9. COINTELPRO (1956-1971)
The aptly named COunter INTELligence PROgram was set up during the 1950s as the federal government’s response to beatniks, hippies, pacifists, and pretty much anyone else who questioned the status quo. As a secret branch of the FBI, the organization listed, surveilled, infiltrated, discredited, and disrupted various left-leaning individuals and political organizations—from Vietnam War protesters to civil rights activists (including feminists, African Americans, and even Native Americans).
But they were mostly interested in discrediting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose increasing influence (and upcoming Nobel Peace Prize) had become infuriating to J. Edgar Hoover himself. As part of their campaign against him, COINTELPRO agents broke into and bugged Dr. King’s home, then sent him a letter (purportedly from a disillusioned admirer) decrying his alleged “adulterous acts” and “immoral conduct.” Evidence, in the form of a dubious audio recording, was enclosed and sent to his wife. The letter finished by appearing to call for his suicide, promising 34 days until “his filthy, abnormal fraudulent self [was to be]bared to the nation” and ending, ominously, with: “There is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is.”
Right-wing groups like the Ku Klux Klan were also monitored, but were evidently deemed less of a threat. In fact, when an undercover COINTELPRO agent was involved in the KKK murder of civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo in 1965, the Klansmen were let off lightly amid vicious rumors that Liuzzo was a Communist who abandoned her children to have interracial sexual relations with radicals.
Indeed, the FBI is also known to have actually financed and armed certain right wing groups, including the Secret Army Organization, to carry out attacks on black rights activists, political protestors, and left-wing academics.
COINTELPRO officially came to an end in 1971 and Hoover’s successor, Clarence Kelley, kind of apologized for “some of [their]activities.” But, tellingly, he also had the gall to defend them, whitewashing the entire program as “good-faith efforts to prevent bloodshed and the wanton destruction of property” in “the violent 60s.“