Conspiracy Theories: Ever hear of The Lavender Scare?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Conspiracy Theories
A portion of the Andrew Ference file from the 2013 documentary "The Lavender Scare" by Josh Howard.

A portion of the Andrew Ference file from the 2013 documentary “The Lavender Scare” by Josh Howard.

Where is the enemy?

Could the enemy be lurking within? In the late 17th century, residents of Salem, Massachusetts and nearby towns found a satanic conspiracy inside their small communities: witches. Hundreds were accused, at least 20 people were hung, and others died in prisons. Fear of witches continued to haunt the communities long after the last trial. The Salem Witch trials are perhaps the most notorious example, but are there other examples where the enemy is thought to be within?

Plenty, says Jesse Walker in his new book, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory. McCarthyism and the Red Scare I mentioned yesterday is a well-known example. But did you know about the “Lavender Scare”?

This phase of the McCarthy Era was so-named by historian David K. Johnson in his 2006 book from the University of Chicago Press: The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government. It coincided with the Red Scare. As Walker describes, this scare alleged a conspiracy of homosexuals in the government. They were “a government within a government.”

What ensued was a modern-day witch hunt.

“Bureaucrats informed investigators that they suspected coworkers of being homosexual,” writes Walker. The investigators “pressured suspects into naming other gays and lesbians in the workforce.”

The Lavender Scare is less-well known that the Red Scare, but its effects were far greater. Citing Johnson’s statistics, Walker says that “the Lavender Scare had a larger effect than the Red Scare. Johnson has estimated that the State Department fired about a thousand employees believed to be homosexuals in the 1950s and ‘60s, far more than the number of alleged Reds who got the ax.”

Did you know about the Lavender Scare?

What other conspiracy theories come to mind about the enemy within?

Why are conspiracy theories popular?


A feature-length documentary film by producer-director Josh Howard, also titled The Lavender Scare, was based on Johnson’s book and was completed in 2013. Watch the film’s trailer below, by clicking on the video screen. If you don’t see a video below, try clicking on the headline, above, to reload this column.

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