“There is only one thing left for you to do,” the anonymous author warned, “before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.” “You know what it is.”
For years, the existence of the letter had been known, yet it had only been released in drastically redacted form. When Dr. Gage stumbled across the letter, she only confirmed what everyone knew all along: This thinly disguised threat was penned by none other than the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Dr. King knew this the moment he opened the envelope, 50 years ago. Gage writes, “Despite its half-baked prose, self-conscious amateurism and other attempts at misdirection, King was certain the letter had come from the F.B.I. Its infamous director, J. Edgar Hoover, made no secret of his desire to see King discredited.”
Hoover was appointed head of the Bureau of Investigation, the FBI’s predecessor, in 1924. In 1935, he helped found the FBI, which he directed until his death, in 1972. In his half a century of rule, Hoover “waged war on homosexuals, black people and communists,” turning the bureau into what President Truman (no progressive himself, to say the least) warned was becoming the American “Gestapo or secret police.”
MLK is by no means the only American hero whose life the FBI tried to destroy. One need only browse through the digital vault of FBI records that have been declassified and released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), hosted electronically at vault.fbi.gov, to find a slew of US history’s most renowned purveyors of justice. In just this limited archive alone—constituting a mere microscopic percentage of extant FBI files—the bureau has files on:
– the ACLU, Albert Einstein, the American Anti Imperialist League,
– Bertolt Brecht, the Bonus March, the Black Panther Party,
– Carl Sagan, Cesar Chavez, Claudia Jones, Coretta Scott King, Carlos Fuentes,
– Erich Fromm, Edward Abbey,
– Fred Hampton, Fidel Castro, the Freedom Riders,
– Greenpeace, the Gay Activist Alliance,
– Henry Wallace, Hanns Eisler, Helen Keller,
– the League of Women Voters, Lenny Bruce, Luis Buñuel, Langston Hughes, Leonard Bernstein,
– Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X,
– the NAACP, the National Organization for Women (NOW), Nelson Mandela,
– People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Paul Robeson,
– Stokely Carmichael,
– The Grateful Dead, Tupac Shakur, The Beatles,
among many, many, many more human rights activists, freedom fighters, intellectuals, and artists.
Notice a trend among these figures?
Those who have taken the US up on its claims that it provides “freedom,” “equality,” and “democracy” for all citizens—supposedly regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexuality, religion, etc.—have always been a thorn in the side of the US ruling class.
If you have ever openly challenged and mobilized against the structural racism of white supremacy, you probably have an FBI record. If you have ever openly challenged and mobilized against the structural sexism of patriarchy, you probably have an FBI record. If you have ever openly challenged and mobilized against the structural cisheterosexism of cisheteronormativity, you probably have an FBI record. And if you have ever openly challenged and mobilized against the structural inequality of capitalism and concomitant imperialism, you definitely have an FBI record.
In fact, “Anti-War” and “Civil Rights” activists have been blessed with their own special categories in this vault of FBI “criminal” records: