“A March 1968 FBI memo, from the month before King’s death, discussed ways to ‘prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement.’”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation honored Martin Luther King Jr. day on Monday with a tweet praising “Rev. Martin L. King Jr. and his incredible career fighting for civil rights,” without mentioning that the FBI did everything in its power to stop King’s fight for civil rights, including sending the civil rights leader a letter that called him an “evil, abnormal beast” and pressured him to kill himself.
Under former FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, the Bureau wiretapped and tracked King everywhere he went under the pretense of fighting communism. Hoover recorded King’s sexual affairs and used them as blackmail to harass the civil rights leader and urge him to end his own life. In a civil suit brought by the reverend’s family, a Memphis jury decided in 1999 that “others, including governmental agencies” had been part of a conspiracy to kill King.
Beyond trying to “neutralize” Martin Luther King Jr., former FBI head J. Edgar Hoover illegally targeted left-wing and civil liberties groups, instigated the murder of Fred Hampton, and committed numerous other crimes, yet Washington leaders refused to challenge the FBI chief during his reign out of fear that he would retaliate with compromising information. The FBI headquarters is still named after Hoover.
Harry S Truman wrote of the FBI’s lawlessness during his presidency: “We want no Gestapo or secret police. FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail… Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.”
As an anti-war democratic socialist, Martin Luther King Jr. represented an extreme threat to status quo interests. The Grayzone’s Ben Norton noted that King’s anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist radicalism has been largely whitewashed from his popular memorials. Liberal establishment news outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post harshly criticized the reverend for his opposition to the war in Vietnam, and the Kennedy administration approved of the FBI’s wiretapping of King.
“A March 1968 FBI memo, from the month before King’s death, discussed ways to ‘prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement,’” wrote Norton. “The memo, which is redacted, hinted that a leader like King ‘could be a real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed ‘obedience’ to ‘white liberal doctrines’ (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism.’”
“’Through counter-intelligence it should be possible to pinpoint potential trouble-makers and neutralize them,’ the memo added. The next year, the FBI was involved in the murder of Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and another potential ‘black messiah’ the agency had targeted,” Norton continued.
On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union emphasized the importance of remembering the FBI’s true treatment of King in order to prevent similar abuses of power. In October, the Intercept’s Alice Speri reported on redacted FBI document’s revealing the bureau’s ongoing surveillance of “black identity extremism,” a label that includes Ferguson activists and other racial justice groups.
“These documents suggest that since at least 2016, the FBI was engaged in a national intelligence collection effort to manufacture a so-called ‘Black Identity Extremist’ threat,” Nusrat Choudhury, deputy director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program, told Speri. “They are spending a lot of energy on this and they are clearly reaching out to other law enforcement.”
“We are troubled about the fact that so much information is not being made available to the public,” she added. “We just know that the government is likely redacting information that should be disclosed to the public — it frequently does.”