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Historic political blackmail led to Senate suicide and delay of gay rights

In 1954, a sitting senator committed suicide inside his Senate office.

In 1954, a sitting senator committed suicide inside his Senate office. And now, more than 50 years later, a new book takes a look at the conspiracy that’s been overlooked by many historians—and comes to the conclusion that a looming revelation over his son’s sexuality may have been behind the shocking story.

Democratic Sen. Lester Hunt of Wyoming, had a son who had been arrested the previous year and convicted of soliciting a same sex relationship with an undercover police officer. According to the new book, controversial Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin, infamous for his anti-Communist crusades, threatened to expose the event as a major scandal in Hunt’s campaign if he did not withdraw his bid for re-election. Two weeks later, Hunt committed suicide in his office.

Former Wyoming lawmaker and author Rodger McDaniel joined Monday’s “Deep Dive” to discuss his book, “Dying for Joe McCarthy’s Sins: The Suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt.”

Despite the shocking circumstances of his death, the story of Hunt’s suicide and the political manipulation surrounding it are still not widely known. McDaniel explained that both McCarthy’s defenders in the Senate and Hunt’s family were motivated to keep the story quiet.

“There was sort of this interesting conspiracy between the bad guys and Lester Hunt’s family, particularly his widow, to make sure this story didn’t get told,” McDaniel said.

After years of research, McDaniel strongly believes that McCarthyism delayed the gay rights movement.

“Had it not been for Joe McCarthy we’d have resolved issues like marriage equality two or three decades ago,” McDaniel said. “We still are confronted today with those situations in politics where politicians choose to demonize entire groups of people. There has been great progress in gay rights, but it could have been resolved decades ago.”

“Prior to Joe McCarthy, homosexuals—while there was discrimination—were widely tolerated and there was a vibrant gay community in Washington, DC,” explained McDaniel.

But when McCarthy found out that the State Department was employing gay staff members, he spread rumors in Washington that homosexuals were security risks. As a result, McDaniel says that “overnight, the view of the country towards homosexuals became very negative.”

A key part of McDaniel’s research was a series of interviews with Hunt’s son, who is now living in Chicago.

“He [Lester “Buddy” Hunt, Jr.] is a remarkable human being who has had a tremendously fulfilling life," McDaniel said. "He worked with Saul Alinsky in Chicago after his father’s death and established a community organization working in the Hispanic and Puerto Rican communities. [He is] someone who deeply feels that history is important and that the story ought to be told,” said McDaniel.

Click here to read an exclusive excerpt from McDaniel's book.