Surveillance

That Time the FBI Tried to Get MLK to Commit Suicide Before Receiving the Nobel Peace Prize

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National Archives/New York Times

Late last year, historian Beverly Gage published an unredacted version of the notorious November, 1964 letter sent anonymously to Martin Luther King, Jr. before he would travel to Europe to collect his Nobel Peace Prize (above). The letter suggested that King kill himself or else be outed for sexual improprieties. It is widely believed the letter was sent either by FBI operatives or at least sanctioned by the agency, as it relies on information compiled from surveillance conducted by J. Edgar Hoover with the imprimatur of Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (whether Lyndon Johnson directly okayed such actions, it's unambiguous that he knew about them and discussed their findings).

Historians had long sought after an unredacted version of "suicide letter," as it is known. It's a disturbing piece of work, to say the least. It poses as a note from a concerned African American. It's failure was complete, as it wasn't read until after King received his Nobel and it was opened by his wife, who  turned it over to her husband.

Wikimedia Commons

I wrote about the letter last fall when The New York Times published it. We live in an age where trust and belief in the government is far lower than it was the FBI was pulling grotesque stunts like this one. Our ambivalence is well-founded, given not just the revelations of the Church Committee in the 1970s but more recent news of just how little the government regards our civil liberties. Martin Luther King's legacy for race relations is rightly well-known and celebrated. We should also remember that his treatment by government carries lessons about the state-sanctioned violation of privacy and dignity.

Though it was sent 50 long years ago, the FBI's so-called suicide letter to Martin Luther King, Jr. is very much of a piece with today's America, where fear of and anger toward the government casts a shadow over everything from web-surfing to starting a business….

Fifty years ago—again, right around the time that the FBI was about to become the subject of a hagiographic hit TV show and trying to goad Martin Luther King, Jr. into killing himself—Richard Hofstadter was denouncing the "paranoid style in American politics,". He lamented that, "American politics has often been an arena for angry minds."

But today's lack of trust and confidence in the government doesn't seem all that angry. It's more like we're resigned to the fact that our rulers think little of us—that is, when they think of us at all. In gaining new knowledge about how people in power almost always behave, we are wiser and sadder and, one hopes, much less likely to put up with bullshit from the left, right, or center.

There's a real opportunity to the politicians, the parties, and the causes that dare to embrace real transparency —about how legislation is being crafted, about our surveillance programs at home and abroad—as a core value and something other than a throwaway slogan. But as an unbroken thread of mendacity and mischief binds the present to the past, a future in which government can be trusted seems farther off than ever.

Read the whole piece here.

Reason on Martin Luther King, Jr. here.

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  1. You knew this was coming. MLK Day:Cosmotarians::Christmas:Retailers.

    1. “Martin Luther King Day special: We integrate quality with savings! Black and white, Protestant and Catholic – you’ll all love our deals!”

      1. “Thank God Almighty, Savings At Last!”

        1. I have a dream of a washer and dryer at 50% off.

          1. An old friend of mine’s father owned a furniture and appliance store from about the 50’s through the 90’s. Every Martin Luther King Day he’d put a “black agitator” from one of the washing machines on the customer counter. Got to appreciate the form albeit setting aside the substance…

            1. Some home furnishing store should have a MLK day white sale.

    2. It’s getting more difficult for me to tell whether these Cosmotarian cracks are a clever farce of a retarded meme, or genuinely retarded.

      1. I’m leaning towards genuinely retarded. Especially when it’s a non-regular poster doing it. Otherwise it’s just a retarded meme.

    3. Yes. The Cro-Magnon Libertarians vs the Cosmo libertarians.

      PURITY TESTS!

    4. Only a stupid cosmotardian would celebrate a guy who devoted his life to fighting government injustice!

      1. Apparently he didn’t wholly devote his life to that purpose – else there would have been nothing to send him a suicide letter about.

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  2. It’s failure was complete

    LUCY!!!!!!

    1. +1 explaining to do

  3. I doubt that VP Joe will mention RFK and LBJ at the MLK speech he is giving in Wilmington today. Had a Republican ordered spying on MLK, I bet 95% of African-American voters today would reject the GOP.

    1. Uh…that figure already sounds familiar.

  4. From the Daily Beast comments:

    Surveillance charges aside, this article is a paean to corporate greed. Of course corporate leaders would cite big govt as biggest obstacle to innovation. They don’t want to pay taxes.

    Your daily evidence that Peak Derp is unreachable.

    1. Gentlemen, I present the first generator that runs on Derp. Once we have a few of these babies in place, our nation will be energy independent.

      1. We’d meet all of our electricity needs just from The Washington Post.

  5. That time the Hit&Run; blog started shirking it’s A.M. Links duties to the commentariat.

    1. RESPECT OUR NATIONAL HOLIDAY!

    1. Obama approval rating averaging -5.6%.

      http://www.realclearpolitics.c…..-1044.html

      1. I just wish Obama could run again. President Jeb with a GOP Congress will be like 2003-07 all over again.

        1. Don’t worry assplug, if a Bush gets the GOP nomination the next president will be a Democrat.

    2. Who cares what Obama’s approval rating is?

      Have you heard the tired-ass horseshit he’s peddling now?

      Free community college?!

      He jumped the shark with that one. Funny how silly the plots get when the writers know their show is about to be cancelled.

      1. Free community college and an estate tax on steroids. Because you didn’t build that.

        1. Why take anything he says seriously anymore?

          Honestly, I think this may signal his intent for the next couple of years. I think he may be trying to make the Democrat presidential candidates look moderate by way of comparison to him.

          Free community college!

          LOL

      2. Free community college?

        It is a bullshit political ploy. He couldn’t even get a decent interest rate for student loans through Congress last year.

        I want this type of gridlock. We are doing very well compared to the Bush years.

        1. This type of gridlock? How is it different than all that mean spirited obstuctionism we’ve heard so much about?

          1. You won’t hear me complain about GOP obstruction.

            The 90s supposedly had such obstruction and the Clinton years were the best run years in my lifetime – mainly due to the Big Dawg and a little help from th eGOP.

        2. Funny how every horrible thing Obama proposes gets handwaved away by you.

      3. Maybe I think too little of the voting public, but I think his entire mission for the next two years will be to show just how mean the republicans are. -Look! They don’t even want you to go to community college – greedy bastards!

        I’m afraid it’s going to work.

        1. “Yes, and they care only about the rich – that’s why they wouldn’t pass my proposal for a huge tax increase on the rich.”

      4. You can’t expect community college attendees to actually pay for their own tuition and fees can you? It’s awfully hard to come up with that couple hundred dollars a quarter when you have to pay for your Xbox Live membership, your tattoo, your acrylic nails with the decals, and diapers for the kids you couldn’t afford to have.

    3. A new free education program is 8% libertarian.

  6. Democrats.

  7. Bobby and J. Edgar Hoover’s blackmail attempts against MLK (although telling) were amateur. If you really want to see somebody that knows how to silence her critics, look at what happened in Argentina this morning:

    “Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who last week accused Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and others of working with Iran to cover up a 1994 terror bombing…was found dead in his apartment on Sunday, hours before he was to testify in Congress.”

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/pr…..1421673152

    Don’t worry, I’m sure Cristina Kirchner will launch a full investigation into this “suicide”.

    I guess this what they mean by “Kirchnerismo”!

    1. Silencing critics is Argentina’s national sport. Remember the Per?ns?

      1. This is one is so absurdly obvious, though. I guess that’s part of the message they want to send.

        Like when Putin had that guy killed with a radiation injection. He did it that way because Putin wanted everyone to know that he did it.

        Only Putin could have someone killed in that way–what’s the point of threatening your enemies with assassination if they’re not sure you really assassinated your enemies?

        With Kirchner, this is probably the same. This may be her coming out party. She’s taking the gloves off on her critics. Hello, world! I’ve decided to stop pretending! Now throw me a party before I get pissed.

        1. Yes, this should wrap up the Nobel Peace Prize for her.

  8. PBS’s venerated Bill Moyers worked for LBJ as the White House Press Secretary – I wonder if he penned the letter or suggested that Johnson use the term “that nigger preacher” when referring to Dr. King.

    1. The right to vote was a good trade for a few bigoted comments. And I hate LBJ almost as much as I do Dumbya. I blame him for Vietnam.

      1. And getting the US involved in Vietnam over a lie (see Gulf of Tonkin) that cost the US 65,000 lives and countries in SE Asia over a million lives?

        So you also think it is acceptable for a Presidency to attempt to coerce an American citizen to kill themselves?

        I’m thinking we could have extended the right to vote for all without all of LBJ’s failures.

        1. Why he ‘blames’ LBJ for Vietnam is interesting. Why does JFK get a pass?

          At this point, best to just blame American foreign policy at the time rather than any of JFK, LBJ and Nixon on their own.

          1. He mentions LBJ and Vietnam, but like his idols Moyers and the rest of liberal MSM, he gives him a free pass and looks at it as something that happened during the time he was in office. Like say a lunar eclipse.

            I’m not a JFK fan but my belief based on what I have seen is that he probably wasn’t going to commit to anything more than a few advisors.

            1. Not sure about that:

              “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

              Plus he was committed to fighting off communism during the Cold War.

              Wouldn’t surprise me if he committed troops.

    2. And why does Texas produce the worst leaders? Rick W. Perry as POTUS would be worse than LBJ and Dumbya.

      1. And why does Texas produce the worst leaders?

        Worse than Massachusetts? I don’t think so.

        At least the people Texas elects tend not to have body counts.

      2. Bush was born in Connecticut, genius.

      3. “Palin’s Buttplug|1.19.15 @ 10:50AM|#

        And why does Texas produce the worst leaders? Rick W. Perry as POTUS would be worse than LBJ and Dumbya.”

        Yeah, I mean look at how he has destroyed the State of Texas.

      4. Yeah, the geographic location of our leaders is the problem?

        He’s trolling.

        He’s just simply looking for a reaction.

        PB is a trolling idiot.

        1. Buttplug has four modes:

          1. Whining about Bush six years too late for me to care.
          2. Fellating or excusing Obama for every bit of Bush-esque behaviour he engages in.
          3. Randomly jumping onto a thread and spewing nonsense names.
          4. Shitting on religion despite constantly engaging in religious-like activities, including constantly chanting words in an attempt to reinforce them, whining about ‘purity’ and constructing elaborate attempts to mold reality to his ideology.

          In short, Buttplug’s sctick: “PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEEEE!”

      5. POTUS is a ruler, not a leader.

    3. Somebody should ask Moyers about the way Johnson treated women, too.

      If you were a woman during the Johnson Administration, I’m not sure you were allowed to work in the White House unless you slept with the president first.

      “Johnson had “an unfillable hole in his ego,” Moyers says. Feelings of emptiness spurred him to eat, drink, and smoke to excess. Sexual conquests also helped to fill the void. He was a competitive womanizer. When people mentioned Kennedy’s many affairs, Johnson would bang the table and declare that he had more women by accident than Kennedy ever had on purpose.”

      http://www.theatlantic.com/mag…..bj/377094/

      1. Moyers talks a lot about Johnson in that article. He’s basically describing someone with Paranoia and Bipolar Disorder:

        “Moyers described Johnson to me as “paranoid” and “depressed,….It was a pronounced, prolonged depression,” Moyers adds. “He would just go within himself, just disappear — morose, self-pitying, angry…. He was a tormented man,” who described himself to Moyers as being in a Louisiana swamp that was “pulling me down.” “When he said it,” Moyers remembers, “he was lying in bed with the covers almost above his head.”

        I asked Moyers if others in the White House were as troubled by Johnson’s behavior as he and Goodwin. Yes, Moyers replied, and “when they were deeply concerned about his behavior, they would call me — Cabinet officers and others. Rusk would call me and tell me about some exchange he just had with the President that was very disturbing….”

        I asked Moyers if Johnson was so continually depressed as to be incapable of rational judgments on Vietnam. No, he answered. Johnson was erratic. One day he would be down and the next he would be upbeat.”

        Johnson should have been sent off to the funny farm. Instead he tripled down on Vietnam and saddled us with Medicaid forever. If only they’d assassinated Johnson rather than JFK!

        1. Neither should have been assassinated, but it would have been nice if Moyers had shared this information when it might have been useful to the voters.

          “I asked Moyers if others in the White House were as troubled by Johnson’s behavior as he and Goodwin.”

          Do you know who else made someone named Godwin concerned?

          1. Internet commenters?

          2. Yeah, I’d rather no one was assassinated, too, but if they were going to assassinate one of them over our objections anyway? I’m for taking the guy that caused all the problems.

        2. No evidence of bipolar there. Narcissistic Personality Disorder, yes (but most politicians have that.)

          1. Do you practice psychiatry?

      2. Johnson had “an unfillable hole in his ego,

        A very common condition amongst politicians.

    4. Seems like Johnson had plenty of nastiness all on his own.

  9. It poses as a note from a concerned African American.

    So, the government invented concern trolling, along with the internet.

    1. Hmmm. Maybe Al Gore wrote the letter!

      1. Al Gore was still in high school.

        1. Which makes or all the more impressive!

    2. I think there was another incident when the FBI wrote a note in the persona of a black woman, criticizing civil rights workers for allegedly having sex with white women.

      1. As the guy said in Blazing Saddles, “yo, ubi est albus mulieribus?”

  10. “Late last year, historian Beverly Gage published an unredacted version of the notorious November, 1964 letter sent anonymously to Martin Luther King, Jr. before he would travel to Europe to collect his Nobel Peace Prize (above)”

    I’m pretty sure the photo above is NOT of the Nobel Peace Prize…:-)

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  13. It’s a disturbing piece of work, to say the least.

    Oh, please. All of my YouTube videos get requests for me to commit suicide and you don’t see anyone celebrating my birthday.

    1. But are those comment by the WhiteHousePressSecretary@WhiteHouse.gov channel?

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  16. Incredible that this attempt by our government to bully a civil rights leader — indeed, THE civil rights leader — into committing suicide is virtually unknown among the public at large.

    1. It is also virtually unknown among the public at large that this civil rights leader and man-of-the-cloth was a serial wife-cheater and womanizer. If this had been a white Republican, evangelical preacher instead of a black one, the main stream media would have driven him from public life as a laughingstock.

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  19. It could be interesting to compare it with Steve Cokely’s theory who mentionned then Jesse Jackson had killed MLK Jr. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teEplUjU0Bw

    Conspiracy theorists will have lots of food for thoughts, that’s for sure. 😉

    1. If you’re asking “cui bono”, Jackson has to be on the short list . . .

      /tinfoil hat OFF

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  23. Yes, the enemy during the civil rights movement were those stupid, evil conservatives in the south, who were crushed, thank goodness, by our brave federal government.

    Oh yeah, and the FBI. They were the enemy, too.

  24. Now we know the *proper* way to celebrate the MLK holiday.

    Bow chicka wow wow WOW!

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