“Everywhere I look, Lord
I see FB Eyes
Said every place I look, Lord
I find FB Eyes
I’m getting sick and tired of
—Richard Wright, The FB Eye Blues, 1949
President Trump’s dismissal of FBI director James Comey is certainly a topic worthy of discussion and debate. In typical Trump fashion, his amateurish administration has given a variety of contradictory rationales for the action. While there may be confusion about what precipitated the decision, there should be no confusion about the FBI’s long history of persecuting black people in this country.
No one should forget the FBI played a major role in prosecuting Marcus Garvey. A young agent named J. Edgar Hoover led the investigation during the Wilson and Harding administrations. Hoover destroyed the Garveyite movement by arranging a trumped up charge of mail fraud. Garvey was convicted, imprisoned and deported from the United States.
The FBI never relented in this strategy of actively opposing the black struggle for human rights. In fact every FBI agent was responsible for managing at least one informer to report on activities in black communities. Political action was not the only target of attack. Writers such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, W.E.B. DuBois, and James Baldwin were all under FBI surveillance. The works of Lorraine Hansberry, Ralph Ellison and others were submitted to the FBI by a network of informers.
All of these activities fell under the umbrella of the Counter Intelligence Program, COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO used murder, disinformation, character assassination, and double agents to crush the liberation movement. Of course, Martin Luther King was a focal target of surveillance. The FBI even wrote an anonymous letter which urged him to commit suicide. Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered by FBI agents acting in concert with the Chicago police department in 1969.
In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the FBI used informants to entrap innocent people into planning nonexistent terror attacks and then sentencing them to long prison terms. The Liberty City Seven and Newburgh Four are amongst those victims.
James Comey has his own history of eroding civil liberties and maintaining the police state apparatus against every black person in the country. When mass protest arose against police killings Comey was among those who peddled the lie of a “Ferguson effect.” He made the spurious case that the police were suddenly afraid to kill black people. If only that were true. The Obama administration was in the business of pretending to undo mass incarceration and Comey exposed their fraud by claiming that it didn’t even exist.
The FBI will always be in the business of crushing dissent. The agency coordinates its work with police departments across the country with Joint Terrorism Task Force operations that target black people, Muslims of all races and anyone else who may fit a profile rife with racism and xenophobia.
This is the FBI that many people now lionize in the wake of the Comey firing. Trump’s dispute with Comey has created a dangerous cognitive dissonance on the part of people suffering from selective amnesia. If black people can’t be depended upon to remember the FBI’s history of evil doing, we are in very serious trouble.
Former National Intelligence director James Clapper laments that FBI agents are now suffering from “low morale” after their boss was told to clean out his desk. We can only hope that their condition is so serious that they no longer want to target individuals and groups for surveillance, arrest and imprisonment. We would be fortunate indeed to have an ineffectual FBI.
The term “deep state” has become popular of late but it is something of a misnomer. The deep state is nothing new or extraordinary. It was and is ever present in the lives of black people. That dynamic is unchanged, regardless of who sits in the corner office of the J. Edgar Hoover building in Washington, DC.
The fact that Hoover’s infamous name has not been removed is significant. It is further proof that the fate of a particular FBI director should be of no concern to black people. There are many legitimate reasons to oppose Donald Trump. However the emphasis on him rather than on the system has created a sad spectacle of foolishness and further proof of the sorry state of black political understanding.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.