In 1953, at the height of the Cold War, fear of communism spreads to Cambridge: the FBI begins to investigate the MIT math department, eventually subpoenaing three professors who had once been leading members of the Cambridge Communist Party. Scientists at many institutions are beginning to feel “vulnerable”; Solomon Lefschetz is identified as a “communist sympathizer.” Norman Levinson is questioned, though he refuses to name other suspected communists. Though Nash is not involved directly in this “angry, frightening, turbulent time,” years later, when he is diagnosed with schizophrenia, it will come back to haunt him in the form of paranoid delusions.
When Nash begins to imagine that “men in red neck-ties” are following him around the MIT campus, his fears are not completely off-base: government officials did track down MIT professors suspected of being communist sympathizers. Many of Nash’s schizophrenic delusions had some grounding in reality, which made it difficult for Nash to resist believing them; these situations seemed plausible to him.