McCarthy remains the most infamous character in 1950s American politics. His rise was almost as quick as his demise. He blazed onto the national scene with an anti-communism speech in 1950, but by 1954 he was censured by the Senate; three years after that he was dead.
The term “McCarthyism” has become a catchall word for “witch-hunting.” But was it inspired and funded by a group that has hunted witches since its inception—the Catholic Church?
McCarthy’s List: The February 1950 Speech in Wheeling, WV
Senator Joe McCarthy was hardly the first American to speak openly against communism, that totalitarian collectivist ideology that some have blamed for causing over 100 million deaths in the 20th century alone.
For example, in the 1930s, a Catholic priest named Father Charles Coughlin rose to fame as one of America’s most popular radio broadcasters by pinpointing the Soviet Union’s communist regime, which Coughlin said was disproportionately controlled by Jews who were hostile toward Christians, as the primary persecutors and murderers of Christians in the world.
But it wasn’t until February 9, 1950, at a speech in the small hilly town of Wheeling, WV, that a US government official declared that communists were infiltrating the US government.
Although no official transcript exists of the speech that McCarthy delivered to the Women’s Republican Club that day, the consensus is that he said something very close to this:
Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time. And, ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down—they are truly down….While I cannot take the time to name all the men in the State Department who have been named as members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring, I have here in my hand a list of 205.
A political star was born that day. Throughout the early 1950s, McCarthy was perhaps America’s most famous politician, someone who easily garnered more press attention than Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, who led the country while McCarthy warned of sinister forces in the government that attempted to subvert American democracy and foster sympathy for the global communist movement.
After emerging victorious in WWII by fighting alongside Soviet communists, the USA experienced unprecedented global power and domestic prosperity. But just as the war ended, it quickly became clear that the battle for global supremacy was now between Western capitalism and Eastern communism.
After dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to officially end World War II, the USA enjoyed a brief reign as the world’s sole nuclear power…until 1949, when the Soviets successfully detonated an atomic bomb. That same year, China fell to communist hands. Suddenly Americans had a new enemy—global communism—that covered far more land and controlled far more people than Nazi Germany ever did.
Although McCarthy’s insinuations that forces sympathetic to communism were infiltrating the US government have been roundly dismissed as baseless scaremongering and a paranoid “conspiracy theory,” once the Soviet Union fell and its archives were opened to the world, many people said that McCarthy had been vindicated, despite being personally destroyed by his enemies. Despite everything you might have heard, many are now saying that “Joe McCarthy Was Right.”
The question: What inspired McCarthy to go after communists with such zeal? According to one theory, it was the Catholic Church.
The ‘Colony Diner’ Theory
A month before McCarthy’s game-changing speech in West Virginia, he allegedly met with three other men—all of them Catholics like McCarthy—art the Colony Diner in Washington, DC.
The other three attendees were attorney William A. Roberts, Georgetown University politics professor Charles Kraus, and Father Edmund A. Walsh, a Jesuit priest who was American Catholicism’s most vehement critic of communism since Father Charles Coughlin.
As the story goes, McCarthy, who had been elected senator in 1948, had done little to distinguish himself while in office and was rooting around for a hot-button item that would ensure his reelection.
It was first suggested that McCarthy make an issue of the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, an idea he immediately shot down for not being “sexy” enough.
Then the idea that senior citizens should be awarded a pension was briefly discussed and also shot down due to its limited appeal and perceived inability to fire up an electorate.
According to leftist reporter Drew Pearson—who would become McCarthy’s fiercest antagonist in the press—McCarthy suddenly perked up after Father Walsh said that “any Senator who consistently attacked Communism would have a great appeal for the voters.”
In 1922, Walsh had visited the newly established Soviet Union and observed that the regime was drenched in anti-Christian animus, actively purging and murdering priests and clerics for failing to submit to communism. He described communism as “the most reactionary and savage school of thought known to history.” He accused the Bolsheviks of violently attempting to foment:
World Revolution, or in other words, universal Socialism with its concomitants — no state, no government, no belief in God, no marriages, no religion or in a word, the total destruction of the present Christian civilization and the substitution of the Communist state.
Rumors quickly spread that the Catholics were pulling McCarthy’s strings. In 1951, a Catholic magazine called The Churchman wrote:
The secret of McCarthy’s strength is the backing of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the Vatican. He only first the guns that are made for him by Father Edmund Walsh.
Indeed, the Catholic Church has often been cited as one of the primary forces against communism since the Russian Revolution. In fact, anti-communist papal encyclicals had been issued before any communist state had ever been established.
When asked whether he was the one who lit McCarthy’s anti-communist fuse, Walsh denied it and dismissed such allegations as the product of an “evil mind.”
Why The Theory Is Likely Untrue
There are several problems with the “Colony Diner” conspiracy theory.
One is the fact that red-baiting preceded McCarthy, as witnessed by fact that the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had been established way back in 1938 to ferret out communist influence in American government. HUAC also conducted widely publicized hearings in the late 1940s that featured such luminaries as Walt Disney.
In his successful 1946 campaign for the Senate, McCarthy had smeared his Democratic as a suspected communist.
In November 1949, two months before the meeting at the Colony Diner, McCarthy allegedly “subjected a newspaper publisher who was his leading home-state critic to a telling barrage of red-baiting.” This was a reference to an 11-page letter McCarthy had sent to the Madison Capital Times. In the letter, McCarthy had asked whether the paper was “the Red mouthpiece for the Communist party in Wisconsin?”
Even McCarthy’s infamous West Virginia speech appears to have been plagiarized. Futuree US President Richard Nixon delivered a speech to the House of Representatives on January 26, 1950 that contained passages which were clearly plagiarized by McCarthy in his Wesst Virginia speech only two weeks later.
The great lesson which should be learned from the Alger Hiss case is that we are not just dealing with espionage agents who get 30 pieces of silver to obtain the blueprints of a new weapon . . . but this is a far more sinister type of activity, because it permits the enemy to guide and shape our policy.
One thing to remember in discussing the Communists in our government is that we are not dealing with spies who get 30 pieces of silver to steal the blueprint of a new weapon. We are dealing with a far more sinister type of activity because it permits the enemy to guide and shape our policy.
All of the evidence suggests that Joseph McCarthy did not invent the “Red Scare” and had been baiting communists before having dinner with Father Walsh and two other men at the Colony Diner in January 1950. It’s a nice and tidy theory, but like so many other theories, it falls apart under scrutiny.