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Scapegoat is the story of fourteen-year-old Gilbert Evans (Gib). Gib is caught in the anti-communist hysteria of 1953 when he writes an essay for his English class calling for loyalty oaths. His essay by a “concerned student” is printed in the local newspaper, and becomes a catalyst in the decision to require all teachers to sign loyalty oaths. Such oaths are known to be a trap for future perjury accusations.
Local leaders use threatening tactics to force the use of the oath.
Gib's favorite teacher and his Quaker parents refuse to sign the oath. Gilbert struggles to understand the manipulation of emotions that the powerful use to create public fear. Together, Gilbert and friends work to undo the disaster he has helped set in motion.
Panic about communism grows into hatred and rage. Gilbert learns that turning off, or even deflecting mass hysteria has become nearly impossible, and very dangerous.