McCarthyism & Real-Life M Unit Explained


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



Through four episodes, Fellow Travelers has chronicled the most intense and pivotal moments of the Lavender Scare led by Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn during the early 1950s. The point of the Lavender Scare, in conjunction with the anti-communist Red Scare that was happening simultaneously, was to identify and remove suspected “deviants” and “subversives” who participated in apparently anti-American activities involving communism and homosexuality. The Showtime series portrays several intricate perspectives of some of the government employees who were subjugated to such intense suspicion and discrimination such as Hawk Fuller (Matt Bomer) and Marcus Gaines (Jelani Alladin).

Fellow Travelers 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 only mission is to identify the aforementioned “deviants” and remove them from their governmental positions. Hawk eventually discovers that it was one of his own assistants who reported him to the M Unit after she had found a book inside his desk with a handwritten inscription from Tim. Hawk is forced to take a polygraph test and answer a series of questions to effectively prove that he is not a part of the LGBTQ+ community, lying for the sake of his career and livelihood.

RELATED: “Why Don’t You Suffer?”: Hawk’s Chilling Words In Fellow Travelers Episode 4 Explained

The M Unit Was Created To Investigate Suspected LGBTQ+ People In The Government

The M Unit Was Responsible For Firing Dozens Of Government Workers

Hawk being interrogated in Fellow Travelers episode 4

The M Unit was determined to eliminate every suspected person involved in homosexual activity who worked within the U.S. State Department. Although Fellow Travelers is a work of fiction based on a 2007 novel by Thomas Mallon, the sentiments of the historical period in time were palpably captured in the Showtime series. Hawk was given no option to decline the formal interview process and played along to avoid detection and save his career as a bureaucrat in Washington D.C. Hawk has always found a way to conceal his true sexual identity for the sake of his career. However, the M Unit presented an immediate threat with their implementation of polygraph testing.

The real-life M Unit was successful in having dozens of government employees removed from their positions during the early 1950s. The M Unit claimed to be looking for “moral weaknesses” within their ranks which was in reality just a derogatory cover-up for their actual plans. The heightened paranoia of the Red Scare within the United States government certainly added fuel to the fire of the Lavender Scare and there was often a large amount of unjust overlap as a result. There existed a general concept that adopting communism and being a member of the LGBTQ+ community were similar characteristics of a questionable or vulnerable individual.

Many Of The M Unit’s Summons Were Based On Profiling & Speculation

The M Unit Targeted People With Alleged Weak Character & Morality

Hawk recives summons in Fellow Travelers episode 4

Suspicions of the Lavender Scare reached an all-time high in 1953, which is when Hawk received a summons in Fellow Travelers episode 4. In 1952, the M Unit fired 134 people who were suspected of homosexual activity, and were up to 74 people during the first three months of 1953. Anyone working in the federal government could make a complaint against another employee and was often encouraged to, which soon began to set up a climate of ulterior motives and false reporting to the M Unit. During their investigations, the M Unit had the interviewee walk and read aloud, as Hawk was forced to do in the Showtime series.

Very little evidence was required to receive a summons to appear before the M Unit. Reportedly, all it could take was an innocent association with a known member of the LGBTQ+ community or a visit to an established bar or restaurant where LGBTQ+ people frequented. As a result, profiling was the primary source of many of the allegations made to the M Unit that were built on malicious judgments and rigid stereotypes of gender expressions. With such loose parameters required to make an allegation, the M Unit eventually became a policing force that focused on other moral issues outside of communism and homosexuality alone.

RELATED: Fellow Travelers: How Historically Accurate Is Frankie’s 1950s Drag Queen Character?

How Hawk Was Able To Pass The M Unit’s Investigations In Fellow Travelers

Hawk Realized That The Polygraph Tested Reactions Of Guilt, Not Truth

Hawk and Mary in Fellow Travelers episode 4

Hawk was nearly able to avoid the polygraph test after his first round interview with M Unit investigator Fred Treband (Michael Therriault), but his last-minute aggression towards Treband got him an invitation to come back the next day. Hawk went home and trained himself to dissociate from the piercing questions he knew he would be asked by the M Unit, including whether he had ever performed sexual acts with another man and if he’d ever been in love with another man. Hawk successfully used magazine images and intense focus to regulate his heart rate so as not to appear guilty during the polygraph test in Fellow Travelers episode 4.

Source: McCarthyism And Cold War

  • Fellow Travelers TV Poster

    Fellow Travelers

    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


    Streaming Service(s):

    Uta Briesewitz, Daniel Minahan

    Ron Nyswaner


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