Friday, July 18, 2008

The FBI: A Century of Murder and Repression

While the mainstream media is celebrating the FBI and its century of existence, we should also pay tribute to some of its victims. No, not the gangsters that the revenuers ultimately did in. Not the terrorists that the FBI could have arrested before 9/11, but chose not to (leading to the greatest intelligence disaster in our country's history), or for that matter the militia groups and white supremacists some of its agents acquainted with its firearms in the '90s. No, the real targets of our friends from federal law enforcement, progressives.

The most ubiquitous example of the agency's abuse was COINTELPRO, the FBI's most extensive domestic program of state terrorism, which was created by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover with the goal of disrupting and/or crushing the anti-war and civil rights movements in this country--endeavors that the FBI was largely successful in doing, I might add. Among these victims was the very real case of murder of Huey P. Newton, one of the most charismatic and well liked leaders of the Black Panthers. The FBI had been targeting Newton for months, and was able to gain information on his residence, apartment's arrangement, his sleeping habits, etc. At 4 am on December 4, 1969, while Newton was asleep (knocked out, really), the FBI's crack squad of killers, the Special Prosecutions Unit, assigned with the task of assassinating Newton, broke into his place. They finished their mission by having a cohort of Newton drug him on the night of the attack, to make certain he would be passed out during the raid, at which point Newton was shot several times in his sleep. Yes, this is the kind of stuff Director Mueller was talking about when he said of his agency, "You have inspired generations of children who have grown up dreaming of joining your ranks."

The same longtime Director (from the New Deal until his death in 1972) was also an avowed racist, and when Hoover was not fulminating against gays as national security risks, while privately prancing around in women's undergarments and sleeping with Clyde Tolson in his domicile, he took great interest in the civil rights movement. However, Hoover's conclusion was slightly different than the activists and progressives of that period. Whereas the radicals of that time (and in those days it was seen as radical) advocated racial justice, Hoover (raised by a family of white supremacists) viewed the concept of African Americans voting, being integrated with whites and, dare the thought, retaining legal rights on par with people like himself, was anathema to the very core of the director's ethos. He quickly put the FBI in action--to suppress the civil rights movement, at all costs. He included the NAACP as a "Communist front" organization, had every major civil rights leader wiretapped, followed, and harassed, and publicly lambasted the greatest leader of the movement, Martin Luther King Jr., as having the "morals of a tomcat."

We sometimes forget what the white right really thinks of African Americans in this country, particularly back when publicly-expressed racialist sentiments by whites was considered more acceptable. It is a long held and dishonorable record of intolerance and obstructionism to anything resembling equal rights. When Ronald Reagan was Governor of California, he not only fought against civil rights leaders from speaking on college campuses (labeling them "Communists" [truth be told, many of them were because the Communists in those days were one of the few political groupings that welcomed people of color]), but also opposed naming public buildings after Martin Luther King and even opposed a Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday (until the political pressure became too great). When John McCain was first elected to Congress, he not only voted against civil rights legislation, he too was an opponent of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And by opposition to civil rights, here is but a snippet of what the average conservative in the 1950s and '60s felt about segregation.
"[T]he central question that emerges… is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race." (William F. Buckley)
This is the same William Buckley that George Bush paid homage to following the former's death this past February.

J. Edgar Hoover was cut from the same ideological cloth as the Buckleys and Reagans. His hatred for Martin Luther King was so great, he even took the extraordinary step of having King's private behavior and acts taped, sending a copy of such an event (allegedly of King and a female companion at some hotel) to King's house, with a message encouraging him to commit suicide. That is the FBI we are supposed to be so proud and in awe of.

It should also be noted that the FBI has a special place in its heart for the political Left--namely stalking, imprisonment, and death, and I suppose credit must be given in that they also like meting out their special brand of treatment on other groups of progressives, such as student radicals. When the Weathermen group was running around the US in the early 1970s, bombing empty buildings to show solidarity with the workers of the world, there was the FBI illegally wiretapping the phones, monitoring the mail of family members without a search warrant. This was before FISA and the Patriot Act, so as hard as this may be to believe today,the FBI's actions were actually a violation of the Constitution (as the document was originally intended by the people who bothered to write the Bill of Rights). Due to those tactics, most of the Weathermen went free.

Another favorite tactic of the FBI, usually in collusion with local police/thugs, was to infiltrate leftist organizations, with phony members, and then instigate acts of violence or break-ins, to sow internal dissent and, over time, cause a split from within the targeted organization. Some of the frequent targets of this tactic included, not surprisingly, the Black Panthers, as well as the American Indian Movement. This infiltration ploy even once led to an attempted cover up of the murder of a civil rights activist (killed by a Ku Klux Klansmen, one of whom moonlighted as an FBI informant). How far did the FBI go to cover its tracks? Hoover had the FBI plant stories that the murdered activist (Viola Liuzzo) was a Communist Party member who deserted her family to go south, doubling as a campaigner so to secure sexual liaisons with members of the civil rights movement (an accusation every bit as damaging to most white people in the '60s as being a Communist).

So, while the apologists in law enforcement choose to pay tribute to this antithesis to a free society, I choose to pay my respects to a couple of real heroes and victims of the FBI. You should too. They helped to contribute in their way to the gains we have in civil rights. RIP, Huey Newton and Viola Liuzzo.

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