Joseph Raymond McCarthy (November 14, 1908 – May 2, 1957) was an American politician originally aligned with the United States Democratic Party and later with the United States Republican Party. McCarthy served as a U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 to 1957. During his ten years in the Senate, McCarthy and his staff became notorious for aggressive investigations of people in the U.S. government and others suspected, on grounds of their political beliefs as Communists or Communist sympathizers, of being Soviet agents.
As a result of these controversial actions the term McCarthyism was coined to specifically describe the intense anti-Communist movement that existed in America from 1950 to about 1956, a time which became popularly known as the Red Scare. During this period, people who were suspected of varying degrees of Communist loyalties became the subject of aggressive inquiries, which became known as “witch hunts” to his opponents. People from the media, the motion picture industry, government, and the military were accused by McCarthy of being suspected Soviet spies or Communist sympathizers. Although McCarthy’s activities did not directly result in any convictions or criminal prosecutions for espionage, the now declassified Venona Cables from the former Soviet Union indicate that some of the individuals he pursued were actually guilty. The term “McCarthyism” has since become synonymous with any government activity which seeks to suppress unfavorable political or social views, often by limiting or suspending civil rights under the pretext of maintaining national security.