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Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class A production of I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to the podcast, I'm Tracy Wilson, and I'm Holly Fry. Something that has come up several times on our show is FBI surveillance of people who were associated with the civil rights movement in the United States. Most recently, we talked about the bureau creating this file on James Baldwin. That was more than 700 pages long. And in earlier episodes, we've talked about things like the FBI using wiretaps to spy on Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr.
A lot of this surveillance was connected to a series of counterintelligence programs or COINTEL probes that primarily targeted left wing organizations and people in the U.S. From 1956 until 1971, the FBI framed this as work that was necessary to prevent violence and protect national security. But a whole lot of the people and organizations that they targeted were not violent and were not threatening national security. Mostly they were just threatening the status quo. And the FBI pursued the one COINTELPRO that really, really was focused on violent organizations with a totally different end in mind than what it pursued with the other operations.
This is one of those topics that includes a whole lot of history that is just a complicated tangle. So we're going to tackle it in two parts today. We'll talk about the history of the FBI, especially as it related to communism and perceived subversive threats, because all that fed directly into COINTELPRO. We're also going to give an overview of the types of tactics that the FBI used across these various programs. And we're going to talk about the one COINTELPRO that was kind of an outlier in all of this, which was COINTELPRO, white hate.
Next time we will get into some of the specifics of the COINTELPRO. Was that targeted black liberation organizations and the new left, as well as how these programs were finally exposed to the public. The investigation team that would become the US Federal Bureau of Investigation was established in eight. And at first this was a small group of newly hired investigators who worked for the Department of Justice under the Office of the Chief Examiner. Before this point, when the Department of Justice needed investigators, it had either hired private investigators or borrowed investigators from other departments.
In 1999, the Office of the Chief Examiner was renamed the Bureau of Investigation.
The bureau's work involved enforcing federal law and helping to protect the nation from threats. In 1917, just after the U.S. entered World War One, Congress passed the Espionage Act, or an act to punish acts of interference with foreign relations, the neutrality of the foreign commerce of the United States to punish espionage and better to enforce the criminal laws of the United States and for other purposes. The Bureau of Investigation had become the government's largest investigative agency, and it was tasked with enforcing the Espionage Act.
The Bureau of Investigation also had an assortment of other duties, including guarding the U.S. border with Mexico during the Mexican Revolution.
The same year that the Espionage Act was passed, J. Edgar Hoover joined the Department of Justice. The following year, Congress passed the Sedition Act, which expanded the Espionage Act to focus on anti-war activists and socialists. The Sedition Act made it a federal crime to, quote, willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language about the form of the government of the United States. It also outlawed urging, inciting or advocating any curtailment or reduction in the production of war material.
Then in 1919, U.S. Attorney General Amos Palmyra's home was bombed. This was part of a series of mail bombings carried out that year with seven other bombings happening on that same night. We have a two part episode on the bombings and the massive series of raids and deportations that followed. And that two parter originally came out. In 2016, J.
Edgar Hoover led a team to investigate these bombings and the Espionage and Sedition Acts were a big part of it. The raids, incarcerations and deportations that followed became known as the Palmer raids, and they were part of the first red scare, which was a widespread fear of Bolshevists, anarchists, socialists and immigrants as a threat to American life and national security.
By 1920, Attorney General Palmyra's handling of these investigations had come under intense scrutiny from both within and outside of the US government. On May 28th of that year, a team of 12 lawyers issued a report on the raids. This report detailed cruel and unusual punishments, arrests without warrant, unreasonable searches and seizures, compelling persons to witness against themselves. Propaganda by the Department of. Justice and provocative agents, which were basically operatives who entrapped people, Palmer's reputation suffered as a result of all this, and he returned to private practice after failing to win the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
William J. Flynn was director of the Bureau of Investigation at the time, and soon he was replaced as well. The Espionage and Sedition Acts were repealed in 1920 and 1921, but Hoover's reputation wasn't really tarnished by his involvement in all of this.
Soon, he was being groomed to take over the bureau. J. Edgar Hoover became the Bureau of Investigations director in 1924, and the bureau was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935.
Of course, there is a ton of history between when Hoover joined the Department of Justice and when the FBI started its COINTEL process. Hoover was involved in modernizing and standardizing the FBI, and the bureau itself was involved in investigating organized crime during Prohibition during World War Two.
The FBI also maintained lists of Japanese, German and Italian nationals believed to be a threat to domestic security and kept those people under surveillance. Then, of course, Japanese immigrants and their American born descendants were incarcerated under executive order in 1966. That is also covered in the previous two parter of the podcast.
The Central Intelligence Agency was founded in 1947 to focus on foreign intelligence that left the FBI to focus on domestic intelligence and on investigating federal crimes. This creation of the CIA happened under the National Security Act of 1947, and that act also included this definition of counterintelligence, quote, information gathered and activities conducted to protect against espionage, other intelligence activities, sabotage or assassinations conducted by or on behalf of foreign governments or elements thereof, foreign organisations or foreign persons or international terrorist activities.
A big part of this same time span was the fight against communism, following a precedent that had been set by the Palmer raids, the first Red Scare and the Espionage and Sedition Acts in 1940. Congress passed the Alien Registration Act, also known as the Smith Act, and this act included clauses that made it illegal for any citizen or resident of the U.S. to quote, advocate Abbett, advise or teach the duty, necessity, desirability or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence.
Just as the Espionage and Sedition Acts had been used to target political dissenters and immigrants. The Smith Act became a primary tool for prosecuting communists. In 1948, 11 leaders of the Communist Party USA were tried and convicted under the Smith Act. They hadn't been directly advocating for the overthrow of the U.S. government, but they had been teaching from works by Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin that described the revolutionary overthrow of governments as necessary. The Supreme Court upheld these convictions and Dennis versus the United States in 1951, and this court decision moved the country away from an earlier standard that required evidence of a clear and present danger in order to justify the government placing limits on free speech.
The focus on communism escalated during the Cold War. World War Two had left the U.S. and the USSR as the two remaining superpowers, and at first the U.S. was the only one with nuclear weapons. But the Soviet Union detonated its first nuclear device in 1949, and soon it became clear that spies had been at work within the U.S. nuclear program. This sparked an increasing fixation on the idea that Soviet agents were infiltrating the United States, including through the U.S. Communist Party.
There was also a more general fear of communist infiltration, regardless of whether a particular person or organization had ties back to the Soviet Union.
The House un-American Activities Committee had been established in 1938 to investigate suspected disloyalty, including ties to communism during the Cold War. The committee's activities became notorious under the direction of Senator Joseph McCarthy. This was all part of the Second Red Scare, which was another national panic, this time focused on the idea of communist infiltration. This panic grew out of the tensions between the U.S. and the USSR, and it was further inflamed by other events like the Chinese Communist Revolution, which started in 1949, and the Korean War, which started in 1950.
To be clear, some of the people targeted by the House un-American Activities Committee really were communists or otherwise had to. Ties to the Communist Party and there were some communists who really did have ties back to the Soviet Union and its leadership, even to the point of spying on the U.S. or expressing overt loyalty to the Soviet Union and its leadership.
But the overall paranoia was disproportionate to the actual level of threat or the number of communists who had ties to the USSR that also went way beyond communism and started targeting more general political activity and dissent.
The Communist Party had advocated for things like labor rights, civil rights and women's rights. And that made it really easy to brand anyone who fought for these same causes as a communist.
As McCarthy, Hoover and other public figures stoked existing fear and paranoia, the government and private organizations tried to purge themselves of anyone deemed to be disloyal or a security threat for any reason. For example, anyone who might be susceptible to blackmail. And the national climate was one of suspicion, repression and fear.
By early 1954, McCarthy's support was starting to wane because of his aggressive tactics with the committee. I can't remember now if we mentioned this already, but there are also his yet another two parter on this. Back in the archive, after he accused several Army officers of having communist ties, his own behavior was investigated and the Senate voted to condemn his conduct. On December 2nd of 1954, although the House un-American Activities Committee still existed, its prominence and its reputation declined through the late 1950s and 60s.
In a lot of ways, the FBI's COINTELPRO was picked up where the House un-American Activities Committee left off. And we're going to talk more about that after we pause for a sponsor break. Hey, it's Bobby Bones, executive producer of Make It Up as we Go, the brand new podcast from Audio Up and I Heart Radio brought to you exclusively by Unilever's Noor and Magnum Brands. The story follows a songwriter's journey as well as the songs themselves and how they make it to country radio from executive producer Miranda Lambert and creators Scarlett Burg and Jared Goosestep, a story inspired by the competitive world of Nashville writing rooms featuring original music by Scarlett Burke, director and executive producer, featuring some of the biggest names in country, including The Cool Guy and everything now.
Nowadays, everything, just like now. It's been like one day on a Saturday night. Make it up as we go only on the podcast network in association with Audio of media created by Scarlett Burke and Jared Goosestep. The FBI and the House un-American Activities Committee were actively working together during the McCarthy era, but the FBI didn't really publicize what it was doing or try to promote the overall idea that communists had infiltrated a lot of American institutions, particularly Hollywood.
It left that to the committee whose activities were publicly known and reported in the press. One of the papers that I read while researching all of this described the FBI during this time as laundering intelligence and counterintelligence activities through the House un-American Activities Committee.
So when the House un-American Activities Committee came under scrutiny in 1954, its own activities declined, but the FBI's related work did not. Instead, J. Edgar Hoover drew on the Communist Control Act of 1954 or, quote, an act to outlaw the Communist Party to prohibit members of communist organizations from serving in certain representative capacities and for other purposes, nice and specific there. This act banned the Communist Party of the United States, framing it not as a legitimate political party, but as a conspiracy to overthrow the government.
This law came out of the same ongoing fear and suspicion of communism, and it also connected specifically to the labor movement. There was some overlap between the Communist Party and union organizers, and the act specifically banned members of the Communist Party from holding office and labor organizations. This was purportedly to protect unsuspecting workers from communist subversion, but really granted the government a lot of leeway to investigate labor organizations and to invalidate their collective bargaining agreements if they were determined to be communist infiltrated.
Hoover interpreted the Communist Control Act as giving the FBI broad authority to investigate and proactively disrupt communist threats in the U.S.. And when the bureau started these counterintelligence programs, at first the focus was on communism, the first formal COINTELPRO built on ongoing counterintelligence efforts that targeted communists. It was called COINTELPRO, Communist Party USA or CPUSA, and that was launched in 1956.
This formal COINTELPRO grew out of a series of field conferences that were held that year as suspected communists had been brought to trial under the Smith Act, the FBI's informants from within the Communist Party had been exposed when they were brought in to testify in court.
These field conferences were held in part to figure out how the bureau could recruit new informants. A counterintelligence program was recommended as a way to keep targeting communists while recruiting new informants.
Shortly after the FBI established COINTELPRO Communist Party USA, the U.S. Supreme Court partially reversed its earlier decision in Dennis' versus the United States. This time, the decision was in Yates v. United States. The Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, ruled that radical reactionary speech was protected under the First Amendment. People could talk about revolution and overthrowing the government in the abstract, and that was protected speech unless it posed a clear and present danger.
This overturned the convictions of 14 people who had been charged with violating the Smith Act. On the same day, the Supreme Court also issued two other decisions in cases involving communism and members of the Communist Party, and both cases protected their rights to things like privacy and due process.
These Supreme Court decisions were the first of a series that overturned or narrowed the focus of laws that had been providing the foundation for the FBI's activities against suspected communists. The FBI argued that these court rulings left them with no other choice but to fight communism through covert counterintelligence.
So by the time the COINTELPRO was were uncovered and investigated, more than half of all the proposed operations had been aimed at the Communist Party USA. The FBI carried out one thousand three hundred eighty eight separate documented efforts against the Communist Party, whose membership went from twenty two thousand in the early 1950s to 3000 by 1957. But the focus expanded out from communism. COINTELPRO, CPUSA targeted communists and suspected communists and then organizations that had communists among their members and then organizations that were maybe tangentially connected to suspected communists and then organizations whose purpose and goals had some common themes with the Communist Party, even if there were no communists involved.
And then the definition of. Communism expanded to include pretty much anything that the bureau considered to be subversive COINTELPRO, CPUSA also included counterintelligence operations against civil rights activists, initially because of known or suspected ties to communism. For example, Stanley David Levison was a friend and adviser to Martin Luther King Jr., and he had also been one of the major financiers of the Communist Party USA. But this targeting of civil rights activists was not just about actual connections to communism.
It was also because the bureau saw civil rights work in the U.S. in general as a subversive threat. So as COINTELPRO CPUSA expanded, the FBI put intense efforts into discrediting and disrupting civil rights organizations. The FBI repeatedly broke into civil rights organizations offices to steal documents and got the IRS to start spurious audits of civil rights leaders. In 1964, the FBI sent an anonymous letter to Martin Luther King Jr., supposedly written by an anonymous black person calling him, quote, a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that.
This letter was accompanied by an audio recording purportedly documenting evidence of King's extramarital affairs. It ended by saying that there was, quote, only one thing left for you to do. The implication was that King should take his own life and it said he had thirty four days to do it. That deadline being the day he was due to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
So those are just examples of the targeting of civil rights groups. And as the focus of COINTELPRO CPUSA expanded, the bureau also started establishing other separate counterintelligence programs when a Senate committee investigated the U.S. government's intelligence operations starting in 1975. We're going to talk about that. In part two, they found five specific named FBI, COINTELPRO, including COINTELPRO, Communist Party USA, the next COINTELPRO Socialist Workers Party started in 1961. The sun was short lived. There's a whole bunch of Freedom of Information Act stuff on the FBI website, and this one only has like three pages.
Our three lengths of stuff to go through, like the other ones have sometimes 20 and 30 and multiple pages of links to go through. So we're not covering that one in as much detail. But one of the things that the bureau routinely did was to target Socialist Workers Party members who were running for public office to undermine their political campaigns. In 1964, the bureau launched COINTELPRO White Hate COINTELPRO. Black nationalist hate groups started in 1967 and COINTELPRO New Left started in 1968.
Other counterintelligence programs were also unearthed later on with targets that included the American Indian Movement and Puerto Rican independence activists.
Ostensibly, the goals of all these counterintelligence programs were to protect national security and to prevent violence. And to do that, the FBI would, quote, expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize its targets. The one exception was COINTELPRO white hate. And with that, the FBI was focused on curbing white nationalist violence rather than neutralizing the targeted groups altogether, which was more the focus in the other COINTELPRO. We're going to get to more about that in a bit.
At the same time, even though the FBI was purportedly preventing violence, some of these operations incited violence. For example, the FBI tried to start or escalate violent disputes between the Black Panthers and street gangs operating in the same areas. As another example. It's not clear whether the FBI played a direct part in the assassination of Malcolm X, but the bureau definitely stoked the divisions and disputes within the Nation of Islam that led to his assassination. Another bureau effort that was unearthed later was Operation Hoodwink, which was an effort to, quote, evoke a dispute between CPUSA and La Cosa Nostra, in other words, to try to start a war between the Communist Party and the Sicilian Mafia and beyond these ideas of national security and violence prevention.
These programs also worked to maintain the existing social and political order in the United States is COINTELPRO, many of them targeted organizations that were not violent and did not threaten national security. But they did advocate for changes big and small, and how the country operated or treated its residents and citizens, especially women and people of color.
Although there was some variation from one to another, which we will get into, the bureau tended to use similar tactics all across all of these various counterintelligence programs. Most of these tactics came from counterintelligence work that had been carried out in foreign countries during wartime with outcomes that the FBI considered to be successful. In other words, the United States had honed these techniques against its enemies during wartime, and then the FBI started using them in the U.S. against its own citizens.
To quote the church committee report, which followed a Senate investigation into U.S. intelligence activities, quote, The techniques were adopted wholesale from wartime counterintelligence and ranged from the trivial Mei-Ling reprints of Reader's Digest articles to college administrators, to the degrading, sending anonymous poison pen letters, intending to break up marriages and the dangerous encouraging gang warfare and falsely labeling members of violent groups as police informers. So the bureau relied on informants, surveillance and other investigative tools to get information about organizations, their activities and their members.
This included everything from conducting interviews to opening and photocopying people's mail to breaking into organizations offices to tap phones and copy documents. Then it used that information to create division, distrust and dissent. Sometimes the interviews themselves did that work, interviewing members of an organization to make others suspect they were informants or conducting multiple simultaneous interviews to make people think that their organization had been infiltrated. One specific tactic used to breed distrust was called snitch jacketing, also known as bad jacketing, which involved using things like planted evidence and faked communications to make it seem like a loyal member of an organization was really an FBI informant.
In some cases, FBI informants planted the suspicion that loyal members were informants to shift the focus off of themselves. And the FBI used this tactic within organizations that had a reputation for violence, as mentioned earlier, even though that carried the real potential for the targeted member to be assassinated or otherwise harmed.
The bureau also called people's parents, employers, landlords and universities to inform them of their involvement in targeted organizations to try to get them fired, evicted or expelled. Many of the targets of COINTELPRO new left. We're college students and the FBI either contacted their parents to tell them about their children's purportedly subversive activities or they faked calls from parents to students haranguing them for their political activity.
The FBI also created and distributed published material that was meant to discredit their targets. And they fed news stories sometimes real and sometimes fabricated to the media. FBI informants gave media interviews in which they intentionally tried to make the organizations they were purportedly representing look as bad as possible, whether it was through using loaded rhetoric or emphasizing a group's most controversial viewpoints or just seeming unhinged. The FBI also paid informants to make false statements, for example, paying informants who were part of nonviolent organizations to make public calls for violence.
In some cases, the bureau even set up local branches of an organization with the branches entire membership being made up completely of informants. Or they set up new fictitious organizations whose members were all informants so that they could work against their actual targets. The FBI also outed gay people and spread rumors about people's sexual orientations, regardless of what their sexual orientation actually was. They made postcards and mailed them to people's homes, like, for example, a card that said, quote, Thank you for your successful participation in anti-establishment and anti military industrial complex activities.
And those were sent to college students parental addresses during COINTELPRO New Left. The bureau used postcards specifically so that mail carriers, other members of a target's household and others could also see the messaging. And so the intended target would wonder who else might have seen it. Although most of these tactics were used across all the different counterintelligence programs, they weren't used identically or to the same extent from one to another. For example, the FBI didn't really create a lot of false documents to drive negative publicity for the Ku Klux Klan under COINTELPRO.
White hate it didn't really need to, since the Ku Klux Klan activities included openly harassing and murdering civil rights activists. As another example, the FBI also used tactics that had the potential to cause really serious physical, emotional or economic harm during COINTELPRO black nationalist hate groups, but really rarely used similar tactics when they were working in COINTELPRO white hate, although the FBI was fairly insulated from other government departments, which is how it was able to carry out these kinds of programs for so long.
It also pulled in other departments and bureaus. As part of this work, the FBI leaked real and false information to the IRS, prompting audits of civil rights leaders and other targets, essentially using the IRS to harass people. It did the same with local police, leading to things like police harassment arrests, false charges, and just as selective enforcement of existing laws, depending on who the FBI thought deserved to be prosecuted.
Basically, all these efforts combined investigation, disinformation, psychological warfare and harassment to try to destroy organizations that the FBI thought were threatening. Or in the case of COINTELPRO, I hate to just try to curb those organizations violence rather than trying to neutralize them altogether. And all of this, the FBI's focus was on whether what it was doing was effective, not on whether these tactics were constitutional or otherwise legal. According to the FBI, COINTELPRO operations were a tiny proportion of its overall work between 1956 and 1971, quote, about two tenths of one percent of the FBI's workload over a 15 year period.
At the same time, more than 50000 pages of COINTELPRO documents were released to the public. Starting in the 1970s, a Senate investigation concluded that the FBI had carried out two thousand three hundred seventy separate counterintelligence actions, with almost 1000 additional actions being proposed but not carried out. More were unearthed.
Later on, we're going to talk about COINTELPRO white hate, which, as we've noted, is kind of an outlier in all of this after a quick sponsor break. The FBI established most of its COINTELPRO because it believed that the people and organizations that it was targeting were a threat. Overwhelmingly, these targets were on the political left. They were people in groups who were advocating for things like civil rights, black liberation, women's liberation, pacifism, socialism, communism, nuclear disarmament, and an end to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Things like that. As we noted at the top of the show, there were exceptions, but most of the time, the people and organizations being targeted weren't violent threats. Even organizations that weren't specifically nonviolent a lot of the time were focused on defending themselves with violence if necessary, not on instigating violence. Or in some cases, there were individual members of an organization that were involved in violence while the organization itself was not COINTELPRO. White Hate started on July 30th, 1964, and in many ways it was an outlier when compared to the other COINTELPRO pros.
Most of the other programs shifted and expanded over time, and some of them were particularly vague. For example, in COINTELPRO New Left, the FBI did not have a precise definition for what New Left even meant. But COINTELPRO white hate was focused on white supremacist groups, especially the Ku Klux Klan, and it kept that focus throughout its whole existence.
The Ku Klux Klan has been through a few iterations in the United States, and it surged in popularity during the civil rights movement, with its members fighting against integration and terrorizing black people in other communities, using everything from cross burnings to murder. COINTELPRO White Hate targeted 17 Ku Klux Klan organizations and nine other hate groups, including the American Nazi Party.
Another big difference is that many of the other COINTEL pros were focused on organizations that were challenging the status quo. The Ku Klux Klan and other targeted hate groups, on the other hand, were maintaining the status quo by upholding segregation, racism and white supremacy. They harassed, threatened and murdered integrationists and civil rights workers, primarily in the southern United States. In general, members of these organizations were also Christian, anti-communist, intensely patriotic and supportive of both local and federal law enforcement.
So unlike with the other COINTELPRO, the FBI's goal wasn't to totally neutralize these groups, it was just to curb their violence and prevent that violence from spreading to other groups.
The FBI also took the initiative to launch its other. COINTELPRO was based on its own assessments of what constituted a threat. But COINTELPRO white hate followed intense pressure from outside the bureau, including from President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Current and former Klansman and other white supremacists had carried out a whole series of murders and other acts of violence. That's included the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which killed 14 year old Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair and Carole Robertson, an eleven year old Cynthia Wesley.
It also included the 1963 murder of Medgar Evers and the 1964 murders of civil rights activists Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney.
After COINTELPRO, white hate started, members of the Klan also murdered Viola Liuzzo, and one of the participants in that murder might have been a paid FBI informant. The FBI was criticized for failing to prevent or intervene in any of this, something that the bureau had argued was not part of its jurisdiction. But the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had guaranteed black Americans equal protection under the law and a number of different contexts, which made it hard for the FBI to continue that argument.
COINTELPRO White Hate then served several purposes for the FBI. It allowed the bureau to demonstrate for the president and the attorney general that it was doing something to investigate these crimes. At the same time, by using covert counterintelligence, the FBI could do most of this work in secret without alienating or antagonizing Southern law enforcement, many of whom tacitly allowed the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups to operate in their area or actively participated. As a side note, when J.
Edgar Hoover said, quote, Dr. Martin Luther King is the most notorious liar in the country in 1964, that was in response to King's criticisms that the bureau was too friendly with Southern segregationists and that the Southern FBI agents were not taking threats to black Americans seriously.
The FBI used a lot of the types of tactics that we discussed earlier in the episode during COINTELPRO White Hate. As we noted earlier, the bureau didn't really need to create materials to try to. Bring bad P.R. to the clan because the clan was doing a lot of that work for them. The FBI publicized not only their hate crimes, but also other crimes committed by clan leaders and members, including things like embezzlement and attempting to arrange marriages between clan members and underage girls.
The FBI also publicly identified Klan leaders, including leaking their names to the press, who published critical articles and satirical editorial cartoons after the House un-American Activities Committee held hearings on the Klan, something that the committee was pressured to take on. The FBI released those findings to the press as well. The FBI also worked to sow distrust within these organizations. They sent thousands of postcards to Klan members that either implied or flat out said that the government had infiltrated the organization or that accused KKK leaders of fraud or other wrongdoing.
Is, Postcard said, things like Klansmen trying to hide your identity behind your seat. If you received this, someone knows who you are. Once again, these postcards served multiple purposes to make Klan members think the organization had been infiltrated to make them wonder how many other people had seen that postcard on its way to them and to make it possible for other people, including postal workers, to see that the target was in the Klan during COINTELPRO White Hate, the bureau created the National Committee for Domestic Tranquility, which sent letters and other materials to Klan members to stoke dissent and spread rumors about informants.
They printed accusations that Klan leaders were the Antichrist.
And kind of a weird irony, the FBI, which we've talked about, was really focused on undermining communism, tried to undermine Klan membership by spreading rumors that communists had infiltrated the organizations. The organization itself was fiercely anti-communist. Some of the operations were almost bizarre. In one instance, the FBI collected the charred remnants of a cross that the Klan had burned and then had it delivered by courier to a Klan meeting, hoping to reinforce the idea that not only had someone known about the cross burning and who was behind it, but that they also knew when and where the group gathered.
It's not clear how effective this was. According to the book that I was reading about this, they took it outside and tried to light it on fire again. The targeted hate groups naturally realized that they had informants in their midst. Some turned toward requiring lie detector tests and questioning people under the effects of sodium pentothal to try to determine whether a person was loyal.
It is not clear whether COINTELPRO white hate thwarted white supremacist violence. But overall, membership in the Klan did drop during these years, from an estimated 14 to 15000 members before COINTELPRO to four thousand three hundred in 1971. It does also seem that public perceptions of the Klan shifted during these same years, with more people, especially more white people, seeing the Klan and similar hate groups as violent and unstable and mentally connecting the Klan to Nazis. Some white Southern leaders who had tacitly or directly approved of the Klan's activities gradually distanced themselves during the bureau's operations.
So in the next episode, we're going to talk more about some of the other COINTEL probes, including intense targeting of the Black Panthers. And we'll also talk about, honestly, one of my favorite parts of this whole story, which is how these programs were finally exposed. That is a very, very good story.
So good you have in the realm of good stories, I hope a listener mail.
I do. I do. This is from I think this name is pronounced Lya. I'm very sorry if I have said it wrong. Leah says Hello, Holly and Tracy, thank you for all the great subjects we cover in your episodes. I enjoy listening whenever my toddler allows me to. I never thought I'd be sending you an email, but the episode on the history of beekeeping changed my mind. My grandparents lived in Oregon and an old depot station building that was converted into a home.
The building still exists, as far as I know. But as a child, I visited this building, which was then the home of a real estate business and what was once the kitchen, my grandparents had an observation beehive. The beehive was still there when I visited as a child, but the room was no longer a kitchen. This home has some history because as the story is told in my family, my grandfather used some dynamite to remove plaster off the walls when doing some home renovation.
It did just that and split a hole in the corner of the house. I don't remember my grandparents very well. They died when I was very young. Your episode on beekeeping reminded me of them. As a side note. I grew up with my father keeping bees in our lot in California. We kept them at the very back of the lot in the chicken coop I grew up. Chewing on the honeycomb caps that were sliced off the honeycomb itself with a hot knife, we collected so much, honey, that I don't think we ever bought honey for 20 years later, however, when my mom passed away and we had to clean out and sell her house, we found some honey containers that had leaked and left stains on the cement floor of the basement.
I don't think the new owners will ever guess that the stain was caused by honey. Thanks again for your great storytelling and unlocking the world beyond my home during this time lapse. I know you like really long titles. I hope the long subject line catches your attention. And this subject line for everyone's delight is observation beehive in the kitchen, dynamite for home reneau and honey stains on cement floor.
So thank you so much for this email, Leah. I hope everybody, as we've said before, is just keeping themselves as safe as it's possible to do.
I know stuff is still really hard for everyone and, you know, particularly hard for the people that are facing multiple, multiple crises that are unfolding at the same time. So thank you, everyone, for listening. Thank you, Leah, for this email.
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