In Chasing the American Dream, a key event is the government’s harsh response to the protagonist, David Svehla. When David exposes an ex-Nazi scientist, the press accuses him of being a Communist. Some readers have been curious whether these sorts of accusations actually happened in the early and mid-1950’s. The answer is yes, they did, largely due to the activities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under J. Edgar Hoover. He was a rabid anti-Communist, determined to eradicate Americans with such views from the U.S. Government, using whatever measures were necessary. Though there is no doubt that Communist infiltrators or agents existed in the U.S., Hoover went overboard, using problematic or even illegal means to find and eliminate them.
At that time in our history, the FBI was a popular agency and Congressional oversight did not exist. A series of executive orders gave the agency significant investigative power, allowing it to check into any activities it deemed a threat to national security. Hoover’s agents compiled extensive lists of potentially dangerous people, starting as early as 1939. By 1954, according to Ellen Schrecker’s research, the FBI had identified over 26,000. In Hoover’s estimation, he had the authority to investigate anyone for whom “derogatory information turned up in their personnel file.” Continue reading “When the Powerful Are Given Free Rein: Hoover and the FBI during the Red Scare”