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The Shallowness of Deep Throat

The disclosure of Mark Felt’s identity as Deep Throat inevitably rekindles old American fires still smoldering from over thirty years ago. As an early adolescent in rural Oregon sitting in Mr. Brooks eight grade civics class, I came of political age mixing scenes of Henry Fonda and Twelve Angry Men enacting jury nullification with live footage of the Watergate hearings. This was what democracy looked like.

It was a different age when schools taught students their civil rights and gave them solid advice on how to best deal with the police (“never talk to the police unless you called them”)-unlike today, when cops’ ever-classroom presence finds schools teaching students how to best comply with the police. All of these events were mixed together and the messages of Watergate struck deep at this impressionable age where I saw Deep Throat as a real American Hero-who I later learned look just like Hal Holbrook.

When I later became a scholar of the FBI’s suppression of domestic political movements I came to see that the FBI had played a key role in the development of the Watergate scandal-though without knowing Deep Throat’s identity, my view of this role was incomplete. The way I saw it, was that J. Edgar Hoover’s death prior to the Watergate break-in opened-up the possibility that such a presidential scandal could develop. Hoover would never have allowed this scandal to emerge the way it did.

A few months ago, I wrote the below passage for the forthcoming CounterPunch Book of Monsters:

“Nixon’s relief at Hoover’s death must have been reduced in the weeks and months to follow as the Watergate burglars bungled their break-in, and Nixon’s Whitehouse botched their cover-up-this was just the sort of disaster that Hoover excelled at cleaning-up. It seems probable that had Hoover still been the FBI director as the Watergate cancer enveloped Nixon’s Whitehouse that he would have preempted the investigation that took down Nixon..Hoover would never have allowed the public inspection of FBI agents like Alfred C. Baldwin and G. Gordon Liddy’s involvement in Watergate. Watergate was just the sort of crisis that empowered Hoover over the decades and such crises were the cornerstone of his historical relationships with American presidents wherein he alternately threatened, bailed-out and was then rewarded by presidents from Roosevelt to Nixon.”

Now we know that the Hoover-less FBI played a very large role in the Watergate scandal. But something that is lost in the current focus on Mark Felt is the universe of things known to Deep Throat that he didn’t bother leaking to the American public. Chief among these was J. Edgar Hoover’s secret longstanding illegal campaigns to destroy legal domestic political organizations of which he disapproved. These included a wide range of organizations such as the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, an assortment of racial equality groups, various peace groups and socialist and communist organizations, gay rights and gender equity groups-but these also included surveillance campaigns of things like book buying co-ops and public utility districts.

While the FBI’s COINTELPRO became known in 1971, the extent of Hoover’s interference with American democracy was not known for years. Mark Felt was a Hoover devotee who worked on these very COINTELPRO operations, but he did not feel the need to leak documents on the damage done to American democracy by these illegal campaigns.

Last year I was probably one of the few Americans who read Felt’s (1979) book, “The FBI Pyramid: From the Inside,” his inside account of his years working in J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Felt deeply admired Hoover as he directed Hoover’s FBI inspection division, more popularly known as the “goon squad,” the unit of agents who traveled the country seeing to it that local agents followed Hoover’s often twisted and illegal directives.

Now we know that Felt used this book simply to wink at future generations who would know him best as Deep Throat, dethroner of a corrupt American president. With hindsight, Felt’s book is an odd monument justifying the anti-democratic campaigns of the FBI to a world that would come to know him as the man to took down Nixon for his administration’s illegal acts.

DAVID PRICE teaches anthropology at St. Martin’s College in Olympia, Washington. His latest book, Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists has just been published by Duke University Press. His Atlas of World Cultures has just been republished by the Blackburn Press. He can be reached at: dprice@stmartin.edu

 

 

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David Price a professor of anthropology at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. He is the author of Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State published by CounterPunch Books.

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