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Media, Pa., March 8, 1971, FBI Break-In

True Patriotism in Action

by NORMAN POLLACK

Exciting news, related by Mark Mazzetti, “Burglars Who Took on F.B.I. Abandon Shadows,” in the New York Times (Jan. 7), concerns eight antiwar activists in the Philadelphia area who broke into an FBI office to gather evidence documenting federal spying and suppression of dissent, to be sent to newspapers for publication of illegal government activity. Betty Medsger, formerly of the Washington Post, one of several reporters to whom documents were sent, is out with a new book, Burglar: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret F.B.I.,” which details the logistics of the break-in and sheds light on the Bureau’s felonious activities. I’m sorry, but I must break into my own discussion to say that although in political discourse it is permitted to use the term “fascist,” one cannot use the terms “Nazi” and “Naziism,” as if somehow over-the-top, even when reality suggests interchangeable usage. I use these latter terms in a generic sense –not the extermination camps, but underlying political-structural practices and ideological themes which make such conditions possible. In America, engineering consent from above obviates the need thus far of death camps and crematoria.

Thus it is not name-calling, as I see it, to suggest a continuity of spirit from Heinrich Himmler to J. Edgar Hoover, two men of equally depraved mental-sets, and the amoral cynicism of the police/agents they lead. The common thread, unified around the practice of surveillance and a related contempt for the personal privacy and dignity of the individual, is what I shall term the psychopathology of antiradicalism. Let’s stay with Hoover, for in microcosm, he gives us a glimpse, from three to five decades previous, of what has come to pass today: Enlarged through technological sophistication, massive surveillance in the present (which must be part of any functional definition of fascism or, for that matter, Naziism) merely continues the authoritarian trajectory, now under a liberal manner—with surveillance at home part of the same dynamic as intervention abroad, as though USG and POTUS are control freaks committed to ironclad Order on behalf of the political economy and social system.

When, therefore, I say, FBI=Gestapo Lite, as I did in a Comment to the Mazzetti article (see below), that The Times suppressed, I had in mind State-authorized tactics, returning now to documents gleaned from the break-in, which included, as stated in one memo, instructions to agents to step up their interviews with antiwar activists and dissident student groups (among them, SDS obviously in mind) because “[i]t will enhance the paranoia endemic in these groups and will further serve to get the point across there is an F.B.I. agent behind every mailbox.” Disruption, part of what we learned from Watergate as “dirty tricks operations,” yes, but far more—and here standing behind the mailbox reminds one of the Nazi block leader, especially in the intended thoroughness of coverage—the intent to strike fear, intimidate, stop dissent and protest dead in their tracks looms large. The FBI searching for gangsters, was led by the Leading Gangster in America.

We see in the earlier period, Cointelpro (Counterintelligence Program) operating without restraint, as in phone tapping, infiltrating and spying on the antiwar and civil-rights movements, even the sending of an anonymous blackmail threat to Dr. King, promising to reveal his extramarital affairs if he did not commit suicide. How many lives were blasted, faculty members fired, the Rosenbergs executed—please don’t lecture to me that “fascist” and “Nazi” are exaggerations and out of place. We are indebted to the Media Eight (my designation), just as we are to Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, for standing up to the ruthless negation of patriotism on the part of ruling groups fearful of their loss of status, privilege, and wealth, and who find a radical under every bed, dynamite in hand, ready to blow up the social order (their social order) to smithereens. Hence, surveillance, hence, Espionage Act prosecutions, hence, the Obama White House standing on one of the twin towers of Fortress America, the other tower–? A bit crowded, with Wall Street, Big Pharma, still bigger, Big Oil, stiller bigger, banking giantism, which leaves even Wall Street behind as it soars into the Empyrean of Wealth, protected on all sides by the National-Security State, NSA, FBI, CIA, and Big Military Itself.

From Cointelpro to Obama’s NSA, itself the bastardized version of the FBI (or rather, NSA, bastard of the FBI-CIA marriage, with JSOC and Blackwater, whatever its new corporate name, as bridesmaids), we see that history in America does not change, but only perfects the instruments of inequality and repression. John Mitchell before, Eric Holder now: DOJ in desperate need of a name change, into the Department of Injustice. Obama, however, is sui generis—no previous Chief Executive so nimbly and ably synthesized military power and business consolidation so well, with the financial sector now assuming the lead in the modernized version of Naziism—I don’t blanch from using the word—i.e., the narcotization of the public via the rhetoric and practice of liberalism (itself, at bottom, exemplar, over the last six or seven decades, of the psychopathology of antiradicalism), rather than the concentration camp.

My New York Times Comment to the Mazzetti article, also Jan. 7 (suppressed, which I protested in a note to the Public Editor) follows:

Wow, first glad tidings of the New Year. It will appear harsh, overdramatic to NYT readers, but I submit: FBI=Gestapo Lite. I recall during Mississippi Freedom Summer 1965 being in COFO headquarters, when young SNCC workers had made complaints to the FBI (same time of disappearance of Schwerner, Goodman, Cheney, later found murdered), and agents came in, instead of gathering information, treated complainants as CRIMINALS and browbeat them. As young Yale professor I could only stand there, bear witness, try, coat and tie, to look somehow official.

FBI is a domestic terrorist organization, sponsoring disruption, involved in spreading lies, violating privacy, contemptuous of people of conscience, working under the cover of law to intimidate dissenters and stifle dissent. I say again, Gestapo Lite. Why should we believe, in the wake of the Media revelations, that the FBI has turned over a new leaf? Why think DOJ today is any more respectful of civil liberties than in 1960s. (When we picketed on Boston Common in the late 1950s against nuclear testing, the FBI was present photographing each and every one as we passed.)

I’m deeply proud of the “Burglars,” who give meaning to patriotism as it should be expressed–in opposition to despotic government, one that flies a liberal banner, as POTUS makes the National-Security State the vehicle for abuses, from the least transparent government and its program of massive SURVEILLANCE, to the drone assassination of far-off civilians.

Norman Pollack is the author of The Populist Response to Industrial America (Harvard) and The Just Polity (Illinois), The Humane EconomyThe Just Polity, ed. The Populist Mind, and co-ed. with Frank Freidel, Builders of American Institutions. Guggenheim Fellow. Prof. Emeritus, History, Michigan State.  He is currently writing The Fascistization of America: Liberalism, Militarism, Capitalism.  E-mail: pollackn@msu.edu.