Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When J. Edgar Hoover Tapped My Phone

As a kid I listened on the radio to “The FBI in Peace and War.” My parents had listened during the mid 1930s to “G-Men.” FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover helped produce those programs and, in the new biopic film, “J. Edgar”, we also learn that Hoover orchestrated several other radio and TV shows so as to portray the FBI’s arrests of “dangerous criminals” and its “monitoring” of “subversive communists” as the product of team approach, which he personally inculcated.

The grammar of entertainment, however, calls for individual heroes and Hoover didn’t want courageous field agents – like Mel Purvis who killed John Dillinger – to steal glory from him and, as the movie instructs us, he dumped him. Hoover’s ideal FBI consisted of look-alikes, with similar suits and haircuts – dictated by their boss. In the film, the young Hoover (Leonardo di Caprio) fires an agent with a mustache. Hoover didn’t approve of facial hair.

At age 10 I knew Hoover from all the radio talk as the leader of a police force that always got its man. My communist Uncle Max sneered. “Hoover’s a rotten phony. He dances in a tutu in his living room with his wife Clyde Tolson.”

I sputtered with indignation at such slander. I knew better because I listened to Gang Busters, which I even saw at the movies in the weekly serials. By the 1960s, I came to agree with Uncle Max. Under Hoover’s COINTELPRO, FBI informers penetrated civil rights and anti-war groups, agents provocateurs proliferated and the FBI committed criminal acts. Hoover destroyed people’s lives, which he justified with his trite anti-commy rhetoric.

In 1974, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, I received 1,000 plus pages of my file, half of them blacked out. The Bureau had tapped my phone. Page after page recounts conversations I had with my father – nothing even remotely political – and plans I had to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles to visit him. The FBI had planted an informant at the TV station where I worked, so that they had my air travel plans.

In the early 1970s, the Bureau revealed, under court order, that it had planted some 70 informants at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) where I worked. A federal judge made the Bureau pay all legal and court costs and enjoined them from repeating their activities.

In September 1976, the FBI began investigating the Washington DC assassination of Orlando Letelier by car bombing, which also took the life of Ronni Moffitt, an IPS colleague who sat next to him as the explosion ripped through his car. Honest FBI investigators solved the case and named the head of Chilean intelligence and other secret police officials along with five right wing Cuban exiles as the perpetrators.

Hoover’s political police did little to stop the Mafia or corporate crime, but did collect files on millions of Americans. Hoover’s librarian instincts?

I deduce from Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” that my radio show portrait, Uncle Max’s ridicule and my own experiences with the FBI omitted one item: Hoover also had a soul. DiCaprio plays a tortured, closet homosexual with a dominatrix mother (Judi Dench) who didn’t want “to have a daffodil for a son.”

When she dies, Hoover puts on her dress and necklace and weeps. Eastwood and script write Dustin Lance Black (of the “Milk” film) show that the powerful and controlling head of the country’s largest police agency also experienced deep emotional pain.

We see intelligence and ambition in his rise from librarian to keeper of the files. President John F. Kennedy slept with an East German spy, Hoover tells Bobby Kennedy so as to inform him not to even think about firing him.

Di Caprio grasps Hoover’s prurient disorientation, almost drooling, when he listens to a tape from a bug planted by Bureau Agents in Marin Luther King’s hotel room – with a woman. He gloats while reading Eleanor Roosevelt’s mail, “discovering” a supposed lesbian relationship with a woman reporter.

After Hoover died in 1972, we see Nixon immediately dispatch a squad to destroy Hoover’s secret files – some of them on Nixon. Hoover’s secretary-gatekeeper, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), has tried to limit J. Edgar’s overboard actions, and even in death she protects Hoover’s public image, which he equated with that of the Bureau. The film shows her shredding those files before Nixon’s destroy squad reaches Hoover’s office.

Eastwood portrays Hoover’s defenselessness in a lovers’ or married couple’s quarrel when he and his partner Tolson (Armie Hammer) – to whom he left all his possessions – punch, wrestle and then kiss. Hoover loved him, but the film doesn’t show or even suggest sexual consummation. The audience must judge this emotional, distressed, authoritarian control freak, this intelligent but vulnerable man, who gets embarrassed at a congressional hearing because of his self-promoting activities.

In the film old Hoover dictates his story to young Special Agents, but Hoover doesn’t tell the truth; rather he promotes himself by distorting the facts to reflect that he has single-handedly protected the country from ruthless killers, kidnappers (the Lindberg kidnapping occupies much film space) and all things that smack of communism, anarchism or pinko-leftism.

Hoover spews patriotism and hatred of communism, but the film leads us to suspect Hoover hated himself. Unable to control his most loathsome impulse – his mother hated “daffodils” – he tries to achieve power over people and institutions. The film subtly suggests Hoover became his own internal enemy; his mother subverted him by not allowing his sexuality (identity) to emerge. His career stained, not marked, decades of U.S. history and many people paid a heavy price for his psychic dynamics.

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP plays December 1 at the Jamaica Plain Forum (Boston) 6 Eliot St, Jamaica Plain MA and on December 3 at the NY New School for Social Research, Kellen Auditorium 66 Fifth Avenue at 5:30 and 7:30 – with Landau present.

More articles by:

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Wim Laven
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
David Yearsley
Shock-and-Awe Inside Oracle Arena
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail