Monday, June 25, 2007

Thanks to The Democratic Daily, June 24

Are you still being followed by the teenage FBI?

Posted by SteveAudio
June 24th, 2007 @ 2:31 am


Howie Klein of Blue America sent me this book:
So Angie’s back on the Blue America list and I hope you’ll join me in donating some money to her campaign. We’re not going to find a better candidate, not anywhere, to help us reclaim our country. Avalon Books sent us a box of the just-released YOUNG J. EDGAR: HOOVER, THE RED SCARE, AND THE ASSAULT ON CIVIL LIBERTIES. Each book has been autographed by author Ken Ackerman and it sells in stores for $28.95. Every Angie donation for $30 or more gets a Blue America thank you with a book (until the box is empty.) Add a cent to your donation if you don’t want the book. One more thing, Jacquie is already planning out an aggressive paid-media strategy for CO-04 in ‘08, so if you want to stick some dough in the Blue America PAC, please don’t be shy.
I’ve read the first chapter, and it’s already got me hooked. Why would a book about J. Edgar be fascinating all these years later? Here’s a quote from the book:
But back in 1919, just four years earlier, it had all made perfect sense-the Red Scare, the Raids, the fear. Most thinking, informed Americans agreed. World War I had ended, but the country was still fighting, against anarchists and communists at home just as surely as it had fought the Kaiser’s Germany in Europe the year before. American soldiers still faced bullets on Russian soil in 1919, and Bolshevism was sweeping the world. Anarchists had exploded bombs in American streets, and people had been killed. Radicals had infiltrated labor unions and threatened to topple major industries. The country demanded safety and someone had to act.
A. Mitchell Palmer and his team had taken responsibility. Had there been excesses? Certainly. But that didn’t change the fact. The principal fact was the bombs, and the danger of more bombs, and the duty to protect Americans. Everything else took a back seat.
The parallels to today’s Global War on Whatever We Define As Terror are pretty obvious. Americans, in an understandable yet selfishly shallow way, excuse many sorts of bad behavior when they feel threatened, and the Right today does all it can to give a megaphone to threats real and imagined.
The book’s author, Kenneth Ackerman, said this in an editorial in my hometown LATimes:
Yet when Hoover showed up for his first day of work at the Department of Justice in June 1917, he was a bright 22-year-old, just out of law school. He still had boyish good looks and was cocky and driven. The country had just entered World War I, and Hoover had avoided the wartime draft. Instead, he was ready to help win the war at home, to save the country from spies and subversives.
What changed this young eager beaver into the crass, cynical tyrant of later years?
The fact is, Hoover learned his attitudes and worldview from teachers at the Justice Department during his early years there, when the country was going through a period much like today’s war on terror.
Indeed. Here’s Kenneth Ackerman’s website: http://www.kennethackerman.com
SteveAudio.blogspot.com

2 Responses to “Are you still being followed by the teenage FBI?”

  1. Pamela Leavey Says:
    Steve
    I just got an email the other day about reviewing this and I’m waiting for a copy to arrive. I’m reading David Talbot’s “Brothers” which includes a lot of stuff about Hoover, the FBI and the CIA. There’s a lot of similarites between then and now in “Brothers” as well. History is said to repeat itself. Sadly.
  2. Darrell Prows Says:
    The human race is afflicted with a particularly virulent form of the authoritarian gene. It expresses itself in an overriding need to push other people around. My shorthand for the syndrome is “Military Mentality”. Not everyone who has the jobs (military, police, prisons) has the gene, but pretty much everyone with the gene has one of the jobs.
    The Founders were insightful enough to try to neutraize this by putting civilians in charge of the military. As for the rest, what we really need to do to protect ourselves is to not criminalize anything unless there is a real strong reason for doing so. Instead, we have a set of rules and regulations in our society so gargantuan that each of is almost guaranteed to violate something almost every day.
    From that is where people like J. Edgar get their power.

From Washington Post Book World, June 24.


In Brief: Junior G-Man

Sunday, June 24, 2007; BW14


As Kenneth D. Ackerman explains in Young J. Edgar (Carroll & Graf, $28.95), the future FBI director first made his mark after the most dramatic outburst of terrorism to hit the United States before 9/11. On June 2, 1919, bombs went off in nine American cities, including Washington, D.C. In most cases, the target was the residence of a political figure or man of wealth. In Washington, it was the R Street house of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer; the house was badly damaged, anarchists were blamed, and Palmer pledged that "for the rest of his time in office, he would commit his Department of Justice to the singular task of tracking down and stopping this Red Menace." He put his young assistant Hoover in charge.


Among the results of this campaign were the infamous Palmer Raids, which left their namesake, who had once entertained notions of succeeding Woodrow Wilson as president, so discredited that the man who got the Democratic nomination in his stead, James M. Cox, told Palmer not to campaign for him. Cox lost to Warren G. Harding anyway, but Hoover, in Ackerman's words, "repackaged himself for the new regime." His slickest maneuver was one that became a trademark: playing up the information to which his office made him privy. The new attorney general, Harry Daugherty, "became a convert" to Hoover's view that the Red Menace had to be extirpated, and subsequent attorneys general, all the way up to Hoover's death in 1972, fell into line. In Ackerman's view, Hoover "was precisely the wrong person" for the job of leading this crusade: "Despite his clear genius for organization, Edgar lacked the other essential qualification for the job, the life experience and human context to appreciate the responsibility that came with power."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Another J. Edgar Hoover?

From this week's LA Times (June 14, 2007)


The Red scare spawned the tyrannical FBI chief; will a similar homegrown villain emerge from the war on terror?

WHAT created J. Edgar Hoover? He reigned with an iron fist as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 48 years, until the day he died in 1972. By then, Hoover had evolved into an untouchable autocrat, a man who kept secret files on millions of Americans over the years and used them to blackmail presidents, senators and movie stars. He ordered burglaries, secret wiretaps or sabotage against anyone he personally considered subversive. His target list included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, even Eleanor Roosevelt.

Yet when Hoover showed up for his first day of work at the Department of Justice in June 1917, he was a bright 22-year-old, just out of law school. He still had boyish good looks and was cocky and driven. The country had just entered World War I, and Hoover had avoided the wartime draft. Instead, he was ready to help win the war at home, to save the country from spies and subversives.

What changed this young eager beaver into the crass, cynical tyrant of later years?

The fact is, Hoover learned his attitudes and worldview from teachers at the Justice Department during his early years there, when the country was going through a period much like today's war on terror.

In March 1919, Hoover landed a dream assignment on the staff of new Atty. Gen. A. Mitchell Palmer just in time to participate in the first Red scare, in 1919-1920, and its signature outrage, the notorious Red Raids, also known as the Palmer Raids. For Hoover, it would shape his outlook for life.

On the night of June 2, 1919, bombs exploded in nine cities across the United States, leaving two people dead, including one of the bombers. One of these bombs destroyed Palmer's Washington home, almost killing him, his wife and his teenage daughter.

These bombs capped months of escalating upheaval during which the country convinced itself that we sat on the verge of a Russian-style socialist revolution. The first Red scare came on the heels of multiple traumas: World War I, the Russian Revolution and subsequent Bolshevik uprisings in Germany, Hungary, Poland, Italy and Argentina. In the United States, the economy had collapsed, prompting waves of strikes, riots and political violence.

Americans vowed vengeance after the June 2 bombings, and the targeted Palmer pledged to crush the reign of terror. He ordered a massive preemptive strike, a nationwide roundup of radicals. To manage the operation, Palmer chose his talented new staff counsel, young J. Edgar Hoover.

Hoover seized the opportunity. With Palmer's blessing, he laid plans for a series of brutal raids across the country. Backed by local police and volunteer vigilantes, federal agents hit in dozens of cities and arrested more than 10,000 suspected communists and fellow travelers. They burst into homes, classrooms and meeting halls, seizing everyone in sight, breaking doors and heads with abandon. The agents ignored legal niceties such as search warrants or arrest warrants. They questioned suspects in secret, imposed prohibitive bail and kept them locked up for months in foul, overcrowded, makeshift prisons.

It turned out that virtually none of these prisoners had anything to do with violent radicalism. Nearly all were released without being charged with a crime. Palmer's grand crackdown was one big exercise in guilt by association, based primarily on bogus fears of immigrants being connected to vilified radical groups such as the recently formed American Communist Party.

Still, Hoover relished his moment on the national stage. He appeared twice at Palmer's side during congressional hearings, and he faced off against future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter in a Boston courtroom in raid-related cases. Behind the scenes, Hoover demanded more arrests, higher bail and fewer rights for prisoners.

Ultimately, the public recoiled in disgust at the excesses and illegality of the raids, and Palmer saw his political career destroyed. But his young assistant fared much better.

Hoover never lost his anticommunist religion, nor his disdain for and distrust of "liberals" who defended "subversives" on grounds of free speech and civil liberties. He also never lost his sense of entitlement to bend the rules, either to protect the country or to protect himself.

Almost 90 years later, today's war on terror exists in an echo chamber of the 1919 Red scare. The federal government demands more powers at the expense of individual rights: secret CIA prisons, enhanced interrogation techniques, suspension of habeas corpus. Even the president openly claims powers that are beyond the reach of laws such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The same kinds of teachers who transformed the straight-laced, young Hoover in 1919 seem to be on the loose again in Washington. And that raises a troubling question: Are we today creating a whole new generation of young J. Edgar Hoovers, dedicated government agents learning the wrong lessons from the war on terror, who will stick around to haunt us for decades to come?