communism Panic
Many people are aware of America’s 1950s Red Scare, when demagogues like Senator Joseph McCarthy whipped up fears of communism into a widespread panic. Many careers and lives were ruined in modern witch hunts, as those suspected of communism – or those simply accused of being communist even though they were not – were persecuted, boycotted, and blacklisted. However, that 1950s panic was not the only time that America went into an anticommunist hysteria. The country had experienced another Red Scare, just as intense but far less known today, in the immediate aftermath of World War I. Early twentieth century America widely feared radical leftists. By the end of WWI, those fears combined with distrust of foreigners in general, whom Americans blamed for the war. The recent Bolshevik revolution in Russia and its bloody course did not help.
It was a potentially toxic mix, whose potential was realized when followers of an Italian anarchist sent dozens of mail bombs to prominent Americans in April, 1919. Two months later, on June 2nd, the anarchists set off nine bombs in eight cities across the country. They were accompanied by flyers that read: “War, Class war, and you were the first to wage it under the cover of the powerful institutions you call order, in the darkness of your laws. There will have to be bloodshed; we will not dodge; there will have to be murder: we will kill, because it is necessary; there will have to be destruction; we will destroy to rid the world of your tyrannical institutions“. The result was a major panic, and what came to be known as the First Red Scare.