Real-Life McCarthyism and M-Unit Explained


  • Unit M was a committee created during the Lavender Scare to identify and fire LGBTQ+ government employees, which led to the firing of many people.
  • M Unit investigations were often based on profiling and speculation, with little evidence required to receive a summons.
  • Hawk passed M Unit’s investigations by using techniques to regulate his heart rate during the polygraph test, thus proving his innocence.



Through four episodes, Travel companions chronicled the most intense and pivotal moments of the Lavender Scare led by Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn in the early 1950s. The point of the Lavender Scare, in conjunction with the anti-communist Red Scare which was occurring simultaneously, was to identify and eliminate “deviants” and “subversives” suspected of participating in apparently un-American activities involving communism and homosexuality. The Showtime series depicts several complex perspectives of certain government employees who have been subjected to such intense suspicion and discrimination, like Hawk Fuller (Matt Bomer) and Marcus Gaines (Jelani Alladin).

Travel companions Episode 4 places Hawk in the hot seat like never before as he receives a formal summons to appear before the M Unit, an investigative committee whose sole mission is to identify the aforementioned “deviants” and remove them from their government functions. Hawk eventually discovers that it was one of his own assistants who reported him to M Unit after finding a book in his office with Tim’s handwriting. Hawk is forced to take a polygraph test and answer a series of questions. to effectively prove that he is not part of the LGBTQ+ community, lying for the sake of his career and livelihood.

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Unit M was created to investigate suspected LGBTQ+ people in government

Unit M is responsible for the dismissal of dozens of civil servants

Hawk interviewed in Episode 4 of Fellow Travelers

M Unit was determined to eliminate anyone suspected of being involved in homosexual activity and working within the U.S. State Department. Although Travel companions is a work of fiction based on a 2007 novel by Thomas Mallon, the sentiments of the historical period were captured palpably in the Showtime series. Hawk had no opportunity to refuse the formal interview process and played along to avoid detection and save his career as a bureaucrat in Washington DC. Hawk has always found a way to hide his true sexual identity for the sake of his career. However, Unit M presented an immediate threat with the implementation of polygraph tests.

The actual M Unit succeeded in getting dozens of government employees removed from their positions in the early 1950s. The M Unit claimed to look for “moral weaknesses” within its ranks, which in reality was not than a derogatory concealment of his real plans. The increased paranoia of the Red Scare within the United States government certainly added fuel to the fire of the Lavender Scare and it often resulted in a great deal of unfair overlap. There was a general concept that embracing communism and being a member of the LGBTQ+ community were similar characteristics of a questionable or vulnerable individual.

Many M Unit summons were based on profiling and speculation

Unit M targeted people presumed to be weak in character and morality

Hawk receives a summons in episode 4 of Fellow Travelers

Suspicion regarding the lavender scare reached an all-time high in 1953, when Hawk received a summons in episode 4 of Fellow Travelers. In 1952, Unit M dismissed 134 people suspected of homosexual activity, and up to 74 people during this period. the first three months of 1953. Anyone working in the federal government could file a complaint against another employee and was often encouraged to do so, which soon began to create a climate of ulterior motives and misrepresentations at the unit M. During their investigations, Unit M asked the interviewee to walk and read aloudas Hawk was forced to do in the Showtime series.

Very little evidence was required to receive a summons to appear before Unit M. It would appear that all that was needed was an innocent association with a known member of the LGBTQ+ community or a visit to a frequented established bar or restaurant. by LGBTQ+ people. Therefore, profiling was the main source of many allegations made at the M Unit. which were based on malicious judgments and rigid stereotypes about gender expressions. With such vague parameters required to make an allegation, M Unit eventually became a police force that focused on other moral issues aside from communism and homosexuality.

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How Hawk was able to succeed in M ​​Unit’s investigations into the other travelers

Hawk realized the polygraph tested guilt reactions, not the truth

Hawk and Mary in episode 4 of Fellow Travelers

Hawk almost managed to avoid the polygraph test after his first interview with M-Unit investigator Fred Treband (Michael Therriault), but his last-minute assault on Treband earned him an invitation to return the next day. Hawk returned home and practiced dissociating himself from the probing questions he would be asked by M-Unit, including whether he had ever committed sexual acts with another man and whether he had ever been in love with another man. Hawk successfully used magazine images and intense focus to regulate your heart rate so as not to appear guilty during the polygraph test at Travel companions episode 4.

Source: McCarthyism and the Cold War

  • Traveling Companions TV poster

    Travel companions

    Release date:

    Matt Bomer, Jonathan Bailey, Allison Williams, Linus Roache, Will Brill, Jelani Alladin, Noah J. Ricketts

    History, Romance, Thriller



    Story by:
    Thomas Mallon

    Ron Nyswaner

    Show time

    Streaming service(s):

    Uta Briesewitz, Daniel Minahan

    Ron Nyswaner

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