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.”