With Robert Mueller investigating alleged Russian interference into the 2016 election, some in the “Resistance” have started lionizing the Federal Bureau of Investigation. At Defending Rights & Dissent, we’ve long since argued this was deeply misguided. From its inception the FBI has a history of surveilling leftwing dissent, which continues to this day.
On Friday, January 18, 2018 during a Fox News appearance Former FBI Assistant Deputy Director Terry Turchie made a startling admission. Turchie was appearing on the Tucker Carlson program to talk about the Mueller investigation, when he said
the electorate in some places is putting more and progressives and self-described socialists in positions. And, ironically, years ago–when I first got into the FBI–one of the missions of the FBI in its counterintelligence efforts was to try to keep these people out of office
Uhhhhhhh….Fmr FBI Assistant Director just said "When I first got into the FBI one of the missions of the FBI in its counterintelligence efforts was to try to keep" progressives out of government pic.twitter.com/l1KqQMO914
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) January 19, 2019
As jarring as this claim is, it is completely accurate. As part of a joint effort between Defending Rights & Dissent and Jacobin, we recently obtained the FBI surveillance documents of George Crockett. Crockett had been a civil rights attorney who went on to become an elected criminal court judge and later a member of Congress. Because he defended, on First Amendment grounds, members of the Communist Party being persecuted for their beliefs he was relentlessly hounded by the FBI. This included attempts to turn the media against him when he was a judge and attempts to sabotage an earlier campaign for Detroit City Council.
Crockett’s campaign was victim of more than just redbaiting. It was a target of COINTELPRO.
COINTELPRO, or “Counter Intelligence Program,” is perhaps the FBI’s most notorious abuse of power. Under this program, the FBI wasn’t content to merely surveil or monitor dissenters: it sought to disrupt and “neutralize” political movements. For the nation’s premier law enforcement and intelligence agency to target an electoral campaign under such a program has grave ramifications for democracy.
As part of the COINTELPRO actions against Crockett’s campaign, FBI counterintelligence agents sent in questions about Crockett’s subversive associations to a televised candidates forum. Per standard protocol, the agents made sure these questions could not be traced to the Bureau. They went so far as to use a PO box and “locally purchased stationary.” Later, FBI confidential informants reported back to the FBI about Crockett’s intent to run for Recorder Judge.
The FBI’s long history of acting as the political police demonstrates why it is misguided to embrace them as a force for democracy.