"I bring out the worst in my enemies and that’s how I get them to defeat themselves"
- Roy M. Cohn
Roy Marcus Cohn assumes an awkward place in history as the arrogant brutal genius lawyer that put the Rosenbergs in the electric chair and destroyed the lives of many others during the McCarthy communist witch-hunts. And perversely, Cohn’s life, as red-baiting homophobic anti-semite, was, for the most part, designed to conceal the fact that the man himself was a self-loathing Jewish homosexual.
Born on 20 February 1927, Cohn’s apple did not fall far from the tree, and by the time he was 20, an obnoxious precocious boy had followed the footsteps of his father into the legal profession. A rising star within the U.S. Attorney's office, Cohn junior soon got a taste for prosecuting communists and put his name in bright lights with unrelenting and enthusiastic pursuit of prosecution and the maximum penalty during the atomic espionage trial of husband and wife Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1951. Proud of his achievement, Cohn enjoyed his burgeoning reputation as the face of evil, snarling during summation at one trial: "Do you think I'm afraid of anyone. Look, I'm the legal executioner".
With despotic FBI Director, J Edgar Hoover’s endorsement, Cohn was subsequently to become Senator Joe McCarthy’s right-hand man in the McCarthy witch-hunts, where his "My scare value is high. My arena is controversy. My tough front is my biggest asset" aggression was used to great effect, sending many alleged Communists to the ducking-stool.
Roy Cohn however may have miscalculated in recruiting his best-friend and probable lover, David Schine, to be his chief consultant. The pair were decloseted in 1952 by an article in the Las Vegas Sun. McCarthy, whose own sexuality was coming under increasing scrutiny stood by Cohn but declined to endorse a libel suit against the paper and the story, true or not but nevertheless damaging, stuck. Roy Cohn further allowed his emotions to cloud his professional judgement when in 1953 he tried to use the threat of McCarthyism to prevent Schine from being drafted to the United States army. The story when it broke more or less compromised McCarthy’s investigation into the U.S. military and having lost the support of President Dwight Eisenhower, the pair were discredited in December 1954.
Bitter and twisted, McCarthy lived only a handful more alcohol-filled years until his death in 1957. Roy Cohn however, driven harder and made of sterner stuff, rescued his career and survived in lavish style as a political power broker and friend to the rich, famous and fashionable, until 1986 when Aids-induced complications claimed his life shortly after New York State had finally (at the third attempt) disbarred him from practicing law for unethical and unprofessional conduct.