The Press and the Red Scare

While the police were making arrests, the newspapers of Chicago incited public fears regarding anarchy and its threat to the order of society. The day after the riot, the Chicago Tribune described the “hellish deed,” and told the police’s version of the story, claiming the anarchists had “poured in a shower of bullets,” on the police after the bomb. Further descriptions of the hospital where wounded officers were treated stirred citizens to demand revenge on the cowardly anarchists.[1] A political cartoon by Thure de Thulstrup printed in Harper’s Weekly depicting the event further tainted the public’s mind towards the eight defendants.

The press coverage, which highlighted the anarchists’ foreign background, created a surge of xenophobia and started the nation’s first Red Scare against radical groups. Immigrants were viewed with suspicion and decried for espousing un-democratic ideas. Historian Carl Smith contends the anarchists came to symbolize “the precariousness of social stability,” and by denouncing them, the press was supporting the current social order.[2] In such an atmosphere of hatred and fear, it was unlikely the men would receive a fair unbiased trial. As English socialist Edward Aveling remarked, “If these men are ultimately hanged, it will be the Chicago Tribune that has done it.”[3]

[1] Chicago Tribune 5 May 1886, Douglas O. Linder, Famous Trials: The Haymarket Riot Trial.
[2]Carl Smith, Urban Disorder and the Shape of Belief: The Great Chicago Fire, the Haymarket Bomb, and the Model Town of Pullman, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 126.
[3]Edward Aveling as quoted in Smith, 131.