Saturday, May 20, 2023

"Liberals Now Love the FBI! (Some Do, Anyway)"

I just finished a great biography of J.Edgar Hoover by historian Beverly Gage. The most striking part of it was the clear continuity of Hoover's practice of waging political warfare against his social adversaries, be they Martin Luther King, Jr., or the KKK, and the practices of today's FBI as detailed in the Durham report

Here's the gist of it from an interview (here):

Gage: COINTELPRO is the most notorious program of Hoover’s tenure as FBI director, although it was not publicly known during his lifetime. COINTELPRO stands for Counterintelligence Program. And what the FBI meant by counterintelligence was not just surveillance of activist groups, but active disruption and harassment measures. The FBI would use things like threatening anonymous letters or fake press articles making fun of the Black Panthers or other groups they viewed as threats. They even had cartoonists at the FBI who would draw fake cartoons. They would get those published because they thought it would really upset people in the organizations that they didn't like. 

This part of “counterintelligence” involved disruption tactics not aimed at ever bringing anyone to court or even getting information for the files, but getting movements and organizations and leaders to fight with each other, to factionalize, to kind of collapse from within. We have famous examples of what the FBI did to Martin Luther King Jr. or to the Black Panthers. The FBI was very involved in watching and trying to create disruption in the Panthers around the time of the May Day protests in New Haven in 1970 [during the murder trial of Black Panther Bobby Seale]. They were using these tactics on student activist organizations, the New Left, and others. 

But one thing I don’t think people know is that the FBI was also doing that sort of thing to far-right organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations. Not with the same energy and enthusiasm as they were always applying to the left, but they were doing it. 

From a more pointed interview with (here) we get to this large and rather obvious observation about current politics:

MICHAEL BRENES One of the more interesting aspects of your book is that you show how liberal Democrats aided Hoover’s rise and hold on power. Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Hoover to FBI director at the height of the New Deal; Bobby Kennedy disliked Hoover but still, in his own words, “deferred to him” many times; Lyndon Johnson and Hoover had a limited friendship that led to the “greatest political alliance of [Hoover’s] career,” as you write. Why did American liberals enable Hoover? What are the connections between American liberalism and the growth of the national security state? 

BEVERLY GAGE Hoover’s close relationship with liberals — and with liberalism — fascinated me as I worked on the book. Though Hoover was appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) in 1924, it was really Franklin Roosevelt who gave him much of his power. 

Under Roosevelt, FBI agents expanded their role in federal law enforcement, becoming the great heroes of the New Deal’s War on Crime. During World War II, they expanded again, this time into a national domestic intelligence force. Roosevelt also taught Hoover how to sell the FBI’s work to the public. Both men believed that the work of government was not self-evident, that the American people had to be shown and taught to have faith in federal power. 

Lyndon Johnson embraced Hoover, too. In 1964, he exempted Hoover from mandatory federal retirement at the age of seventy, a key decision that allowed Hoover to stay in power throughout the critical years of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Throughout his presidency, Johnson used Hoover in a variety of ways — often to contain the Civil Rights Movement, on occasion to empower it. The most outrageous FBI operation of the 1960s, its campaign of harassment and surveillance aimed at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., took place with Johnson’s knowledge and support, even if Johnson did not necessarily know every detail of what the FBI was doing. 

We might think of Hoover’s relationships with these liberal titans as strange or anomalous, because we know Hoover best for his conservative social views. But it makes sense that figures like Roosevelt and Johnson, famous for their ambitions and their willingness to use the power of the state, would admire a skilled state-builder like Hoover. Those relationships also highlight the ways that liberals in power have often been suspicious of the Left and have supported efforts to contain and discredit left-wing groups. 

MICHAEL BRENES During the presidency of Donald Trump, we saw a curious faith in the FBI’s ability to create democratic outcomes, to deliver us from Donald Trump. Robert Mueller was treated as a savior by mainstream liberals. How do you explain the recent embrace of the FBI as an institution that can serve American democracy? After all, faith in the FBI to stop Trumpism occurred while the organization was surveilling protestors during the 2020 George Floyd protests and pondering the use of spyware to hack mobile phones — tactics that echoed back to Hoover’s era. And what does this tell us about Hoover’s legacy for American politics? 

BEVERLY GAGE Liberals now love the FBI! Some do, anyway. Polls show that Democrats on the whole are now far more supportive of the FBI than Republicans are. Most of that has to do with Trump, of course. But it’s also a reversion to an earlier period in FBI history, when liberals admired and empowered Hoover — and for some of the same reasons we see today. Though Trump is the key point of contention, defenders of the FBI now point to its designated role as an objective, nonpartisan, investigative force loyal to the facts and to the law — the most noble part of the FBI’s history and traditions. Of course, today’s liberals may be making some of the same mistakes that mid-century liberals did: In supporting the FBI, they may be ignoring possible excesses and abuses. That’s one of many areas where Hoover’s example ought to be instructive. 

Absolutely true. Liberals now - and not for the first time! - love the FBI. 

I say we ought to keep Hoover's name on any future FBI headquarters building as a reminder of how his spirit fills the institution, and apparently always will. 

And by all means carve this 2016 exchange between FBI big shots into the facade: “He's not ever going to become president, right? Right?! No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” 

Nothing better conveys what Jacobin called the left's "faith in the FBI to stop Trumpism." 

Some people who aren't paying attention found it shocking that a senior FBI official would express extreme animus for a presidential candidate and make it his official business to prevent that candidate's election. But Hoover would have approved. 

Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division Peter Strzok was simply following in the footsteps of his many predecessors who had done the same to all of their enemies from the anarchists of 1919 to the civil rights movement and the New Left of the '60s. 

'Stopping Trumpism' was in the highest traditions of J. Edgar Hoover.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

My Local Congressman Targeted in Baseball Bat Attack; Lessons Could Be Learned

The attacker was not wearing a MAGA hat, so most commentators were caught flatfooted at first. Their second reflex was to blame this on a rising tide of attacks on politicians. However, it looks like this was a more mundane incident, and not one of much political use, so I'd give it two days max before it disappears from public consciousness. 

The suspect's father gave the news media some interesting information (here) that clarifies his son's motive and mental state.
Pham’s father, Hy Pham, told the Washington Post his son was schizophrenic and had dealt with mental illness since his late teens. Hy Pham told the newspaper he had been unsuccessfully trying to arrange mental health care for his son.
In May 2022, a person whose name and community of residence matches Xuan-Kha Pham’s sued the Central Intelligence Agency in federal court. In a hand-written complaint, the plaintiff alleged the CIA had been “wrongfully imprisoning me in a lower perspective” and “brutally torturing me with a degenerating disability consistently since 1988 till the present from the fourth dimension”.
Delusions of persecution involving the CIA, or the U.S. government more generally, are quite common among schizophrenics. Way back in 1993 there was a shooting outside the CIA's entrance (here), after which there was a major security risk assessment which included research into the risk to government offices from mentally disturbed persons. 

It turns out that a very large percentage of diagnosed paranoid schizophrenics have delusions of persecution that could motivate attacks on government offices and persons. So that's a known risk, against which any government office can mitigate by keeping up a mild level of visitor screening and access control. 

Here's a hint: if a visitor at your congressman's district office door is holding a metal bat, and you are not organizing a softball fundraiser, then it would be a great idea to have a substantial door you can lock by pushing a button. 

After the Paul Pelosi attack Congress provided its members with a small budget for additional security measures. For a change, maybe they'll spend that on physical barriers like a door that will withstand a bat instead of on CCTV cameras which are useless against violence.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

National Museum of American Diplomacy Presents My Good Friends From OBO

Ben Franklin was on his own to find a place to work in Paris, and so were his fellow ambassadors until the Foreign Buildings Act of 1928 created a legal authority for State to own properties abroad. 

Now, there are so many diplomatic properties abroad - in every country but Iran and North Korea - that State has a Bureau to manage them, and a program to protect our cultural heritage in embassy art and architecture.     

If you'll be in town around noon on May 18, please consider coming to the NMAD for a presentation on the history of diplomatic architecture. 

(p.s. That funny round building is our embassy in Dublin.) 

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Deadbeat Dad Goes to Court, Political Repercussions May Follow

Somebody rode on Air Force One and all I got was this lousy T-shirt 

"Email correspondence between then-Deputy Secretary of State Blinken and Hunter Biden shows that meetings were set up by Blinken using his personal email address instead of his government address." 

Oh? We haven't heard the last of that, I'm sure. From the Washington Examiner:
On May 22, 2015, Hunter Biden asked Blinken to get together to get his "advice on a couple of things," in response to which Blinken set up a meeting using an AOL address instead of his address. At the time, Hunter Biden had been working for over a year on the board of the Ukrainian energy giant Burisma. 
[Representative] Wittmann had asked Blinken in December 2020 if he was aware at the time that Joe Biden’s son was serving on Burisma’s board, and Blinken replied, “To the best of my recollection, I was not.”
Maybe those emails will refresh his memory. 

By the way, concerning the mother of that adorable four-year old, I had been under the impression - based on news accounts - that she was a stripper when she encountered the POTUS's son, but that is not correct. 

Texts retrieved from that abandoned laptop of Hunter Biden's show that she was employed by Rosemont Seneca, Hunter’s own firm, and so presumably in a capacity that required clothes. 

She might be missing a workplace harassment angle in her legal campaign to pry some of his millions loose from Hunter.