For six decades, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was the most powerful law enforcement figure in the United States. Unfortunately for the people that J. Edgar Hoover tried to destroy, he used this power irresponsibly to pursue surprisingly petty agendas against some high-profile individuals who had no criminal backgrounds. J. Edgar Hoover's secret files contained voluminous reports concerning all sorts of famous public figures and celebrities merely because they were people that J. Edgar Hoover hated or distrusted.
Much more ominously, he was able to continue his personal campaign of petty investigation because a succession of Presidents were also people J. Edgar Hoover kept files on, information that, if released to the public, would be both embarrassing and politically destructive. This ensured that Hoover was able to continue his bizarre preoccupation with trashing and investigating some perfectly nice people. And the files still exist to prove it.
J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with various forces in the American political landscape, and this included outspoken members of the Civil Rights Movement – given the Director's belief that the Movement was infiltrated and manipulated by communists. Martin Luther King Jr. was front and center of this obsession. In fact, when Hoover informed the Kennedy White House that some of King's advisors had communist ties, it was agreed that the Bureau would wiretap King, including the motel rooms that King resided in while traveling throughout the South.
It quickly became apparent that Martin Luther King was engaging in extramarital affairs, behavior that Hoover hoped to publicize through sympathetic media contacts. Frustrated when this attempt to discredit King failed, Hoover then instructed an underling to compose and mail a letter to King that included tape recordings of King's assignations and implied that he would be exposed and compromised. The letter stated “[lend] your sexually psychotic ear to the enclosure,” and it gave a deadline of a month “before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.” It also denounced King as an “evil, abnormal beast.” King ignored the package and threat, initially opened by his wife, but he had no doubt that it came from the FBI. Hoover continued to publicly denounce King after the Minister alleged that the FBI was too tight with racist police forces in the South. Hoover called the Nobel Laureate “the most notorious liar in the country.”
Although Albert Einstein was well known as one of the most innovative scientists and thinkers of the 20th century, the FBI focused its surveillance on the German ex-pat's political activities, which had a decidedly leftist bent. J. Edgar Hoover equated liberalism with communism and, therefore, considered Einstein to be a secret Red sympathizer and a possible Soviet agent.
The FBI routinely tapped Einstein's phone, read his mail, and even went through his garbage in an attempt to connect him with sinister forces. In a biography of Hoover, written by scholar Fred Jerome, accounts of Einstein's former home in Germany, purportedly written by Hoover, describe it as "a Communist center" and "the hiding place of Moscow envoys," which disqualified him from participating in the US Army's Manhattan Project to construct the atomic bomb. Despite a 1,500 page file that was compiled right up until Einstein's 1955 death, no communist connection was ever discovered.
When John Lennon sang at a rally in December of 1971 for imprisoned activist John Sinclair, both the Nixon White House and J. Edgar Hoover went into beast mode to get the former Beatle and his wife, Yoko Ono, an American citizen, deported back to Great Britain. Richard Nixon was especially concerned that Lennon would be at the forefront of a movement to oppose Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign, the first presidential election to allow 18 year olds to vote. Senator Strom Thurmond, with information provided by the FBI, communicated directly with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Nixon to inform them of John Lennon's UK conviction for marijuana possession, a pretext that would be used in an attempt to cancel Lennon's temporary visa.
The former Beatle was so intimidated by the US Government's explicit threats to deport him – as well as the visible FBI surveillance – that he canceled any activity on behalf of Richard Nixon's political opponents. Lennon's battle to stay in the US would continue after Hoover's 1972 death. Only with the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976 would John Lennon be granted permanent resident status. Eventually, files released from the FBI would show that J. Edgar Hoover made Lennon's deportation a top priority, so much so that a wanted poster was issued to local police departments with a picture of Lennon that stated that any arrest of him would make him immediately deportable. Typically, when it came to the Bureau's clueless persecution of rock and rollers, it was a photo of someone else.
Hoover and the FBI were convinced that rock and roll bands were somehow directly responsible for the proliferation of drug use in the '60s. One band that was supposedly knee deep in distributing LSD along the West Coast was the Grateful Dead, but the Bureau's files seem so out of touch as to render the suspicion ludicrous. The Dead are described in a 1970 official report as “a rock group of some sort.” Files also indicate that the band was one of several San Francisco-based acts that were an "internal security" threat from "the New Left."
FBI agents would routinely appear at Dead shows and were quite serious about the Dead's responsibility for massive amounts of LSD distribution. The final entry in their publicly available file is “LSD originates from San Francisco, California through a renowned rock group known as Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead is well known to DEA, San Francisco.”
The treatment of American actress Jean Seberg by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI was so egregious that it prompted a monumental Federal Senate investigation of the Bureau's operations and techniques. That's because, in the wake of the FBI aggressively harassing her on an international scale and fabricating slanderous lies about her pregnancy, Seberg committed suicide. Seberg appeared in several high-profile American films of the '50s and '60s, including The Mouse That Roared, Paint Your Wagon, and Airport. During the '60s, she contributed money to various activist groups, including the NAACP and Native-American organizations.
Hoover was reportedly particularly offended by the funding Seberg provided to the Black Panther Party. In 1970, the FBI helped concoct and plant a story in the mainstream media that Seberg's pregnancy was the result of a relationship with a Black Panther and not her husband. Upset, Seberg gave birth prematurely, and the infant subsequently died only days later. An open casket funeral of a Caucasian child refuted the FBI's subterfuge, and Seberg successfully sued Newsweek for printing the allegation. It is believed that Seberg was effectively blacklisted in Hollywood at this time, and she relocated to France where she continued her career in some memorable performances.
Still, she would be subjected to aggressive personal surveillance, burglaries, and phone wiretaps in France, Italy, and Switzerland. Her conduct and activities were routinely reviewed by both President Nixon and the Attorney General. Seberg officially committed suicide under mysterious circumstances in August of 1979, her loved ones alleging that her mental health had deteriorated under the stigma and systematic abuse of the clandestine campaign of the US Government. With Hoover already dead, the Bureau acknowledged misbehavior and instituted reforms prompted by the US Senate investigation known as the "Church Committee."
In 1942, while a Private in the US Army training to be an airplane mechanic, Pete Seeger wrote a letter to the California American Legion that was critical of the organization's official stance that – following WWII – all Japanese individuals, regardless of citizenship, should be deported. Seeger, the eventual composer of such American folk standards as "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?," "If I Had A Hammer," and "Turn, Turn, Turn!," did not receive an official response from the Legion. Instead, they turned the letter over to the FBI, which immediately began a lengthy investigation that prevented Seeger from being deployed with his unit once it finished its training.
In coordination with the FBI, military intelligence investigators began reading Seeger's correspondence with his Japanese-American fiancé and looking into Seeger's academic background. Seeger was never deployed into combat; instead, he was assigned to entertaining troops in the Pacific. But, after the war, the FBI did not forget about Pete Seeger. When his folk group, the Weavers, reached national prominence in the early '50s, blacklisting eventually diminished their appeal. Like many artists with politically provocative backgrounds, Seeger was eventually asked to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and, instead of taking the Fifth Amendment or even providing information, he defiantly refused to answer questions. He was convicted of contempt of Congress and sentenced to a year in jail, but he eventually successfully appealed it. By then, the communist witch hunt had ended, but the Bureau would continue to closely monitor Seeger wll into the '70s; his FBI file stated that he "has manifested a revolutionary ideology." The FBI even communicated with the postmaster and police force of Seeger's tiny Beacon, NY, home, demanding that they report any suspicious activity.