witch hunt (n.)

1853 in the literal sense (witch-hunting is from 1630s), from witch (n.) + hunt (n.). The extended sense is attested from 1919, American English, later re-popularized in reaction to Cold War anti-Communism.

Senator [Lee S.] Overman. What do you mean by witch hunt?

Mr. [Raymond] Robins. I mean this, Senator. You are familiar with the old witch-hunt attitude, that when people get frightened at things and see bogies, then then get out witch proclamations, and mob action and all kinds of hysteria takes place. ["Bolshevik Propaganda," U.S. Senate subcommittee hearings, 1919]