J. Edgar Hoover: the Man Who Never Dies

“Just the minute the FBI begins making recommendations on what should be done with its information, it becomes a Gestapo.”

– –  J. Edgar Hoover, FBI chief, who constantly fed confidential files to his political friends

Before we rush to embrace the FBI’s “proud tradition of impartiality and neutrality” just because Trump screwed the pooch in firing its fumbling director Comey, just hold on a second.

A chunk of my life was spent hiding from, or being chased by, FBI agents who, in conversation, I found uniformly tightassed Organization Men and facelessly conservative.  OK, this was in the bad old days of the gay-bashing, commie hunting, Mafia denying, blackmailing J. Edgar Hoover who no president from FDR to Nixon had the guts to fire because The Chief had the goods on them.  (FDR’s mistress Lucy Mercer, Truman’s political ‘father’  Kansas City crooked boss Pendergast, Eisenhower’s girlfriend Kay Summersby, and let’s not even think Jack Kennedy.)

As a secret and (normally, until the past few days) secretive police the FBI was born in the 1920s to protect us from immigrants and radicals.  Under its weird boss J. Edgar Hoover it never wavered from its reason for existence, the Red Hunt, reds to be defined loosely.  It was, and still is, racist to the core.

If you saw “Mississippi Burning” with Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe as heroic G Men chasing the white killers of black civil rights workers, it’s a lie.  I was in the south in the 1960s when Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, to help his brother Jack’s re-election prospects, flooded Georgia (where I was) with white southern born FBI agents who did absolutely nothing except stand by passively while local white cops and their KKK allies brutalized African American kids and their parents.

As Kurt Vonnegut was fond of saying, And so it goes.

J. Edgar never died, his paranoid ghost stalks us.  The agency is a rigid top down yessir nosir bureaucracy with a

historical and irresistible tendency to break and bend laws.  (It messed up the 9/11 investigation by not listening to its own whistleblowers.  It loves entrapping dumb-as-dogshit, mentally retarded “terrorists”.)  By many accounts, the agency was virulently anti Hillary and today is “Trumplandia” with agents openly admitting who they voted for.

Within living memory the agency engineered COINTELPRO, to illegally disrupt antiwar, civil rights and left groups;  and colluded with presidents Kennedy and Nixon to smear Martin Luther King into (they hoped) suicide.

Shed no tears for Comey.  Think what life is like for the occasional honest, trustworthy, Constitution-loving agent – they’re out there – under Comey, Trump and coming to work every morning in a building named for J. Edgar Hoover.


There are some really good books about the FBI by Curt Gentry (The Man and the Secrets), Tim Weiner (Enemies: a History of the FBI) and Seth Rosenfeld (Subversives: the FBI’s War on Student Radicals and Nixon’s Rise to Power) about the agency’s war on students.

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Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

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