A historical summary of the Red Squad.


The Red Squad was a unit within the Chicago Police Department known alternately as the Industrial Unit of the Intelligence Division, or the Radical Squad.


The Red Squad had its roots in the Gilded Age, when class conflict encouraged employers to ally themselves with Chicago’s police against the city’s increasingly politicized workforce. Following the Haymarket bombing, Captain Michael J. Schaack orchestrated a vicious campaign against anarchism, resulting in 260 arrests, bribed witnesses, attacks on immigrants and labor activists, and convoluted theories of revolutionary conspiracy. Continuing its use of both overt and covert tactics, such as surveillance, infiltration, and intimidation, Chicago’s Red Squad in the 1920s under Make Mills shifted its attention from anarchists to individuals and organizations who the Red Squad believed to be Communist. Casting a wide net, the squad by 1960 had collected information on approximately 117,000 Chicagoans, 141,000 out-of-towners, and 14,000 organizations. After the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the Red Squad expanded its targets from radical organizations like the Communist and Socialist Workers Parties to minority and reform organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Lawyers Guild, and Operation PUSH.


Red Squad Handbill
Handbill protesting the Chicago Police Department’s Red Squad tactics. (1969)
After 11 years of litigation, a 1985 court decision ended the Chicago Police Department’s Subversive Activities Unit’s unlawful surveillance of political dissenters and their organizations. In the fall of 1974, the Red Squad destroyed 105,000 individual and 1,300 organizational files when it learned that the Alliance to End Repression was filing a lawsuit against the unit for violating the U.S. Constitution. The records that remain are housed at the Chicago Historical Society. The public required special permission to access them until 2012.

A handbill from 1969, pictured below, promoted an upcoming trial of Tom Hayden and Wolfe Lowenthal which was held at Chicago’s south side Criminal Courts building at 26th and California. Hayden and Wolfe had been arrested during the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention “Festival of Life” events in Chicago’s Lincoln Park for “Obstructing Justice” after they allegedly let the air out of the tire of a police car. The flyer outlines the tactics used by the Chicago Police Red Squad unit which arrested Hayden and Lowenthal. After the trial, Hayden became a California state senator and is an ex-husband of actress Jane Fonda. Hayden was also a co-founder of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and an alleged member and co-conspirator (along with Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Dave Dellinger, Bobby Seale and others) of the so-called “Chicago Eight” (later the “Chicago Seven,” after Seale’s removal for separate trial) of Chicago Conspiracy Trial fame.

Reference Sources

  • Donner, Frank (1990). “Protectors of Privilege: Red Squads and Police Repression in Urban America.” Retrieved from Print. Accessed February 3, 2014.