The House Un-American Activities Committee was a panel established in the United States House of Representatives during the middle of the 20th century. It was set up in 1938 to investigate the activities of Americans viewed as a threat to the way of life of the populace and government operations. Much of the time, the committee subpoenaed individuals thought to have connections with fascists, communists and counterculture. The House Un-American Activities Committee was eventually changed to the House Committee on Internal Security in 1969 and disbanded altogether in 1975.
Precursors to the committee were instituted in the House as early as 1918. In response to the potential activities of German-Americans during World War I as well as the rising fear of communism caused by the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, North Carolina Representative Lee Slater Overman established a subcommittee to investigate domestic threats. In 1930, further investigations into communist activities were launched by New York Representative Hamilton Fish III. His main target was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). This was followed by the creation of a Special Committee on Un-American Activities designed to look into Nazi propaganda in the US, most notably a plot to overthrow President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.
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During World War II, the House Un-American Activities Committee was primarily concerned with Nazi and Ku Klux Klan actions. As the war progressed, however, the committee became increasingly concerned with communist influence in government and popular culture. The main targets of the panel became the American Communist Party as well as New Deal commissions like the Works Progress Administration and the Federal Theatre Project.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the committee became interested in alleged subversive activities by numerous organizations. The main target was to find communist activities conducted by the government and members of the media. Of particular note was the questioning of Hollywood professionals by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Over 300 different directors, actors and screenwriters were subpoenaed, many of which were blacklisted by studios, effectively ending their careers in Hollywood. Notable examples include Charlie Chaplin and Zero Mostel.
A similar committee was established during this period in the Senate, headed by Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy's public position against communism during the Cold War eventually won scrutiny from the rest of the Senate. This began the long downfall of the House Un-American Activities Committee. During the 1960s, it mainly investigated political activists such as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, who turned much of the proceedings into social commentary by dressing in various costumes.