The man trudged upstairs and over the next day made many calls to friends and family, some innocuous and some deadly serious. A day later, the man was found dead from an overdose of pills. An obvious suicide.

The man was actually Philip Loeb, an American stage, film and TV actor, and a victim of one of America’s darkest periods, when numerous American citizens were falsely accused of being communists and traitors – a period colloquially known as McCarthyism, but not limited to the activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
The Great Depression still had its hold on the people. World War II was looming in Europe — the Nazis had just annexed Austria and would soon sign the Munich Agreement that enabled them to take over parts of Czechoslovakia — and HUAC was formed to root out enemy agents and their sympathizers residing in the US.

Following the end of World War II in 1945 and the dissolution of the Allies into Cold War enemies, the tensions at home found their shape in a lens that magnified a long-perceived threat to the American way of life: Communism.

 McCarthyism gripped the United States in a type of fear-born fever that implicated many innocents (and a few guilty) of treasonous behavior, and in the process, coined a term still synonymous with a modern political witch hunt. McCarthy’s senate hearings fell apart in the mid-1950s when he went after members of the Army, and was famously accused of having “no sense of decency”.
More recently, sociologists Angela McRobbie and Sarah Thornton have argued, in "Rethinking 'Moral Panic' for Multi-Mediated Social Worlds,”  that “folk devils” can be deployed more forcefully and with greater vigor in a social media world – there’s little gatekeeping any more to keep the most pernicious untruths at bay, meaning that every accusation and rumor, no matter how outrageous, gains validity.

It’s much easier to tar a group now as ‘the ultimate danger’. Democracies have been upended by this, and populations decimated. Because of that ease of branding, it’s more important than ever to be vigilant when we see these folk devils being invented.

The flames of fear are a strong motivator, and the ‘folk devil’ adds fuel to the fire.

Slice 3 photograph credit, the amazing Koci Hernandez. Thanks Koci!