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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.
Today, we are wrapping up our two parter on COINTELPRO, including its targeting of so-called black nationalist hate groups and a targeting of a very vaguely defined movement known as the New Left. To briefly recap from Part one, which is highly recommended before listening to this, because it includes a lot of context and overview. But just as a quick recap, we're going to quote from the church report, which followed more than a year of Senate committee hearings into all this, quote, The origins of COINTELPRO demonstrate that the bureau adopted extralegal methods to counter perceived threats to national security and public order because the ordinary legal processes were believed to be insufficient to do the job.
In essence, the bureau took the law into its own hands, conducting a sophisticated vigilante operation against domestic enemies. Whether those targets were really enemies, though, that is a different question. The report went on to say, quote, The choice of individuals and organizations to be neutralized and disrupted ranged from the violent elements of the Black Panther Party to Martin Luther King Jr., who the bureau concedes was an advocate of nonviolence from the Communist Party to the Ku Klux Klan, from the advocates of violent revolution such as the Weathermen, to the supporters of peaceful social change, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Inter University Committee for Debate on Foreign Policy.
Just a heads up in this episode. There are going to be some discussions of suicide and also police violence. In 1967, the FBI started COINTELPRO black nationalist hate groups, for the most part targeting of civil rights groups that had been carried out under COINTELPRO. CPUSA, which we talked about last time, rolled up under this newly established program. In the words of the program supervisor, the targeted groups were selected because they were believed to be violent or because of their, quote, radical or revolutionary rhetoric and actions.
On March 4th, 1968, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent a memo to be routed through forty one FBI field offices. This memo was called Counterintelligence Program, Black Nationalist Hate Groups, Racial Intelligence. And this is a little bit long, but it's so illustrative of what the FBI was doing here and more generally, what Hoover's mindset was across the other COINTELPRO. We're going to read a chunk of it. So it began, quote, goals for maximum effectiveness of the counterintelligence program and to prevent wasted effort, long range goals are being set.
Number one, prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups in unity. There is strength, a truism that is no less valid for all its triteness. An effective coalition of black nationalist groups might be the first step toward a real Mamou in America, the beginning of a true black revolution. So for context, Mamou is a reference to the Mamou movement and uprising in Kenya, which advocated a violent overthrow of British colonial rule.
This went on to prevent the rise of a messiah who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement. Malcolm X might have been such a messiah. He is the martyr of the movement today. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Elijah Muhammad all aspire to this position. Elijah Muhammad is less of a threat because of his age. King could be a very real contender for this position should he abandoned his supposed, quote, obedience to quote white liberal doctrines and parentheses nonviolence and embrace black nationalism.
Carmichael has the necessary charisma to be a real threat in this way.
Number three, prevent violence on the part of black nationalist groups. This is of primary importance and is, of course, a goal of our investigative activity. It should also be a goal of the counterintelligence program to pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them before they exercise their potential for violence.
Number four, prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability by discrediting them to three separate segments of the community. The goal of discrediting black nationalists must be handled tactically in three ways. You must discredit those groups and individuals to first, the responsible Negro community. Second, they must be discredited to the white community, both the responsible community and to liberals who have vestiges of sympathy for militant black nationalist simply because they are Negroes. Third, these groups must be discredited in the eyes of Negro radicals, the followers of the movement.
This last area. Fires entirely different tactics from the first two publicity about violent tendencies and radical statements merely enhances black nationalists to the last group. It adds respectability in a different way. Number five, a final goal should be to prevent the long range growth of militant black organizations, especially among youth specific tactics. To prevent these groups from converting young people must be developed.
This memo went on to outline the primary targets of this COINTELPRO that everything we just read was going to apply to. These were the organizations that Hoover described as the, quote, most violent and radical. It included the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Revolutionary Action Movement and the Nation of Islam. This is an incredibly weird list. They have nonviolent right into the name like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King Jr. helped found.
This represents the whole spectrum of from nonviolent direct action to revolutionary black nationalism. And the FBI even noted that in its view, some individual members of the Nation of Islam had been involved in violence. But the organization itself was not violent. It was being targeted because of its separatism. Basically, the FBI grouped a lot of different organizations with a wide range of objectives and ideologies and tactics under this COINTELPRO that was supposedly about black nationalism and hate groups. Some, as you just mentioned, were strictly pacifist.
Some advocated gun ownership or violent self-defense. Some spoke in very theoretical terms about the need for a revolution. And some of them called for an actual armed uprising or other violence, all very different ideologies. But still under this one umbrella, the FBI class them altogether as violent and radical, viewing virtually any organization calling for equal rights for black people as potentially violent and as a consequence, as needing to be disrupted.
Like the thing that these all had in common was like black people, quality clothing or like demanding equality with very aggressive rhetoric and sometimes violence, like that's what it all had in common. The FBI put intense effort into discrediting and disrupting all these organizations and other organizations that were not specifically named, using all the methods that we talked about in part one. But about a year after this COINTELPRO was established, another different organization rose to national prominence, and that was the Black Panther Party.
And this COINTELPRO then pivoted to shift almost exclusively on that. The Black Panther Party, originally called the Black Panther Party for self-defense, was founded in Oakland, California in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. A lot of the Black Panthers rhetoric was radical and revolutionary, arguing that the only way black people could be truly free is if they were able to govern their own affairs when they were establishing the party, Newton and Seale crafted a ten point program which began, We want freedom.
We want power to determine the destiny of our black community. The ten point program went on to call for full employment, an end to quote the robbery by the capitalists of our black community, decent housing education, exemption for military service for black men, an end to police brutality, freedom for black men who were held in prisons and jails. And it ended, quote, We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace. The ten point plan elaborated on each of these points.
The exemption from military service stemmed from the United States involvement in Vietnam and the idea that black people should not be forced to serve in the military of a nation that did not protect them. The idea behind the release of incarcerated black men was that they had not been given a fair and impartial trial, so their convictions were not valid. As part of their work, the Black Panthers started more than 30 community service programs known as survival programs. These included things like free breakfast programs for schoolchildren, a tuberculosis screening and treatment program, medical clinics, ambulance services, legal aid and education programs.
The Black Panthers also created a screening program for sickle cell disease that later served as a template for the federal government's own screening programs. Over time, a lot of these services were expanded to include anyone who was oppressed, including poor white people. The Black Panthers also showed up to support other marginalized groups in their own activism. They are mentioned two different times in our six impossible episodes from Spin's to Fishermans, which focused on direct action demonstrations and similar protests.
In that episode, we talked about the Black Panther support of the fish in movement in the Pacific Northwest, and they're providing meals to disabled activists who took over the Department of Health, Education and Welfare office in San Francisco during the Section 504 protests.
But today, the first thing a lot of people, especially a lot of white people, think of when someone says the Black Panthers is guns and violence. The Black Panthers organized armed patrols of black neighborhoods to protect residents from police brutality and from gang violence. At one point, they staged an armed takeover of the California state legislature. That was in response to gun control legislation. As other examples outside of the parties organized activities, Huey Newton was involved in a shootout with police in 1967 in which an officer was killed.
Bobby Seale was charged but not convicted with conspiracy to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. And of the murder of a 19 year old Black Panther who was suspected of being a police informant, in a memo back to headquarters, a California field office described the Black Panthers as, quote, the most violence prone organization of all the extremist groups now operating in the United States. And that alleged that they were performing, quote, not only verbal attacks, but also physical attacks on police.
Later, J. Edgar Hoover called the Black Panthers, quote, one of the greatest threats to the nation's internal security. On November 25th, 1968, several FBI field offices received a memo ordering them to submit, quote, imaginative and hard hitting counterintelligence measures aimed at crippling the BPP.
Of course, the Black Panther Party. This directive was expanded to additional field offices in January of 1969. COINTELPRO black nationalist hate groups soon focused almost entirely on the Black Panthers rather than on that collection of groups that we outlined earlier in that 1968 memo of this COINTELPRO 295 documented actions, 233 of them were against the Black Panthers. Using all those various techniques that we described in part one as examples, the FBI intentionally undermined the Black Panthers public service programs, for example, by sending fake inflammatory membership materials to food pantries and other organizations that were donating food for the breakfast programs.
The bureau used disinformation to try to spark violent conflicts between the Panthers and area street gangs and to spark violent conflicts between the Panthers and police to reinforce the idea that the Black Panthers were just inherently violent.
In 1969, the FBI became aware of a Black Panther coloring book. The origins of this book are a little bit murky, but I can. Sonya Cambone, who was then known as Mark T'mar, has taken credit for its creation in a 2016 interview. He describes it as a history book. It depicts slave owners, greedy store owners and police, all as obese pigs with exaggerated lower tusks. While Cambone has stressed that these pigs can be any color, which is why it is a coloring book, they are generally interpreted as representations of white people.
And this book is full of images of black people, adults and children, men and women stabbing and shooting the pigs. Black Panther leadership felt that the coloring book was inappropriate and ordered Cambone to destroy it. But someone made copies and after the FBI obtained one, it made more copies and distributed them as though the Black Panther Party had officially created this book with the intent of distributing it to children.
The FBI's harassment of the Black Panthers also went beyond the organization's membership and its programs, deemed Seeberg was an actress who donated to the Black Panthers in support of their breakfast programs during her pregnancy. The FBI sent false tips to news organizations alleging that the father of her baby was a Black Panther. This, of course, was a huge scandal. Seaburg tried to take her own life. As a result, she went into labor prematurely and her baby died. According to family members, she tried to take her own life every year around the time of the baby's death.
And then she died in 1979. Her death was ruled a suicide, although some of her families had suspicions that there was foul play involved.
And perhaps most notoriously, on December 4th, 1969, the FBI orchestrated a raid that was carried out by Chicago police who fired between 82 and 99 gunshots into an apartment where several members of the Black Panther Party were sleeping. Among other involvement, an FBI informant had provided police with a floor plan of the apartment. Chicago Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed and four other people in the apartment were seriously injured.
Police claimed that this was a violent gunfight, with the Black Panthers being the first to open fire. But an investigation revealed that only one shot had been fired from inside the apartment, most likely by Mark Clark, after he had already been fatally shot by police, according to Hampton's fiancee, Deborah Johnson, who was in bed asleep with him when the shooting started. An officer who came into the apartment after the shooting stopped. Asked if Hampton was still alive, another officer fired two shots and said he's good and dead now.
The Black Panther Party dissolved in 1982 with COINTELPRO being one of the many factors that contributed to its end. Former members say it is unrelated to the New Black Panther Party, which was founded in 1989 and is classified as a hate group by the United States Commission on Civil Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Let's take a 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 Burke 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. They said it might make it up as we go only on the Iraq podcast network in association with audio of media created by Scarlett Burke and Jared Goosestep.
The last formal COINTELPRO that was described in the Senate investigation reports we're going to talk about in a little bit with COINTELPRO new left, and that started in 1968. And of all the formerly named COINTELPRO, this was the most loosely focused. And I mean, as we've discussed, most of them were loosely focused. As we mentioned in part one, the FBI didn't really even have a definition for what new left meant. The new left supervisor who was quoted in the church committee report said, quote, I cannot recall any document that was written defining new left as such.
It is my impression that the characterization of new left groups, rather than being defined at any specific time by document, it more or less grew. It has never been strictly defined. As far as I know.
It is more or less an attitude, I would think, that makes this sound almost like an advertiser sound bite. New left. It's an attitude. The incident that prompted the FBI to create this COINTELPRO was a student uprising at Columbia University in 1968. There was a lot involved in this protest, but its most direct precursor was the university's decision to build a new gym in Morningside Park. Even though the gym was being planned for public land, its facilities would mostly be for use only by the university and not by the public to add to that frustration.
This was part of an ongoing pattern of the university's expansion into Harlem, which was pushing the neighborhoods predominantly black residents out of their homes in order to build facilities that they were not going to be allowed to access. So the resulting protest was complicated. Like we cannot get into all of the nuances here. But generally the university's student Afro-American society or S.A.S. started voicing their own and the community's objections to this gym. And then the school's chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, which was predominantly white, saw this as an opportunity for a larger protest that would also focus on the university's involvement with the Vietnam War.
Members of the SAS felt like they were being talked over and that the SDS was taking the protest in an entirely different direction. And the and the student Afro-American society took over Hamilton Hall and the Students for a Democratic Society took over other buildings on campus and took the dean hostage. There were more than a thousand demonstrators who took part in the campus shutdown that lasted for a week.
At the university's request, the New York Police Department began clearing the demonstrators on April 30th, 1968. Black demonstrators who had taken over Hamilton Hall left peacefully. But as more than 1000 police moved into the other buildings, some of the other demonstrators verbally and physically resisted, including by throwing things like shoes, bathroom tiles and books at officers. Police forcibly removed people beating some of the resisting students and in some cases, bystanders with nightsticks. Others were trampled. In the end, 132 students, four faculty members and 12 police officers were injured.
So COINTELPRO New Left was motivated by the FBI's frustrations that the university had not brought in police earlier and also by a sense that these types of protests should not be permitted to happen in the first place. The directives for COINTELPRO New Left were distributed by a memo in May of 1968, and as described in the church report, agents were to gather information on this is all quote one, false allegations of police brutality to, quote, counter the widespread charges of police brutality that invariably arise following student police encounters to immorality depicting the, quote, scurrilous and depraved nature of many of the character's activities, habits and living conditions.
Representative of New Left adherence and three, action by college administrators to, quote, to show the value of college administrators and school officials taking a firm stand and pointing out, quote, whether and to what extent faculty members rendered aid and encouragement point to. Sounds like a lot of the other counterintelligence efforts we've talked about in COINTEL prose. But otherwise, in the FBI's view, the use of force against demonstrators was warranted. And if demonstrators were injured in the process, they deserved it.
In 1968, both the FBI and the NYPD viewed the amount of force used at Columbia as appropriate and restrained. No tear gas was used, no one was shot, and the injuries sustained by students and faculty were minor enough that those who had to go to the hospital were treated and released.
This is such a weird bar to be such a weird bar of whether the use was a.
The use of force is appropriate, was like, well, OK, nobody, like, died was kind of the right tone of it. However, the FBI also had a similar interpretation in cases of police brutality that were far more clearly egregious. For example, after riots broke out during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, a memo from FBI headquarters to the Chicago field office read, quote, Once again, the liberal press and the bleeding hearts and the forces on the left are taking advantage of the situation in Chicago surrounding the Democratic National Convention to attack the police and organized law enforcement agencies.
We should be mindful of the situation and develop all possible evidence to expose this activity and to refute these false allegations. Conversely, the Walker report, which was prepared for the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, concluded that there really was police wrongdoing. A portion of it read, quote, Demonstrators attacked, too, and they pose difficult problems for police as they persisted in marching through the streets, blocking traffic and intersections. But it was the police who force them out of the park and into the neighborhood.
And on the part of the police, there was enough wild clubs swinging, enough cries of hatred, enough gratuitous beating to make the conclusion inescapable that individual policemen and lots of them committed violent acts far in excess of the requisite force for crowd dispersal or arrest. To read dispassionately, the hundreds of statements describing at firsthand the events of Sunday and Monday nights is to become convinced of the presence of what can only be called a police riot.
So while COINTELPRO New Left was ostensibly about targeting this very vaguely defined collection of left wing demonstrators as being a threat to national security, it was also paired up with this sense of a much needed law enforcement crackdown that was justified and necessary and the need to protect police and other law enforcement from false accusations of brutality.
Aside from that, it is difficult to talk about COINTELPRO new left in a cohesive way. The counterintelligence program wound up targeting virtually every anti-war group in the U.S., as well as student demonstrators who were demonstrating for just about any reason. In the words of the church report, quote, None of the bureau witnesses deposed believes the new left COINTELPRO was generally effective, in part because of the imprecise targeting. Also, the tone of a lot of the FBI memos regarding the new left.
Almost baffled agents really did not get these young people, most of them white and affluent, a lot of them looking like stereotypical hippies agitating against things like police brutality and the Vietnam War. And those include kind of perplexed sounding references to things like yoga and drugs.
Participants in the organizations targeted under COINTELPRO New Left also tended to be simultaneously idealistic and cynical. So the bureau had a harder time finding informants or infiltrating organizations. For example, the main phone at the national headquarters of Students for a Democratic Society had a sign taped to it for more than a year. That said, in capital letters, this phone is tapped.
Yeah, that is not to suggest that the other targeted organizations were clueless. They were just particularly cynical about the bureau.
By this point, the people who ultimately got the ball rolling on exposing COINTELPRO were members of anti-war and other activist movements that had been targeted during these programs history. And we'll talk more about that after a sponsor break. Counterintelligence is still part of the FBI's work, but in terms of these formerly named COINTELPRO, those came to an end thanks to the work of some regular people who pulled off a heist. When we say regular people, they included a cab driver, a day care center director, a social worker and a professor.
It sounds like one of those walk into a bar jokes. I know it's my favorite part of these episodes for the number of reasons. One of them being it's the most straightforward. Yeah. Also it being just kind of a David and Goliath story.
So it had become clear to many of these groups that the FBI was targeting them. Left wing activists viewed the FBI with increasing suspicion, but nobody had evidence of what they thought was happening. In 1970, a group of anti-war activists in the Philadelphia area decided to do something about it. Anti-war activist and college professor William S. Davidson came up with the idea. John and Bonnie Raines, a married couple with small children, were also involved. John had also been a Freedom Rider.
Others included Keith Forsyth, Robert Williamson, Judy Finegold and two people known by pseudonyms. One of those is Susan Smith and the other is Ron Durst. A ninth participant dropped out before the burglary actually took place.
There was no way they could break into the Philadelphia FBI office, which had tight security. So they looked for other FBI field offices, finding one nearby and media Pennsylvania. This office was housed in an apartment building with a shared lobby space, which was adjacent to the county courthouse that cased this area. Bonnie Raines posed as a student from Swarthmore College and arranged a meeting under the guise of researching career opportunities for women at the bureau.
They scheduled their burglary for March 8th, 1971, the night of the fight of the century between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, reasoning that most people would be watching the fight after breaking in. They removed thousands of files which were being stored in regular file cabinets after sorting through what they had stolen. They mailed selections to newspapers and members of Congress anonymously calling themselves the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI.
Most of the newspapers returned these documents to the bureau, but the Washington Post confirmed their authenticity and ran a front page story on March 24th, 1971. It was titled Stolen Documents Describe FBI Surveillance Activities. The article described surveillance of black activist organizations and efforts to enhance existing paranoia to, quote, further serve. To get the point across that there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox. More mail documents and more articles followed. J. Edgar Hoover officially cancelled COINTELPRO on April 27th, 1971, citing security reasons, although some COINTELPRO activities continued just without a specific name attached.
But it wasn't yet clear to anyone outside the bureau what the term COINTELPRO meant or what its scope was. J.
Edgar Hoover died on May 2nd, 1972. He had been the director of the FBI for 48 years.
In 1973 and 1974, NBC journalist Carl Stern filed a series of requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Those requests were repeatedly turned down until the documents were finally released under a court order. And that is when people finally started to get a sense of what COINTELPRO meant and just how huge it was.
In 1974, Seymour Hersh wrote a front page article for the New York Times titled Huge CIA Operation Reported and Use Against Anti-war Forces. This article reported that the CIA was engaged in very COINTELPRO like operations against peace activists in the U.S., but the CIA was not supposed to be operating domestically at all. These news reports sparked outrage within the government and among the general public. President Gerald Ford appointed the Rockefeller Commission to investigate the CIA. The House established the Pike Committee to investigate illegal activities by the CIA, the FBI and the NSA.
The Pike Committee's report was never published. On January 21st, 1975, a resolution was introduced in the Senate to create a committee to investigate federal intelligence operations and determine, quote, the extent, if any, to which illegal, improper or unethical activities were engaged in by any agency of the federal government.
Congressional hearings went on through 1975 and 1976, Senate committee was dubbed the Church Committee, it was headed by Senator Frank Church, a Democrat from Ohio. The other committee members were selected to represent a range of viewpoints and experience levels with the final group, including six Democrats and five Republicans. A staff of 150 people went through the thousands and thousands of pages of documents that were involved in all this. We should take a moment to talk about the FBI documentation.
The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was intensely bureaucratic, with a relentless focus on documenting everything. Also, most of COINTELPRO, whose existence took place before the Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1967. All of it took place before the Privacy Act amendments were added in 1974, which gave citizens the right to see the FBI's files about themselves.
In other words, the FBI was writing everything down and it was not doing so with the thought that anyone might ever read any of this outside of the bureau, whether the information flow was going out to field offices and agents or back into headquarters, nobody was disguising their meaning or intent. Everyone was saying the quiet part loud and doing it in writing. Also, FBI documents from the COINTELPRO era are full of racist slurs and offensive stereotypes of black people. After the FBI formally started COINTELPRO black nationalist hate groups, agents talked candidly about how if they didn't do a good enough job, the bureau was going to be forced to hire black agents.
This idea even came with its own slogan that mimicked the accent of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, a rhyming couplet that ended with the N-word and also as a continuation of that, there were only five black FBI agents during most of the COINTELPRO era. They had been hired as personal assistants or drivers for J. Edgar Hoover. And then they had been given the title special agent during World War Two so that they would not be drafted. So back to the investigations.
Most of the hearings were behind closed doors, both to try to prevent them from turning into a TV spectacle and also to protect information about the U.S. methods for conducting intelligence work. Even so, the hearings were criticized for threatening U.S. intelligence efforts, and Senator Church was accused of using it to bolster a presidential bid. While the search committee wanted to protect legitimate U.S. intelligence efforts, it also wanted the public to have a chance to learn about what was going on.
And to that end, the committee held public hearings in September and October of 1975. These hearings were focused on specific areas of misconduct. This included information about a biological agents program run by the CIA, a domestic surveillance program from the White House, and the FBI's programs to disrupt the civil rights movement and the anti Vietnam War movement.
After 126 full committee meetings, 40 subcommittee meetings, more than 800 witness interviews and a review of more than 110000 documents, the church committee issued a report that described, quote, a pattern of reckless disregard of activities that threatened our constitutional system.
And this was not just unique to the FBI, but the FBI as our focus here. The report went on to say, quote, The abusive techniques used by the FBI and COINTELPRO from 1956 to 1971 included violations of both federal and state statutes prohibiting mail fraud, wire fraud, incitement to violence, sending obscene material through the mail and extortion. More fundamentally, the harassment of innocent citizens engaged in lawful forms of political expression did serious injury to the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech and the right of the people to assemble peaceably and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The report also made it clear that the National Security and Violence Prevention concerns were not the FBI's only motivation. Quote, The unexpressed major premise of the programs was that a law enforcement agency has the duty to do whatever is necessary to combat perceived threats to the existing social and political order. 18 percent of the approved COINTELPRO proposals targeted speakers, teachers, writers or publications, meetings and peaceful demonstrations, all of which were just exercising a constitutional right to free speech operations, tried to stop lawful speakers from speaking teachers, from teaching writers from writing, and demonstrators from demonstrating.
The Senate committee made 96 recommendations to, quote, place intelligence activities within the constitutional scheme for controlling government power. The. Included changes to how the FBI was run that included a 10 year term limit for the director of the bureau. It also included recommendations for additional oversight within the bureau. Every counterintelligence proposal had to be approved by headquarters, but outside the bureau, the programs were almost completely unknown. Specific elements of COINTELPRO, CPUSA and White Hate were both known to various attorneys general, presidential advisers and cabinet and committee members.
For example, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy authorized the bureau's wiretaps of Martin Luther King Jr.. The bureau also notified multiple attorneys general of various accomplishments and progress. Those are their words against the Ku Klux Klan without describing the breadth of what had led to that progress. Even with these two programs, though, the full scope wasn't known outside the bureau. And it appears that the other COINTEL pros weren't known to anyone outside the FBI at all. Efforts to bring in more oversight of the bureau's activities included the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
The exposure of COINTELPRO and the hearings that followed drastically affected mainstream American perceptions of the FBI. According to Gallup polls, the proportion of Americans with a highly favorable view of the FBI dropped from 84 percent in 1965 to 37 percent in 1975. At the same time, no criminal convictions followed the investigations and the church report, even though that report detailed numerous instances of criminal activity. As we said, the FBI is still engaged in counterintelligence. In the years just after COINTELPRO was disbanded, the FBI did extensive counterintelligence work against the American Indian Movement and the committee in solidarity with the people of El Salvador.
This included a disinformation campaign during the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, both to discredit the American Indian movement to the general public and to try to create division within that occupation.
COINTELPRO has also made headlines at numerous points since the mid 70s, comparing it to policies and programs that have been introduced during multiple presidential administrations. This includes comparisons to various aspects of the Patriot Act and the NSA's warrantless surveillance programs in the 2000s. The general focus on black liberation as somehow inherently threatening and violent has also continued to be part of the FBI's rhetoric in 2017 and 2018. Leaked documents revealed that the FBI had targeted black identity extremists as a major threat, with really similar language about potential violence to what was used during COINTELPRO.
Quote, The FBI assesses it is very likely black identity extremist BII perceptions of police brutality against African-Americans spurred an increase in premeditated retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence. This was paired with criticisms that the FBI and other federal agencies were ignoring credible threats of white nationalist violence.
Yeah, this is basically very similar protests to what has been going on in the last few months as we're recording this, which is on July 7th, 2020, with demonstrators basically saying, please stop shooting unarmed black people and the FBI creating this this category of black identity extremist which led people to go. That's not a thing. They made that up. To circle back around to the citizens commission to investigate the FBI, none of them were ever prosecuted in connection with this break in in Media, Pennsylvania.
It is possible that law enforcement believed that the culprits went on to be involved with a different group of anti Vietnam War activists who were known as the Kamden Twenty eight. This group broke into the Camden, New Jersey draft board office and they destroyed draft records there. The Camden 28 were acquitted. Two of the citizens commission to investigate the FBI actually were involved in that. So there's some speculation that law enforcement was like, well, they've already been tried and acquitted of this other thing.
We probably have no chance. Regardless, though, several members of the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI came forward in 2014. Their story is told in the book, The Burglary The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI by Betty Metzger, who also wrote that front page Washington Post story that we mentioned earlier on. I have not read that book, but I have watched the 2014 documentary 1971, which also tells that story.
COINTELPRO, I know it was a lot. Do you have listener mail to take us out, hopefully on a peppier?
No, I mean, it kind of is. This is an email from Alison. I wrote back to Alison, but I thought other people might also find it helpful. Alison was writing about the behind the scenes where Holly and I talked about encountering racism out in the world and whether we were prepared to counter it. And so Alison wrote hi on today's Behind the scenes. Many Tracey, I heard you say you have a response at the ready for when you hear someone say something racist.
I'd love to hear what you would say, or at least a generalisation, because I'm terrible with on the spot responses and terribly regret and think back on my lack of response, a retort. I'd love to hear you're at the ready so I might be able to have in mind and practice so I can be ready if or when that should arise in the future. I hope and wish it would never happen and I'd never have to hear anything as such.
It's just horrible. I love what you both do and never miss an episode. Thanks very much, Alison. So a thing that I am prepared to say, like let's say I'm at the grocery store and the line is moving really slowly, which it probably is right now. And somebody behind me implies that it's because the person running the cash register is incompetent because of their race. I might say I hope you're not saying that to me because you think I agree with you.
I first heard that on a podcast. I'm pretty sure it was on an episode of Politically Reactive towards the end of its run, but I'm not actually sure. And like that is when I want to make it clear to that person that that's not acceptable. The thing that they just said. But I'm also, like, not wanting to start a fight with that person that's a stranger in public. If I'm talking to a family member and the family member says something that is is racist on some level, I might say I don't understand what you mean by that.
Could you explain it to me? And then a lot of times that I like as the person talking, they will hear the words, they are saying a good resource. I have found if you Google responding to everyday bigotry, the first or second result should be a pamphlet that was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center that combines a lot of like real world anonymous examples of when people have encountered bigotry in their everyday lives and like practical responses to that.
I like that it's a publication that's been around for a while. It doesn't cover every conceivable thing and it is based on people's personal experiences. But if you're like, I don't I don't know what I should say when something happens like that can be a good starting point for folks.
So you're so much more thoughtful because I can read all of that. But in the moment, what I say is you're a racist expletive, as probably evidenced by my story about where I wanted to punch a stranger in public. So yeah. Yeah, I am. And that applies to family members as well. Somebody tweeted at us about that story that you had told about being in the cab. And basically that person who I think was was from Ireland basically said that that should have been your response.
So anyway, I mean, even even as we talked about in that behind the scenes episode, like you can be prepared and still freeze up in the moment.
It happens sometimes. But I the first time I read that particular publication, I was like, I feel like I am more prepared now to talk about things. So if you'd like to write to us about this or any other podcast, write history podcast and I heart radio dotcom. We're also all over social media at in history. And if you want to subscribe to our show or on the radio app and Apple podcasts and anywhere else, you get your podcasts.
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