Thanks to a CNN documentary airing this week, the tale of FBI informant Ernest Withers is now well known. The black photographer spent years busily documenting the civil rights movement and capturing candid images of its leaders, most notably Martin Luther King, Jr.Whether through flattery or the naiveté of his subjects, Withers and his camera were able to get close— very close— to the movement’s inner circles. He got so close that King and others trusted him to record their most intimate moments—ones that Withers would dutifully report back to his FBI handlers.Withers’s case was not exceptional. At that time, the woods were full informants, both men and women. Their existence was possible not only because of a corrupt, paranoid FBI that was intent on making life hell for civil rights leaders and others during the turbulent 1960s, but because they had the tacit blessing of three U.S. presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. All three men firmly believed that the battle against domestic subversives—that is, communists, socialists, black nationalists, Black Panthers and civil rights leaders, most notably King—justified bending and ultimately breaking the law, civil liberties be damned.There is also ample evidence in the correspondence, internal memos and discussions made public by historians and former White House staffers, to suggest that Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon never believed moderate civil rights leaders like King posed any real threat to the established order. Yet they still winked and nodded as John Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, launched a top secret and blatantly illegal counterintelligence program, COINTELPRO. It targeted not only the civil rights movement but other more radical leaders and organizations as well.The mandate of that program, spelled out in the stacks of secret documents released by Senate investigators in 1976, was to "disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and neutralize" groups and individuals the FBI considered politically objectionable. Yet in nearly all of the cases, those targeted by COINTELPRO were neither foreign spies, terrorists nor criminals.The FBI patterned COINTELPRO on the methods used by its counterintelligence division and internal security sections during the 1940s and '50s. The arsenal of dirty tactics they used included unauthorized wiretaps, agents provocateur, poison-pen letters, “black-bag jobs” (breaking and entering to obtain intelligence) and the compiling of secret dossiers.
I said it was ugly and dark, didn't I? Read the rest HERE.
Sometimes it is most embarrassing to be an American, given how virtuous we portray ourselves around the world.
NOTE: The image above is the closest I could find to represent this era. (Click the image to embiggen)
And so it goes.