The Salem Witch Trials Effect on the Modern World

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The Salem Witch Trials Effect on the Modern World
May 2017
Word Count: 3248
Table of Contents

Abstract 3
Introduction 4
The Salem Witch Trials Background 5
The Salem Witch Trial Relevance 5
Red Scare Background 6
Relevance to Salem 7
The Communist Hunt Background 8
The Second Red Scare Relevance 9
Relation to Salem 10
Relevance to Modern Culture 11
Modern Day Witch Hunts 12
Relevance to Salem 13
Conclusion 14
Bibliography 16

The Salem Witch trails was highly regarded as one of the biggest mistrials in
America, however, it has strongly influenced many more modern situations. How did the
Salem Witch Trials of the 1690’s influence the modern witch hunts of the late 20th
century and early 21st century? Through reading different books, and online sources I
drew the conclusion that the Salem Witch Trials heavily influenced modern day through
the idea that groups of power use their status and beliefs to influence those easily
manipulated in order to gain power, which then in turn allows them to seclude the
minority. This is highlighted in many areas of history including but not limited to, The
Red Scare, The Communist Hunt, The Second Red Scare, and more modern day witch
hunts like Islamophobia and homophobia. Each of these instances all relate back to the
Salem Witch Trails in the way that a majority group tries to suppress the minority group
through the use of power.
Throughout the world’s history hysteria, and frenzy have driven multiple panic
ridden events to occur, and the population of the affected area seek to solve the problem
most of the time in an unreasonable way. These events are often thought of as “witch
trials”, panic spreading quickly and causing people to single out a group and move to
destroy the “threat” that they pose to their society. One of the most well-known, and
most influential would be the Salem Witch Trials, which happened in America in the
1920s. The Salem Witch Trials singled out a population of women, due to the hysterics of
religious propaganda. This series of events singled out, and devastated an entire
population because they failed to see through hysteria, and believed the lies being told to
them, and those in power were able to benefit from it while others suffered immensely.
How did the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690’s influence the modern witch hunts
of the late 20th century and early 21st century? This question is important because it can
help us to understand how modern day “witch hunts” use false information, and the
hysteria they create to diminish groups subordinate to them, or weaker than them. The
Salem Witch Trials actual trials can help us to understand how we cannot trust eye
witness accounts of many, and how when a large group of people directly attack a lower
group, using false information, and the hysteria created around it, anyone will believe
what the attacking group says. Grasping the underlying causes of how the main
prosecution during the Salem Witch Trials, created such a backing for themselves, and
how those being convicted had no one to turn to, can help us to understand modern day
trials and how they are often swayed with the hysteria of the masses.
The Salem Witch Trials Background
The Salem Witch Trials occurred between 1692 and 1693, in Salem,
Massachusetts, during the Colonial era of America. Back during the Seventieth century,
the idea that “Satan” was present, and active on Earth was very popular, and over time
began to associate the small “charms” they used for farming or other small things, with a
darker magic, known as black magic.
There was a large political backing to the Salem Witch Trials, the colony of
Massachusetts, then known as New England, was created by refugees seeking a way to
build a pure, bible-based society. They had a strong connection to the Bible, which
resulted in always having a connection to the super natural, which led to the problems
faced during the Witch Trials. The Salem Witch Trials started when Betty Parris, and her
cousin Abigail Williams began to have fits, which closely mirrored epileptic fits. Soon all
of the girl’s friends began to throw these fits, all claiming that the “devil” was doing
“God’s” work, and started to name the women of the town as witches, thus leading to the
detainment of these women, and the actual Trials. All together nearly two hundred
women, and men even, were accused and of the two hundred, twenty of them were
executed, fourteen of those being women. These men and women were not actual
witches, and were only executed or accused because of the girl’s ability to deceive the
town, and manipulate those in power to believe they were telling the truth.1
Relevance of the Trials
The Salem Witch Trials actual court trials remain relevant to the modern day for
many reasons. The actual evidence they had to support the claims of witch craft was all
1 “he Salem witch trials: a day-by-day chronicle of a community under siege.”
completely biased, because only the girls affected by the fits could claim whether or not
those accused were actually guilty. The amount of women accused could possibly have a
direct correlation with the girl’s opinions of each of the women detained. The trial also
had a large amount of authority worship, or the process of blindly accepting ‘facts’ from
those in authority as truth without thinking about it, which is still something we see in
modern day cases. The girl’s used their religion to become the authority of the situation,
tricking their colony into believing that they were doing “God’s” work. Most of the
claims during the trials were centered around the biased beliefs of the girls who claimed
to be doing “God’s” work, and were never backed up with true reason other than fits
thrown by the girls, which the Protestant church claimed as a sign from “God” that the
devil is among them.
The Red Scare Background
The Red Scare took place in 1919-1920, and then again in 1947-1957, and while
the Red Scare did not pertain to witches, it deals with the same concepts.2 The Red Scare
was the rise of fear around the potential rise of communism or radical leftism, and foreign
communist countries influencing society, and infiltrating the federal government, even
possibly both. With the impending threat of communism, the United States launched into
a fit of anti-radical hysteria, provoked by the anxiety caused by the threat of communism
coming into the “poster child” of free countries. This new found anxiety caused many
people to turn their backs on one another and accuse each other of being a communist
supporter, a communist, or even as far as a spy from then known as the Soviet Union.
2 Nightmare in red: The McCarthy era in perspective
The first Red Scare began following the Bolshevik Russian Revolution of 19173 and the
intensely patriotic years of World War I as anarchist and left-wing social agitation
aggravated national, social, and political tensions. Political scientist, and former member
of the Communist Party Murray B. Levin wrote that the Red Scare was “a nationwide
anti-radical hysteria provoked by a mounting fear and anxiety that a Bolshevik revolution
in America was imminent—a revolution that would change Church, home, marriage,
civility, and the American way of Life. The second Red Scare occurred after World War
II (1939–45), and was popularly known as “McCarthyism” after its most famous
supporter, Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthyism coincided with increased popular fear
of communist espionage consequent to a Soviet Eastern Europe, and the confessions of
spying for the Soviet Union given by several high-ranking U.S. government officials.
Relevance to Salem
Throughout the Red Scares, evidence was presented that supported the claims of
potential communist activity in the United States, but often times it was very weak
evidence or the evidence was completely bias just like the Salem Witch Trials. The Red
Scare’s hysteria is similar to that of the Salem Witch Trials, because when mass hysteria
is created it causes people to often act much more rash than they typically would, just like
during the Witch Trials. A friend turning against one another was the whole premise of
the Salem Witch Trials, and it can clearly be seen during the Red Scare, because of the
mass hysteria caused in seeking out the communist. This is a prime example of how the
same situation that occurred in the Salem Witch Trials, is affecting another generation of
3 Wade, R. (2000). The Russian Revolution, 1917. Cambridge: University Press.
4 Nightmare in red: The McCarthy era in perspective
The idea of singling out a group of people who seem different from the majority,
or who appear different based on what others say is nothing new to society. A lot of
problems throughout the duration of the Red Scares were caused because of different
rumors and different types of propaganda. For example, a majority of all of the
accusations of different United States citizens, actors, and government officials being
spies for the Soviet Union that happened in the United States were all based on rumor and
speculation. The concept of deception is what lead the Salem Witch Trials, and can be
seen through a majority of the Red Scare, the link being that no one really learned from
the Trials that not everything claimed to be true is actually the truth, and this theme is
reoccurring throughout a majority of history.
The Communist Hunt Background
McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of treason without regard for
proper evidence, or also meaning “the practice of making unfair allegations or using
unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political
criticism.” The term is also now more currently used more generally to describe reckless,
unsubstantiated accusations, as well as demagogic attacks on the character or patriotism
of political adversaries. During the McCarthy era, thousands of Americans were accused
of being communists or accused of being communist sympathizers and thus became the
subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or privateindustry
panels, committees and agencies. The primary targets of such suspicions were
government officials, those in the entertainment industry, like actors and musicians,
educators, and union activists. Suspicions were often believed as correct, and supported
by many, despite inconclusive or questionable evidence, and the level of threat posed by
a person’s real or possible leftist associations was often greatly exaggerated. Many people
suffered loss of employment and the destruction of their careers; some even suffered
through imprisonment.
The United States suffered greatly from the “McCarthyism era” during the
communist hunt. The political divisions created by McCarthyism continued to manifest,
and the politics and history of anti-Communism in the United States are still contentious.
In many places, loyalty oaths are still required for example, in the California
Constitution for all officials and employees of the government of California (which is
highly problematic for the Quakers group and the Jehovah’s Witnesses whose beliefs
prohibit them from pledging absolute loyalty to the state), and at the federal level, a few
portions of the McCarran Internal Security Act are still in effect.
Relation to the second Red Scare
The Communist Hunt and the Red Scare were extremely similar, however, the
second Red Scare was more of just propaganda about dealing with the idea of communist
sympathizers in America, while the Communist Hunt took it a step farther, and actually
accused different American citizens, and even went as far as imprisoning those accused.
The second Red Scare refers to the fear of communism that permeated American politics,
culture, and society from the late 1940s through the 1950s, during the opening phases of
the Cold War with the Soviet Union. This mind set fueled by fear of outside ideas, like
communism, started the actual Communist Hunts. The initial infrastructure for waging
5 “Joseph R. McCarthy.”
war on domestic communism was built during the first Red Scare, with the creation of an
antiradicalism division within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the
emergence of a network of private “patriotic” organizations. All of the evidence was
executed in the Communist Hunt however, through the use of blacklists, and serious
investigations done by the public and private parties.
Relation to Salem
Again another situation where pitiful evidence, or a complete lack of evidence
drives a whole community to exile those who do not feel the same way as the majority.
Just like the Salem Witch Trials, the Communist Hunt was strung along by dismal
evidence, or even no evidence at all. The girl’s fits during the trials are equivalent to the
claims and accusations formed by citizens who viewed different people’s more left views
as communism. Neither group really had true evidence because both were extremely bias,
and used the power of majority to exclude a smaller group of people.
The Communist Hunt, and the Salem Witch Trials, both ruined the lives of those
who were accused, and those convicted on false evidence. Both situations relied on
singling out those with views different from majority, or those who did not fit the norm
of society at that time. The Communist Hunt devastated careers of many Hollywood
actors, different musicians, educators, and government officials, and some of those
affected were even sentenced to extended sentences in prison, and those who did not go
to jail, were often blacklisted. Blacklists were at work throughout the entertainment
industry, in universities and schools at all levels, in the legal profession, and in many
other fields. Those on the blacklists were barred from work on the basis of their alleged
membership in or sympathy with the Communist Party USA or refusal to assist
investigations into the party’s activities. Even during the period of its strictest
enforcement, the late 1940s through the late 1950s, the blacklist was rarely made explicit
or verifiable, but it was directly responsible for damaging the careers of scores of
individuals working in the film industry. That parallels those accused during the Witch
Trials, the citizens accused were often left to rot in jail, and with more than 200 accused,
20 of those were executed, and those who remained alive had their reputations tarnished.
Relevance to Modern Culture
In 1952, Arthur Miller wrote the play The Crucible, which is a dramatized and
partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts
Bay Colony during 1692 through 1693. The play follows Abigail Williams, and her
group of friends, as they wrongly accuse different women of their town, of being witches.
The group of girls claiming to be doing “God’s work” accuse much of the town and many
villagers have been charged with witchcraft; most have confessed and been given lengthy
prison terms and their property seized by the government; twelve have been hanged;
seven more are to be hanged at sunrise for refusing to confess, including John Proctor,
Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey.
Arthur Miller wrote the play as an allegory of McCarthyism, when the US
government ostracized people for being communists. Miller himself was questioned by
the House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956 and
convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to identify others present at meetings he
had attended. The play, The Crucible, as a strict allegorical treatment of 1950s
McCarthyism, mocks the Communist Hunt during the second Red Scare, by drawing the
connections between the mass hysteria in the Salem Witch Trials to the mass hysteria and
poor evidence used in the Communist Hunt.
Modern Day Witch Hunts
In today’s more modern society, accusations of witch craft are hard to come by,
but that does not mean there are not similar situations. The modern witch hunts usually
happen because of the same reasons historical witch hunts occurred, the majority singling
out those who do not full heartedly agree with their beliefs. This can happen between
different religious groups, political groups, and other groups with conflicting beliefs.
A lot of these problems stem from the belief that one group is inferior to another because
of what one small portion of their group believe.
For example, in the United States a majority of citizens are aware of the dangers
of terrorism, thus creating a large group of people who alienate the Islamic culture, also
known as Islamaphobia. Islamaphobia, also known as Muslimophobia refers to
fear, prejudice, hatred or dislike directed against Islam or Muslims, or towards Islamic
politics or culture.6 A lot of this hatred stems from the Islamic terrorist groups attacking
the United States, and the norms of Islamic culture being much different than the norms
of American Culture. Many people seek out the Islamic American’s online, and in person
and bombard them with different insults, and others protest outside of mosques to protest,
and try to inhibit their abilities to pray in peace. Islamaphobia is hard to escape for those
who belong to the Islamic faith, they are very distinguishable because of their different
turbans, and languages. In recent years it has become so bad that those who even appear
6 “Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the West.”
to be Muslim or Islamic are more frequently stopped by police, or stopped for “random”
screenings in airports.
Another current example of modern witch hunts deals with homophobia, and
sexist behavior. Up until June of 2015, same-sex marriage in the United State was illegal,
and this is often attributed to the amount of controversy created in the proposal of
allowing same sex marriage. Many religious groups protested the legalization of samesex,
because they claimed it was against the beliefs of “God”, and therefore those who
were born as homosexuals should not be allowed to be married, or be allowed to be
together.7 This is a key example of how one groups bias can ruin the lives of others, and
how just because one group of people is not what the majority is does not mean they
should be singled out.
Relevance to Salem
While the twenty first century witch hunts do not have to do with any witch craft,
the situations remain nearly the same. Groups who stray or differ from the majority will
always be singled out, because they do not match what society expects of them.
Throughout the modern day witch hunts, a large amount of reasoning for the prejudices
come from misconceptions, inability to accept differences, and other people’s biases
towards the situations. During the Salem Witch Trials, it was the religious beliefs that
drove a lot of the conflict to come to head, which parallels with how a lot of today’s
problems come from conflicting religious views, and intolerance towards others religion.
The modern day witch hunt is very similar to the Salem Witch Trials because of
the people of the Salem Witch Trials used the majority views to manipulate the views of
7 “What is Homophobia? | LGBT Foundation.”
all of the citizens, just like the majority tries to influence the minority in modern time
with protests, and harmful prejudices. In reality society as a whole should have learned
from the Salem Witch Trials that it is the majority will often be able to provide evidence
that lacks details, or faulty evidence to convince the people around them that they are in
fact correct, and to understand that singling out a single group of people just because they
have a separate belief system, or appear to be different than the societal norms, is not
acceptable, and does more harm than good.
Throughout history often times different series of events singled out, and
devastated an entire population because they failed to see through hysteria, and believed
the lies being told to them, and those in power were able to benefit from it while others
suffered immensely. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and 1963 used propaganda, mass
hysteria, and authority worship to alienate up to 200 people from the Protestant society
on false pretenses. This event in history has strongly influenced many other similar
situations, for example, the first and second Red Scare were extremely similar, in that
they tried to exile those who appeared to be communist sympathizers, or how during the
duration of the Communist Hunt in the early years of the Cold War, Hollywood’s elites,
union workers, educators, and even government officials were blacklisted and alienated
because of feeble evidence that supported their claims. Even today in the twenty first
century, the mass hysteria, and authority worship allow majority groups to try and belittle
those minority groups who have a different belief than the societal norm.
The Salem Witch Trials has influenced many of the twentieth century and twenty
first century witch hunts in the respect that people have not learned from the original
witch hunt, that these groups use their power to harm the minority. They use their status
and beliefs to influence those easily manipulated in order to gain power, which then in
turn allows them to seclude the minority.
Foundation, LGBT. “What is Homophobia? | LGBT Foundation.” What is Homophobia?
| LGBT Foundation. Accessed March 07, 2017.
Fried, Richard M. Nightmare in red: The McCarthy era in perspective. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2006.
Gallup, Inc. “Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the West.” February 10, 2017. Accessed March 07, 2017. Staff. “Joseph R. McCarthy.” 2009. Accessed March 07, 2017. Staff. “Red Scare.” 2010. Accessed March 07, 2017.
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: a Play in Four Acts. New York: Penguin Books, 2016.
Roach, Marilynne K. The Salem witch trials: a day-by-day chronicle of a community
under siege. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Pub., 2004.
Wade, R. (2000). The Russian Revolution, 1917. Cambridge: University Press.


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