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Days before JFK was assassinated, this flyer went around and accused JFK of being an anti-Christian Communist sympathizer and blaming the race riots on Communism.
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...a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a 'scrooge-type' so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.
—FBI memorandum (13,533 pages long) on It's a Wonderful Life[1]
And you ain’t done nothing if you ain’t been called a Red.
Faith Petric,Wikipedia an actual red

Red-baiting (or red-taggingWikipedia in the Philippines) is a notorious bullshitting tactic used almost exclusively by the right wing. It consists of making a false and/or groundless accusation that some person is a communist or fellow traveler, often with the aim of discrediting them or destroying their reputation. Essentially, everything that certain people dislike is to be considered Communist plots. As such, red-baiting is a form of guilt by association, a fallacy which Stalin himself used to justify some of his crimes.

Republicans, known for red-baiting when Joseph McCarthy attained the political spotlight, once opposed repressive policies spawned from hyper-fearmongering. Senators Hiram JohnsonWikipedia and Henry Cabot LodgeWikipedia opposed the Sedition Act of 1918,Wikipedia signed by President Woodrow Wilson.[2]


Don't get pwned by red-baiting!

Red-baiting was a very popular tactic during the American Red Scares,Wikipedia beginning with the First Red ScareWikipedia in the aftermath of World War One when the recent Russian Revolution combined with growing demands for workers' rights and opposition to American imperialism and militarism connected with the recent war. This made American society's more conservative members fearful of communist revolution. During the war, a series of draconian laws were implemented that restricted civil liberties, including the 1917 Espionage Act and the Sedition Act and Immigration Act in 1918. January 1919 saw a general strike in Seattle, the first of several major strikes across the country through the year. including the Boston Police Strike;Wikipedia on May Day, there was violence in Boston, Cleveland, and elsewhere between leftists, police, and far-right "patriot" organisations.[3] There were also race riots in cities from Chicago to Arizona. A series of anarchist bombings targeted business leaders and government officials. In response, at the end of the year were the two Palmer Raids,Wikipedia in which 10,000 alleged subversives were rounded up; this led to the foundation of the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1920, tensions dissipated. J. Edgar Hoover, then boss of the General Intelligence Division, and attorney general Mitchell Palmer made dire predictions of an imminent communist revolution that conspicuously failed to come to pass. The AFL labor union tried to discourage police strikes, and a series of court cases released agitators. Warren G. Harding, elected at the end of the year, struck a conciliatory note amid a general sense that things had got a bit crazy and released many imprisoned radicals on Christmas Day in 1921.[4]

The most famous instance was the Second Red Scare in the 1950s; its most notorious practitioner was Republican senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, for whom McCarthyism is named. It was less bloody than 1919, largely focused on a series of dramatically-staged hearings into alleged communism followed by the sacking of anyone suspected of communist sympathies, most famously the Hollywood blacklist. The broadcast hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and other congressional committees whipped up paranoia about communists subverting American institutions, which led to Harry Truman's "Federal Employees Loyalty Program" under Executive Order 9835Wikipedia and several state loyalty acts, as well as restrictions in civil liberties by the McCarran Internal Security ActWikipedia of 1950. But more importantly, the tactic was successful in dividing American liberals from those to their ideological left in subsequent decades. Thus, Democratic Wisconsin Congressman Robert Kastenmeier instructed his staffers in the 1960s to avoid contact with student activists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.[5] Madison was in his constituency, and the likely result of this de-linking was that the students were even more radicalized.

White segregationists commonly held signs that said "Race-mixing is communism" and held views which agreed.[6] This sort of horseshit also serves to discourage similar dissent.

A variety of wingnuts also exploited the Red Scares by using red-baiting to claim that their opponents were all commies, thus handily pushing their own agendas. A notable example is the Mormon and John Birch Society member W. Cleon Skousen, who published a book entitled The Naked Communist. This book outlined a 45-point "communist" program including such planks as the legalization of homosexuality (in reality, communist countries were not known for being "gay Meccas"), expansion of civil rights (again, communist countries were not known for being bastions of freedom), and an increased role for psychiatrists (we're not going to say it a third time[7]). Skousen and his books have been a major inspiration for Glenn Beck.[8]

It was employed to political ends in apartheid-era South Africa, where the "rooi gevaarWikipedia" (red danger) was used as a means to keep the white population afraid of the looming communist menace just waiting to take over the country. This threat proved to be mythical when the African National Congress happily scrapped its socialist economic program as part of a compromise to legally take power.

Red-baiting has also been employed by right-wing anti-science and denialist movements to tar scientists who made ideologically-inconvenient discoveries as dirty commies. This tactic was seen prominently in the anti-relativity, anti-water fluoridation, and anti-vaccination movements (see image) as well as global warming deniers.[9]

Fallacious use[edit]

Anticommunist propaganda alleging communist control of the US entertainment industry.

When McCarthy and other anti-communist figures in the U.S. government went after lefties in the Hollywood movie industry, it resulted in the harassment of some people who were in a position to make quite a bit of noise. A great many allegorical works, written in opposition to Red-baiting, poured out of Hollywood and Broadway during that time, including Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, Stanley Kramer and Carl Foreman's film High Noon, and play and film versions of Inherit the Wind, the latter of which caused a tempest in a teapot when creationists mistook its allegory for flat factual claims.[note 1]

These efforts, as well as the reckless and paranoid behavior of McCarthy, saw a sort of stigma settle over emphatically anti-communist views. With this state of affairs, the term "red-baiting" has itself seen some fallacious use, mostly as an attempt to ridicule criticisms of communism in which no false accusations are actually made.

For example, the term is occasionally used with regard to the affair of the "Hollywood Ten", screenwriters who were brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 to testify concerning their political activities.[10] This, however, ignores that (1) the Hollywood Ten actually were communists, and (2) they were arrested only when they refused to answer questions of whether they were. The charge was contempt of Congress; they were not prosecuted for being communists, which was not a crime.[note 2]

Another use of the term is in response to any suggestion that the Soviet Union was attempting to infiltrate and influence non-communist governments during its flourishing period (also satirized using the phrase "Reds under the bed"), equating these with far-out conspiracy theories such as those of the JBS. But it is a historical fact that there were a number of Soviet infiltrators working in non-communist countries, especially in the UK and USA. Some well-known examples:

  • Soviet nuclear weapons were developed partially with information stolen from the U.S. atomic bomb project; German-born Briton Klaus Fuchs appears to have been the primary conduit for such information. (Note, however, that great powers spy on one another as a normal practice. Had the two post-war superpowers both been democratic or communist or one democratic and the other fascist, they would still have spied on one another's nuclear weapons programs.)
  • George Orwell had great difficulty publishing his anti-Stalinist satiric fable Animal Farm. It was later revealed that a Soviet infiltrator in the British government had put pressure on publishers in this regard.[11]
  • The Cambridge Five were a group of spies who worked their way up various posts in the British upper echelons, sending intelligence to the Reds. The four identified agents were Kim Philby (cryptonym: Stanley), Donald Duart Maclean (cryptonym: Homer), Guy Burgess (cryptonym: Hicks), and Anthony Blunt (cryptonym: Johnson). They met at Cambridge University in the 1930s and became involved with left-wing groups in opposition to a noticeable pro-Hitler trend from some of the Royal Family members that wasn't too digestible. Also, two of the four were gay in a time when the left was the only real center of gay culture. Philby ended up in the right-wing papers, reporting from Guernica. At one point, the Spanish Communists got him close enough to Francisco Franco for a quick murder-suicide, but Philby chickened out. He later nearly became the head of MI6 (British intelligence), which would have been an incalculable disaster. Even so, they did great damage before being found out and escaping into exile in the USSR.

Ergo, it's important to make the distinction.

Present day[edit]

Thus were two generations of Americans treated by their overlords until, in the end, at the word 'communism' there is an orgasmic Pavlovian reflex just as the brain goes dead.
Gore Vidal[13]

Even in the present day, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and China's tacit abandonment of communism, Red-baiting is still popular among the American right wing. Glenn Beck and various talk radio figures liberally (ahem) use such terms as "communist" and "Marxist" to refer to anything they dislike.

Popular targets have included former U.S. President Barack Obama, who was said to be a crypto-communist pushing "Obamunism," and the Democratic Party; in 2009, the Republican National Committee was pressured to adopt a plank stating that the Democrats are a socialist party.[14] Pope Francis has often been attacked as a Marxist by American wingnuts because of the Catholic Church's rejuvenated attention to poverty and social justice issues,[15][note 3] despite the fact that the Catholic Church continues to be reactionary in regards to transgender rights and abortion.

Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was also a frequent target of red-baiting attacks from the media and commentators, usually attacking him (and/or his supporters) as being Marxist or indeed communist or, at the very least, making some very clear coded attacks on this basis. This is based on a very profound, and almost certainly deliberate, misreading of Corbyn's views — while he's undeniably less apologetic about being on the left than most other recent Labour leaders, he is most certainly not a communist or even all that far left in the scheme of things.[note 4] The interesting thing here is that in addition to being red-baited from a critical perspective, quite a few of his supporters also liked to imagine him as being further left than he was too, which certainly didn't help sway the people who were receptive to the aforementioned treatment.[note 5]

There is at least one known example of the form of *ahem* argument, though not in keeping with the original intent, being used by people further to the left than the target. During a teachers' strike in Chicago against mayor Rahm Emanuel (previously a major participant in the aforementioned Obamunism), protesters were observed carrying signs exhorting the public to "Fight Rahmunism!"

Of course, even the far right has started to realize that accusations of "communism" don't sound as credible (or threatening) as they used to since the fall of the Iron Curtain, so they've started shifting to "socialism" — while, of course, heavily conflating social democracy with communist countries like North Korea and failed socialist dictatorships such as Venezuela.


See also[edit]


  1. Granted, creationists are generally not sufficiently intelligent educated cognizant of reality to distinguish between things that are meant to be taken literally and things that are meant to be allegorical or satirical. (In particular, they have a tendency to take the Bible far more literally than its authors probably intended.)
  2. Seven years later, however, membership in the Communist Party USA was criminalized, when it was determined that that organization was exclusively a front for Soviet espionage; by that time, very few of the U.S.'s communists were actually in the party, which contained more FBI informants than actual members. Communist party leaders were already convicted of sedition in 1949. The US Supreme Court later quashed both of these measures.
  3. This is clearly ignoring Jesus's many, many sermons preaching the importance of caring for the poor and outcasts (and demonstrating such compassion in his own life), or the history of charity and social justice within Christianity in efforts to emulate that example.
  4. Aside from him apparently never being a member of any party other than the Labour Party, and outright stating at points that he hasn't even read all that much Marx, Corbyn axiomatically cannot be a communist or a Marxist since he does not appear to believe in the collectivization of the means of production, the complete abolition of capitalism, revolution as a means of obtaining political change, or the abolition/melting away of the state. The reality — as actual communists will tell you, to their great displeasure — is that Corbyn is a Labour Party man through and through, and is only really "left wing" relative to the rest of Labour.
  5. While one could make an argument that he is further left than he chooses to let on, the counterpoint is that Corbyn hasn't exactly been shy about expressing controversial/widely disliked political viewpoints in the past, so why would he conceal one that's fundamental to his entire worldview?


  1. Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry, (1947)
  2. The New York Times, "SENATE ACCEPTS SEDITION BILL; Conference Report Adopted, 48 to 26, and Now Goes to House for Action. FRANCE AMENDMENT OUT Persons Speaking Truth for Good Ends Not Exempt from Punishment. SEE BLOW AT FREE SPEECH Hiram Johnson and Lodge Criticise Provisions--House Passes Flood Passport Bill. What the Bill Provides. Details of the Vote. Airplane Engine Not Tested. Spy, but Not Even Interned. ADOPTS PASSPORT BILL. House Sends Measure Aimed at Spies to Senate for Action."
  3. See the Wikipedia article on May Day riots of 1919.
  4. See the Wikipedia article on First Red Scare.
  5. Cathy Wilkerson. 2007. Flying Too Close to the Sun. Seven Stories Press. ISBN 9781583227718. pp. 91-92
  6. Wade, Lisa, “Race Mixing Is Communism” - Protesters in Little Rock, Arkansas, (1959), posted 10.10.09. The smoking gun between "race-mixing" and communism is supposed to be "The Jews". "The Jews" invented both to weaken or destroy "The White Master Race" ergo the mongrelization of white society CASE CLOSED.
  7. See the Wikipedia article on Political abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union.
  8. Telling.
  9. The Socialist Haunted World: Relativity, Fluoridation, and Climate Change as a Socialist Plot
  10. 'Red-baiting' denouement in Hollywood, The Guardian
  11. John Ezard (21 June 2003). "Blair's babe". The Guardian. 
  12. Jacoby, Susan, Alger Hiss and the Battle for History. Yale University Press, 2009. Jacoby herself says she is 98% certain that Hiss was guilty because he was simply not a good liar and slipped up in public. Hiss denied it to his death, though.
  13. Vanity Fair, 1999.
  14. They eventually instead adopted a resolution stating that the Dems were restructuring the US along "socialist ideals" in order to ditch the soundbite while still tossing red bait towards... someone.
  15. Pope Francis addresses communist whispers, AP