President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey has created a major government crisis. Whether it is or will be a “constitutional crisis” is a matter of dispute, but what is clear is that it is the latest in a long series of policies and actions taken by the Trump administration that are undermining our democratic system. There are many calls for measures – such as the appointment of a special prosecutor – that could check the President’s actions and be the next step in the struggle to protect the rights of the American people.
What has not been mentioned, but is an integral component of this anti-democratic assault on the Constitution, is the role of the FBI itself. For nearly a century, it has been at the center of countless programs designed to destroy all progressive movements. No one knows how many lives were ruined by the actions of the FBI. Leading figures who led the fight for civil rights, peace, and justice were prosecuted, and some were imprisoned. J. Edgar Hoover, who led the Bureau for nearly half-a-century, was a rabid anti-communist who saw subversives everywhere.
One need look no further than four African-American giants – Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois, and Paul Robeson – for evidence. For decades, the Bureau undertook systematic efforts to undermine their credibility and invade their privacy. The FBI spied on their daily activities, tapped their telephones, opened their mail, questioned associates, and much more.
The best-known method used by the FBI against radicals was COINTELPRO (a “counter-intelligence program), which was created in 1956 specifically to monitor the Communist Party USA. It was expanded in the 1960s to civil rights and anti-war groups, such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Black Panther Party, as well as a panoply of community, radical, and peace groups. (Look on the Internet to see the activities of the FBI through documents released through the Freedom of Information Act.)
No amount of burnishing or romanticizing the role of the FBI in our society – through movies, television series, or comic books – can cover the tawdry methods used by the Bureau during its history. Though it did fight criminals (the “Ten Most Wanted” list) and kept tabs on white supremacists, the Bureau spent an inordinate amount of time, effort, and money focused on progressives. It is ironic that in the years during which our country fought to destroy fascism (and its use of state agencies to track and kill its opponents) that part of the United States government – the Federal Bureau of Investigation – used some of the same methods.
The FBI is, and always has been, an affront to democracy. Now is the time to abolish it.
– David Cavendish