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"I don't think Dr. King would have minded him making a little money on the side.''
September 14, 2010 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Civil Rights Photographer Unmasked as Informer. This week, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis published the results of a two year investigation that revealed that iconic Civil Rights photographer Ernest Withers was also a paid FBI informant. The timing of the report is awkward.
posted by availablelight (53 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Link to the paper trail.
posted by availablelight at 9:47 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow what a story!

It turns out that a lot of the most interesting people in history were weird dudes with unclear motivations other than a desire to be in the limelight. I highly doubt the money was the issue. One of most powerful, yet unsung, weapons for law enforcement agencies is their ability to make a subject feel valued and important. You see it all the time in police interrogations where the only winning move it to keep.your.mouth.shut.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:53 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Read history. That's the best way to gain insight into human nature. Our lives are relatively short, on a human historical scale, so our personal experiences are going to be a very limited data set from which to draw conclusions about human nature. That's where history comes in - by studying it, we can gain a perspective and accumulated experience of millennia and thousands upon thousands of human beings.

To those who have read, for example, about the history of the Soviet Union, and the extensive use of informants by the KGB (and predecessor organizations), none of this will come as the least surprise. The same is true of the history of Tsarist Russian security services, or Eastern European ones under Communism, or going back in time the history of any number of nations and their security services.

The bottom line, is that when pressures are exerted on a human being, you simply have no way of knowing ahead of time, who will turn out to be weak, who strong, who the (often) unsung hero, who the hero who turns out to have feet of clay, those you expected to be weak transpire to be strong, and the other way around... there are no rules. It's like at war. The Nazis ruled a territory, and you could never tell who would end up a collaborator, and who an unlikely hero.

And ultimately, it's also true that people often change, or may do both heroic and cowardly things.

So this photographer, an icon, transpires to have been a stoolie - color me utterly, but utterly unsurprised. People have this idea that there's the good and then there's the bad, and it's a big surprise when people suddenly transpire to be defy the expectations. But if you read history, you learn not to have such silly expectations. Because we've seen it all before. It is called human nature. Only those who have not read much history could be surprised by this.
posted by VikingSword at 10:15 AM on September 14, 2010 [16 favorites]


Still some amazing photographs - I don't have the right to contradict any of the folks that (quite rightly) feel betrayed by this, but he did a lot of good for the cause as well, I think.

I remember back in undergrad reading the work of Robert Darnton on leading French revolutionary figures, and how he exposed quite a few (most notably Jacques Pierre Brisson) as having been police informers before the Revolution. The fact is that there are any number of motives that can lie behind such apparently bizarre double-dealing: the need for money, fear of retribution (legal or violent) if they refuse, a genuine conviction that at least some of the people you're clandestinely spying on need watching.

It does bother me that the FBI is refusing to release the files, although I suppose there are questions of privacy and the family's wishes to consider as well as the desire of the Bureau not to bring some of their less pleasant activities out into the light again.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:32 AM on September 14, 2010


He was a police officer, then fired, before he became a photographer. Summaries of oral history tapes include: "He also discusses incidents from his three years as a Memphis police officer, including a confrontation with a white fellow officer that got Withers fired from the force." That experience/outlook may have made him more open to being an informant.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:36 AM on September 14, 2010


> color me utterly, but utterly unsurprised

Wow, you are utterly, but utterly cool. So because you know that everyone dies, you are never surprised by death? If someone comes up and tells you your best friend just got run over by a bus, your response is "Only those who have not read much history could be surprised by this"? I respectfully submit your nonchalance meter is turned up way too high and needs readjusting.

I have read a shitload of history and was surprised and disappointed by this. I guess I'm just another sucker.
posted by languagehat at 10:38 AM on September 14, 2010 [21 favorites]


So this photographer, an icon, transpires to have been a stoolie - color me utterly, but utterly unsurprised. People have this idea that there's the good and then there's the bad, and it's a big surprise when people suddenly transpire to be defy the expectations. But if you read history, you learn not to have such silly expectations. Because we've seen it all before. It is called human nature. Only those who have not read much history could be surprised by this.

I don't think people are surprised that a photographer turns out to have been an informer. They are surprised that this particular photographer turns out to be an informer, given everything that was publicly known about him. I don't think any amount of reading of history would realistically lead anyone to not be surprised.
posted by advil at 10:44 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have read a shitload of history and was surprised and disappointed by this. I guess I'm just another sucker.

I have too, and I am too. Neither history nor human nature explain to me this fundamental betrayal of trust.
posted by bearwife at 10:47 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a bit confused about VikingSword's comment - was he implying that we should read history, or stating that we should read history? If we look back through history we can read where the act of reading comments about history was historical, but we wouldn't know that unless we read history. Reading is half the battle. The historical battle. That we should have read about.
posted by komara at 10:51 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm shockingly not well-read, in history or politics or political history. But did the FBI in some way hinder the Civil Rights movement? From what the odd movie and or television docu-drama has lead me to believe, they were after Communists, er.... people who'd overthrow the government? Could it be that Withers was on the lookout for that sort of activity?

Or was the reach of the FBI a bit of a slippery slope, and pretty much everything fell under 'Communist Thread'?
posted by eurasian at 10:59 AM on September 14, 2010


I think it's extra chilling (and notable) due to Wither's presence during the final day of King's life. As one columnist noted, James Earl Ray at one point spun a conspiracy theory around the question of why surveillance of King suddenly stopped in April, when MLK returned to Memphis. "The reason, it seems, is that the FBI had an on-the-ground insider to keep them informed of King's activities. That informant, according to federal sources, was Ernest Withers." He photographed the meeting afterwards at the hotel room, the blood.

He photographed the iconic image of the sanitation workers strike; he also photographed the priests supporting it, to submit to his FBI handler.
posted by availablelight at 11:00 AM on September 14, 2010


If you study the history of humankind you will find enough examples of everything to fuel your smug lack of surprise at anything.
posted by basicchannel at 11:01 AM on September 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


More threads in an already fascinating, complex, rich story!

I have to wonder if he felt like he was really "betraying" people. The story said we was an ex-cop, correct? So he may have not had the same view of the police and FBI as "enemies" many people did/do. Maybe he felt that since King et al weren't actually doing Bad Things, keeping the authorities informed of what they were doing was helping the cause? Maybe he even thought he was helping keep them safe?
posted by freebird at 11:10 AM on September 14, 2010


In one panel about a collection of the photographs, Massachusetts College of Art curator Michele Furst acknowledges "Ernest Withers' obsession to document."

Heh.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:12 AM on September 14, 2010


But did the FBI in some way hinder the Civil Rights movement?

You could try reading up on CoIntelPro and the Black Panther Party for a pretty good example of federal interference, instigation, framing, and provocation ending in murder.

While everyone freaks out about the BPP and guns, no one really talks about the fact they were having breakfast programs and soup lines, or installing stop signs at intersections where multiple kids had been killed by cars.
posted by yeloson at 11:15 AM on September 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


I read an interesting book on the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (previously, previouslier) recently. Withers was far from being the only one secretly playing informant while outwardly participating in the civil rights movement.

I am reminded of Vonnegut's Mother Night. When you fight on both sides of a cause, which side defines your legacy?

Sigh. What's the word for a facepalm of the soul?
posted by richyoung at 11:24 AM on September 14, 2010


I'm shockingly not well-read, in history or politics or political history. But did the FBI in some way hinder the Civil Rights movement? From what the odd movie and or television docu-drama has lead me to believe, they were after Communists, er.... people who'd overthrow the government? Could it be that Withers was on the lookout for that sort of activity?

Or was the reach of the FBI a bit of a slippery slope, and pretty much everything fell under 'Communist Thread'?


Hoover was, before there was even really an FBI, pretty much a master of weaving the fear of Communism into the cloth of his own power. If you don't mind reading a great brick of a book, Richard Did Powers' "Secrecy and Power: The Life of J Edgar Hoover" is very good.

The Red Scare, Hoover's irational hatred of MLK, hist confrontations with Bobby Kennedy, and his willful blindness to the Mafia are all good starting points for understanding how much the FBI was a tool to impose Hoover's personal morality on America, rather than a Federal crime-fighting agency.
posted by rodgerd at 11:51 AM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


"The first thing you should know about us is... we have people everywhere."

-Quantum of Solace
posted by clavdivs at 11:53 AM on September 14, 2010


Further proof that Dr. King was a communist.
posted by pianomover at 11:58 AM on September 14, 2010


You could try reading up on CoIntelPro and the Black Panther Party for a pretty good example of federal interference, instigation, framing, and provocation ending in murder.

my example
The Flint War Council

(wikis' version is very close, having studied the event.)

talked to a man who attended and he thought:
"
{I'm making ok money so is the rest of my family, got a car, a house, 2 kids...WTF would i let some $#@^ come into my country and "make things right"}
"
posted by clavdivs at 12:02 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there reason to believe that the FBI was monitoring the situation with any kind of malicious intent? I don't know all the details of what their role was during the Civil Rights movement, but couldn't that kind of surveillance be at least in some ways as a measure to prevent violence against the people who were planning protests? Most of the violence during that time was coming from segregationists, and it would help to be aware of both sides, at least from the perspective of law enforcement.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 12:09 PM on September 14, 2010


Is there reason to believe that the FBI was monitoring the situation with any kind of malicious intent?

The FBI was looking for connections between MLK, Jr. and communists.
posted by availablelight at 12:15 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


but couldn't that kind of surveillance be at least in some ways as a measure to prevent violence against the people who were planning protests?

Not with J Edgar Hoover in charge of the FBI.
posted by electroboy at 12:15 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, you are utterly, but utterly cool.

Right, because the only reason I do anything, including reading history or just falling asleep is to appear "cool". What has this got to do with anything? WTF is "cool" doing here?

When you have a social movement that is threatening to the establishment, the establishment uses the power of the state, and the security apparatus to penetrate that movement. This penetration naturally involves planting/turning/coercing highly placed individuals within the movement. To then read about "my god, but s/he was a highly respected operative" is bizarre - err, that is the entire freakin' point, that your most valuable intelligence asset is going to be someone who is high up in the hierarchy or otherwise in a position of access. Human instinct is to say "but these are people who are vetted, which is why they can't be traitors" - and the point of reading history is to understand that over and over and over again, this instinct has proven to be wrong. Therefore it is unsurprising that the FBI would penetrate the civil rights movement. Therefore it would be utterly unsurprising if any member of that movement was ultimately found to be compromised. Heck, in Tsarist Russia, the single biggest revolutionary leader was a double agent for the Okhrana (secret police). In the Soviet Union, the secret police actually established an entire front of supposed dissidents (The Trust) who were all agents - designed to attract genuine dissidents (Sidney Reilly "Ace of Spies" died, trying to expose this).

If the highest leaders and entire movements can be compromised or manufactured, why would anyone be surprised in the least by a prominent photographer having been on the payroll of the FBI? That it's this prominent photographer? Ahem, it wouldn't make sense to recruit one who had no access, now would it?

"Cool" indeed.
posted by VikingSword at 12:16 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. Classic betrayal. Yet, with a human face. How long until someone makes a movie about it?
posted by Rashomon at 12:16 PM on September 14, 2010


You know who else was a snitch for The Man?

in fairness, Leary claimed that he didn't give them anything of importance.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:16 PM on September 14, 2010


Ah yes, this is exactly as I expected. Only the most foolish of fools would think differently. I am unsurprised by this, and all future developments, for I have read things.
posted by electroboy at 12:35 PM on September 14, 2010


> Right, because the only reason I do anything, including reading history or just falling asleep is to appear "cool". What has this got to do with anything? WTF is "cool" doing here?

Because to me someone who is determined to be unfazed by any new information is trying to be cool. You can talk till you're blue in the face about how "This penetration naturally involves planting/turning/coercing highly placed individuals within the movement" but all of that is generalization; unless you're claiming that every single person in any movement is a plant, which I will do you the courtesy of assuming you're not, you are perpetrating a basic logical fallacy. You have not answered my earlier point about everybody dying, so I will put it another way: the fact of infidelity is obvious and banal; it is far more common than betrayal of radical movements. And yet if you yourself have a life partner, I submit that your reaction to discovering that they were betraying you would not be "Yawn, how utterly unsurprising." Do you understand the point yet? To say "X is a phenomenon that frequently occurs" is not even in the same ballpark with saying "X is predictable with absolute regularity," and even when something is predictable with absolute regularity, like death in my first analogy, we—including, I am sure, you—are shocked when it happens to someone we care about. Therefore I conclude you are tossing around obvious bullshit in an effort to appear cool. You're free to disagree.
posted by languagehat at 12:36 PM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm always surprised when people don't know a thing about COINTELPRO or how the FBI was radically against the civil rights movement. The FBI tried to frame MLK Jr. for adultery. They also sent him an anonymous letter telling him to commit suicide with 30 days.

Shit's screwed up.
posted by wayland at 12:41 PM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


languagehat, this is a giant derail, so I it's going to be my last post in this thread. Your "trying to appear cool" remark was to me so off the wall that I actually had trouble even understanding what you were getting at - now that you've elaborated, at least I think I now understand what you were getting at (it's not the reading of history per se that's trying to "appear cool", but your belief that expressing a lack of surprise in this case is something of a pose because being unsurprised is somehow cool(?!) - I'm still not 100% sure I'm getting it right, it's so bizarre).

On the substance - being grief-stricken is not the same thing as being surprised, at least in my book (of course, my book may not be cool). If I heard my friend/spouse etc. was killed, I'd be grief-stricken. And I'd be *shocked*, but in the same way as any sudden dramatic news is shocking - it's akin to being startled. Yet, being startled is not the same thing as being surprised. I'm startled by a noise, I'm not surprised by it. I'm startle to hear my friend was killed in an auto-accident, I'm not surprised that he died. If he was abducted by aliens, I'd be surprised. If he was killed by a car, while meditating in a remote monastery (the car dropped from a cargo airplane hit the monastery). But killed in traffic? Shock, grief, but no surprise. Do you understand the difference? I say this in good faith, illustrating the differences. Of course, if all you are interested in is exploring how I must be motivated by trying to appear "cool", then I guess we'll part ways.

Same here. I'm not surprised in the least - anti-establishment movements are deeply penetrated by intelligence services. That's not surprising. A high ranking member is compromised - it's not surprising. These organizations are targeted relentlessly. The FBI had a multi-year operation to penetrate a knitting circle (I think that actually happened with the Los Angeles police intelligence unit investigating some anti-war person or another) - color me surprised.

Anyhow, at the risk of appearing cool - or is it uncool - I'm now signing off from this thread, with my surprised face.
posted by VikingSword at 1:05 PM on September 14, 2010


Sorry, while editing I dropped this from what I was going to post previously:

unless you're claiming that every single person in any movement is a plant, which I will do you the courtesy of assuming you're not, you are perpetrating a basic logical fallacy.

Bingo! "every single person in any movement is [POTENTIALLY] a plant..." [mine]

And now you got it. That's my position, based on reading a lot of history and how intelligence services managed to do this over and over again, at the very highest levels. NO ONE is immune. Now, a knitting circle - no, I hold no such expectation, and would be *surprised* to find it deeply penetrated by the FBI.
posted by VikingSword at 1:12 PM on September 14, 2010


OK, thanks for clarifying. I withdraw the suggestion that you were trying to be cool, since it's clear we are simply using language very differently. I have no idea what you mean by "surprise," since I can't imagine anyone not being surprised by learning their friend had been killed in an accident, but I'm the last person to look down on someone else's use of language, and I accept you are correct according to your own usage. Sorry for my false assumption, but I too "had trouble even understanding what you were getting at." I'm glad we got it straightened out. I remain surprised by the news about Withers, but I guess in your dialect I should say I was shocked. For what it's worth, I totally agree with your take on intelligence services and history (I was going to bring up Evno Azef myself).
posted by languagehat at 1:12 PM on September 14, 2010


Sorry, to pop back in - languagehat, I apologize for appearing combative. And yes, Azef is whom I had in mind - a fascinating figure.
posted by VikingSword at 1:16 PM on September 14, 2010


comrade valentine
posted by clavdivs at 1:26 PM on September 14, 2010


i'm seconding the idea that this would make a great movie. There are so many fascinating stories of the civil rights era that i fear will be lost to the historical reduction of that era to a few key events.
posted by billyfleetwood at 1:42 PM on September 14, 2010


I'm always surprised when people don't know a thing about COINTELPRO or how the FBI was radically against the civil rights movement.

The combination of the mainstream's quickness to rewrite history as if America, in general was for equality and justice while "a few bad elements" were against it, plus the massive rationalizations that go around all conspiracies = crazy talk, have produced this situation.

While there's certainly crazy conspiracy theorists out there, a lot of communities have valid distrust based on actual, recorded history of organized government action (see: Tuskeegee, forced sterilization, the Reconstruction, Chinese exclusion laws, native treaties, etc.)

Ignorance of history and apathy for the rights of others- this is how freedom dies.
posted by yeloson at 1:45 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Fascinating story.

I think we need to resist the temptation to move the guy abruptly and wholly from hero to cartoon villain ("traitor", "stoolie", etc.), though. People are complex. The guy was apparently a cop before he was a photographer. I don't think it's a stretch to imagine that he didn't see the situation as one where the police were always on the side of evil, and that he might have been receptive to an offer that he might have regarded as a continuation of his chosen profession. But on the other hand, he lost his job after being on the short end of a race-laden dispute, so it's tough to imagine him being particularly naive, or unaware that the Establishment that the police protected was one that was hostile to people with his skin color.

It seems much more plausible, to me anyway, that he was a pretty conflicted guy, rather than a perfect deep-cover sleeper agent, who went so far as to brainwash his children with the "enemy" ideology in order to ensure the continuity of his cover. And that's essentially what's being posited when we haul him out as nothing but a traitor; little else of his life makes sense if his overriding motivation was one of hostility to the civil rights movement. Most people just aren't that good at faking it.

What's unfortunate, in a way, is that this didn't come to the surface while he was still alive, if only so that we could have gotten a better idea of his motivations. Since he's dead, unless a diary turns up or a personal confidant turns up, we'll be left just guessing at his motivations — which generally ends up revealing more about the guesser than the person in question.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:08 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suppose if you compare Withers to someone like the guy who drugged Fred Hampton so he could be assassinated in his sleep, he (Withers) is more complex and conflicted. But he's no less a traitor, and that's the essential point. He was a snitch. Whatever the motivation, you don't snitch to the FBI on a movement for social justice. The FBI were not then, and are not now, the good guys.
posted by williampratt at 2:49 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


More than one of the people who were spied upon were quoted in the Commercial Appeal article don't seem to be very bothered by the news.
posted by Carbolic at 3:38 PM on September 14, 2010


Which, I now notice, is reflected in the title of the post.
posted by Carbolic at 3:40 PM on September 14, 2010


It's always seems a little weird to me to see my home newspaper showing up on the front page of MetaFilter.
posted by Deflagro at 3:47 PM on September 14, 2010


Whatever the motivation, you don't snitch to the FBI on a movement for social justice.

What if he had doubts about the movement? Or saw his position as one of identifying and reporting elements within it trying to 'hijack' the movement in other directions. I can see FBI recruiters talking up the Communist infiltration angle - even for a man who had the kind of access to King and the other key civil rights figures that this guy did, he may have held doubts.

Again, not meant to provide a blanket justification or say he didn't commit a betrayal. But these things are rarely as black and white in your mind, when you're the guy on the ground, as they seem to people more distant in time and space from the events.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:53 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course human beings and their actions are not black or white, and it is important to realize that and try to understand them with as much complexity as we can. But it is also important to make a judgment after weighing all the factors. One can understand the pressures and confusions he was dealing with, and still say that what he did was utterly wrong. To understand everything is not (pace the French) to forgive everything. And there were, after all, lots and lots of equally poor civil rights workers and leaders under just as much stress who didn't rat out their colleagues.
posted by languagehat at 4:27 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Considering the time and what "the man" was capable of then, I have to wonder if there was any coercion going on. Otherwise, this is almost too strange to be true.
posted by snsranch at 4:41 PM on September 14, 2010


By "capable of", I mean; torture, murder disappearing and the same to family members. By "strange", I really mean sad. What a tough story to think about.
posted by snsranch at 4:46 PM on September 14, 2010


Is there reason to believe that the FBI was monitoring the situation with any kind of malicious intent?

Well, they don't monitor people to congratulate them. They investigate federal crimes.
posted by desuetude at 5:55 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


But these things are rarely as black and white in your mind

Things are complicated shades of gray AND they are black and white. There are lines which, once crossed, change things fundamentally. And if one does not know this, and not just as a general principle but what it means in concrete terms, one can very easily end up crossing that line without even realizing it.

Well, they don't monitor people to congratulate them. They investigate federal crimes.

They also frame, coerce and entrap people, work with police and reactionary groups to target, disrupt and destroy organizations and eliminate their leaders, spy on political dissidents (even the most benign), etc. They are the political police of the US.
posted by williampratt at 6:38 PM on September 14, 2010


I wonder whether the FBI had something on Withers. It's got to be pretty easy to turn someone when you're holding incriminating pictures or testimony that would break up the target's family or send him to jail. The FBI was watching all of these guys pretty closely. If they caught Withers doing something or someone embarrassing (or even illegal) and snapped a few pictures or recorded a few minutes of tape, they would own him forever.
posted by pracowity at 12:15 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm always surprised when people don't know a thing about COINTELPRO or how the FBI was radically against the civil rights movement. The FBI tried to frame MLK Jr. for adultery. They also sent him an anonymous letter telling him to commit suicide with 30 days.

I have spoken to one of the FBI agents who was listening in on MLK's conversations during COINTELPRO and can say that the FBI did not have any need to accuse MLK of adultery. He managed to do quite enough of that himself.
posted by longbaugh at 7:51 AM on September 15, 2010


Funnily enough that same agent had Tim Leary round for dinner once when he was under FBI arrest. Apparently a rather nice, if understandably nervous young man and a polite and entertaining dinner guest.
posted by longbaugh at 7:53 AM on September 15, 2010


> I wonder whether the FBI had something on Withers.

Yes, I think this is very likely.

Incidentally, anyone interested in the question of how to think about informers should read chapter 7 of Vasily Grossman's Everything Flows, which begins "Who is guilty? Who will be held responsible?" and goes on to discuss increasingly revolting forms of betrayal and oppression and explain what leads people to behave that way:
First, he is a volunteer. No one frightened him into it; he writes denunciations of his own accord. Second, what he sees in a denunciation is the direct, definite material benefit that he can derive from it.

Nevertheless, let us restrain the fist that has been raised to strike him: his passion for objects is a passion born of poverty. Yes, he could tell you about a room eight meters square that is home to eleven people, where a paralyzed man is snoring while a young couple rustle and moan beside him, where an old woman is muttering a prayer and a child who has wet himself keeps crying and crying....

It was, surely, living an animal life that had first engendered his animal passion for things, his longing for a more spacious den. The bestiality of his life had turned him into a beast.

Yes, yes, of course. But it is clear that he lived no worse than others. It is clear, in fact, that he lived better than many.

And these many, many others did not do what he did. Let us take our time; let us think—and only then pronounce judgment.
And anyone interested in the history of the Soviet Union from the point of view of one who suffered deeply from it and thought penetratingly about it, with the full exercise of both empathy and righteous anger, should read the whole book. It's half novel, half historical essay, and it's completely devastating.
posted by languagehat at 7:58 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


This kind of thing is still happening:
Gov. Rendell said Tuesday that he was "appalled" and "embarrassed" that his administration's Office of Homeland Security has been tracking and circulating information about legitimate protests by activist groups that do not pose a threat to public safety.

Rendell said he did not know that the state Office of Homeland Security had been paying an outside company to track a long list of activists, including groups that oppose drilling in the Marcellus Shale, animal-rights advocates, and peace activists.

The office then passed that information on to large groups of people, including law enforcement and members of the private sector...

The bulletin included information about a PrideFest by gays and lesbians; a rally that supported his administration's education policy; and an anti-BP candlelight vigil.

"Tell me, what critical infrastructure does the gay and lesbian PrideFest threaten?" Rendell asked. "How in the Lord's name can we consider them to be terrorists?"
-The Philadelphia Inquirer (via Towleroad)
posted by overglow at 9:27 AM on September 15, 2010


eurasian: I'm shockingly not well-read, in history or politics or political history. But did the FBI in some way hinder the Civil Rights movement?


eurasian, I'm going to assume you're also quite young. There's a fairly strong suspicion to this day that the FBI orchestrated (or aided & abetted, in the very legal sense) the assassination of Dr. MLK, Jr.

And aided & abetted the assassin of Malcolm X. They almost certainly fomented division between Malcolm and the Nation of Islam.

infinitefloatingbrains: Is there reason to believe that the FBI was monitoring the situation with any kind of malicious intent? I don't know all the details of what their role was during the Civil Rights movement, but couldn't that kind of surveillance be at least in some ways as a measure to prevent violence against the people who were planning protests? Most of the violence during that time was coming from segregationists, and it would help to be aware of both sides, at least from the perspective of law enforcement.

Again, I'm afraid that's really naive. The FBI's leadership were segregationists, although officially ordered to act otherwise by Presidents Kennedy & Johnson. Publicly, their actions appeared to support the Executive branch's policies...
posted by IAmBroom at 8:24 PM on September 16, 2010


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