On February 9, 1950, near the height of the fervor against the Communists, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCartney made a speech before a large group of fellow government officials. He accused 205 Communists of infiltrating the government and attempting to take places of power. He presented no concrete evidence of this. Despite the lack of facts or reason in this argument, a wave of paranoia swept through the United States. McCarthy was made chairman of a committee put in charge of investigating people for un-American tendencies. Through this committee, many people were black-listed, fired, or otherwise oppressed. Besides government employees, many denizens of Hollywood and those prominent in popular culture were investigated. Many of the accused fell out of popular favor, and, even if they were cleared of charges, often did not regain their former success. Some of the persecuted included noted composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, while playwright Arthur Miller was also targeted. Miller later wrote a play loosely based on this, called The Crucible. Besides these targets, McCarthy also banned other forms of media, persecuting those in the press and eventually stating that around 3,000 books displayed Communist tendencies. McCarthy was eventually discredited by the press and attracted the ire of President Dwight Eisenhower.

The air of fear, oppression, and persecution, with control wielded by a totalitarian and insane entity was eventually called McCarthyism. McCarthyism was a shameful episode of American history that, besides causing many people to lose their jobs and the respect of their contemporaries, also lent an air of repression on the United States. Personal expression and political concepts that differed from the norm were less vocal, and helped establish fear of the government amongst American citizens.