Civil Liberties

FBI to Students: Watch Out! Socialists Are TOTALLY Gay.

Inside the COINTELPO files


A footnote to J.D. Tuccille's item earlier today about the activists who in 1971 broke into an FBI office, lifted a lot of files, and used them to expose COINTELPO, a program devoted to surveilling, infiltrating, and disrupting political groups. If you're at all interested in this chapter in the history of government abuses, you should spend some time exploring those old COINTELPRO files, which the government has now posted online. I spent a lot of time reading them when I was writing The United States of Paranoia, and they're filled with schemes that are alternately frightening, stupid, and simply bizarre.

Here's a relatively mild example. In 1971, when the Young Socialist Alliance ended a policy barring gays from the group, the FBI's San Diego office responded by creating these fliers:

A second flier, featuring female names, announced that the organization was "now accepting 'les' membership."

Headquarters approved: "Bureau feels preparation of leaflets as requested in relet has merit, and you are authorized to duplicate sufficient copies on commercially obtained paper to have posted on various bulletin boards where they might be seen by majority of students at San Diego State College. It is hopeful this action will have desired effect of dissuading would-be new recruits from membership in YSA." Because that, apparently, was the FBI's mission: to play on people's bigotries to dissuade them from joining a political organization.