While people on the left and the right often focus on state repression - coercion and intimidation that comes from and is wielded by the government (politically driven prosecution and punishment, police violence, and the like) - the fact is that a great deal of political repression happens in civil society, outside the state. More specifically, in the workplace.
Think about McCarthyism. We all remember (or remember learning about) the McCarthy hearings in the Senate, the Rosenbergs, HUAC, and so on. All of these incidents involve the state. But guess how many people ever went to prison for their political beliefs during the McCarthy era? Fewer than 200 people. In the grand scheme of things, not a lot. Guess how many workers were investigated or subjected to surveillance for their beliefs? One to two out of every five. And while we don't have exact statistics on how many of those workers were fired, it was somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000.
There's a reason so much of US repression is executed not by the state but by the private sector: the government is subject to constitutional and legal restraints, however imperfect and patchy they may be. But an employer often is not. The Bill of Rights, as any union organiser will tell you, does not apply to the workplace. The federal government can't convict and imprison you simply and transparently for your political speech; if it does, it has to paint that speech as something other than speech (incitement, say) or as somehow involved in or contributing to a crime (material support for terrorism, say). A newspaper - like any private employer in a non-union workplace - can fire you, simply and transparently, for your political speech, without any due process.
On this blog, I've talked a lot about what I call in The Reactionary Mind "the private life of power": the domination and control we experience in our personal lives at the hands of employers, spouses, and so on. But we should always recall that that the private life of power is often wielded for overtly political purposes: not simply for the benefit of an employer but also for the sake of maintaining larger political orthodoxies and suppressing political heresies. That was true during McCarthyism, in the 1960s, and today as well.
It was also true in the 19th century. Alexis de Tocqueville noticed it while he was travelling here in the 1830s. Stopping off in Baltimore, he had a chat with a physician there. Tocqueville asked him why so many Americans pretended they were religious when they obviously had "numerous doubts on the subject of dogma". The doctor replied that the clergy had a lot of power in America, as in Europe. But where the European clergy often acted through or with the help of the state, their American counterparts worked through the making and breaking of private careers.