In 2017, when the FBI hailed the civil rights leader for PR reasons in a tweet, Ben Norton issued a reminder about the agency’s ugly history.
“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you,” declared socialist leader and union organizer Nicholas Klein in 1914 (in a quote often misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi). Klein added, “In this story you have a history of this entire movement.”
In 2017, nearly 50 years after his murder, Martin Luther King Jr. was lionized by the very forces that ridiculed, attacked, and wanted to burn him. The same government institutions that threatened King’s life and called him the “most notorious liar in the country” and a “filthy, abnormal animal” applauded him.
The radical legacy of the civil rights icon — who not only valiantly fought Jim Crow, but also harshly condemned capitalism and spoke out bravely against the U.S. war in Vietnam, alienating the vast majority of the liberal establishment — has been so thoroughly whitewashed that the very same government institutions that wished death on King are now heaping praise on his memory.
In 2017, on Martin Luther King Day, the Federal Bureau of Investigation posted a tweet honoring “Rev. Martin L. King Jr. and his incredible career fighting for civil rights.”
What the FBI did not mention in its tweet is that King, who was arrested 30 times in his life, was a primary target of COINTELPRO — the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program that spied on, threatened, and even assassinated revolutionary leaders in the black liberation, socialist, and anti-imperialist movements.
The FBI relentlessly harassed and threatened King. It listened to his phone calls. It spied on his romantic affairs. It taunted him and repeatedly called his house.
After he gave his famous “I have a dream” speech in 1963, the FBI dubbed King the “most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.” FBI department heads held a meeting to discuss “a complete analysis of the avenues of approach aimed at neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader.”
In the name of fighting communism, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference to be surveilled. The FBI placed dozens of microphones in places King frequented and wiretapped his phones, with the approval of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. In order to gauge “the communist influences upon him,” the FBI tracked “all instances of King’s travels and activities.”
When King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1964, the FBI was incensed. In an infamous November press conference, the FBI’s Hoover slammed King as “the most notorious liar in the country.” Off the record, Hoover also called the civil rights icon “one of the lowest characters in the country.”
A few days after the press conference, the FBI sent King a chilling anonymous letter, blackmailing him and telling him to kill himself. The FBI called King an “evil, abnormal beast” and a “complete fraud and a great liability to” black Americans. “Your end is approaching,” the FBI wrote, describing him as “not a leader but a dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile.”
Through its surveillance, the FBI gathered evidence of King’s sexual dalliances, and threatened to expose them to the world. “You are done… I repeat you are done… You are finished… King you are done… You are done,” the letter reiterated.
“King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what that is,” the FBI concluded, strongly hinting at suicide. “You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”
King persevered for three more years until his assassination in 1968. In 1999, a jury decided in a Tennessee civil suit that the U.S. government was complicit in the killing of King.
A March 1968 FBI memo, from the month before King’s death, discussed ways to “prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement.” The memo, which is redacted, hinted that a leader like King “could be a real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed ‘obedience’ to ‘white liberal doctrines’ (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism.”
“Through counter-intelligence it should be possible to pinpoint potential trouble-makers and neutralize them,” the memo added. The next year, the FBI was involved in the murder of Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and another potential “black messiah” the agency had targeted.
Spotted Eagle. Can’t Have Him Fly. . . No Fly List For Sure !
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Comments on social media and cable news often give reasons to be angry. Sometimes anger seems to be the whole point. Anger draws Internet clicks, which is to say that many people now have a motive or even a business model for getting you mad. New research asks how all this outrage is affecting our minds. Shankar Vedantam is host of the NPR podcast Hidden Brain, which explores the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
SHANKAR VEDANTAM: There’s a reason there is so much outrage out there. It’s a very effective way to get your attention. At New York University, psychologist Jay Van Bavel and his team have analyzed more than half a million tweets, specifically those that used moral and emotional language.
JAY VAN BAVEL: Here’s an example tweet from a conservative. (Reading) Gay marriage is a diabolical, evil lie aimed at destroying our nation.
And the moral, emotional words here are evil and destroying. And they’re both negative, highly potent words. From a liberal, we have a tweet – (reading) new Mormon policy bans children of same-sex parents. This church wants to punish children – a question mark. Are you kidding me? Shame.
VEDANTAM: Van Bavel found lots of words generate outrage. Profanities are on the list; so are hate, war and greed.
BAVEL: For every moral, emotional word that people use in a tweet, we found that it increased the rate of retweeting from other people who saw it by 15 to 20%.
VEDANTAM: You don’t need to use the specific words on Van Bavel’s list to generate outrage. You can do it in endless other ways, everything from I can’t believe the president said that to why do you hate freedom so much?
(SOUNDBITE OF UNINTELLIGIBLE CHANTING)
VEDANTAM: A story from earlier this year perfectly encapsulates how outrage captures our minds. In January, a short video taken at the National Mall in Washington went viral. It showed an older Native American man surrounded by teenage boys, nearly all of whom were white. Many wore hats that said Make America Great Again.
JULIE IRWIN ZIMMERMAN: These kids were making fun of this guy because he was Native American, because he had a drum and was chanting something unfamiliar to them.
VEDANTAM: This is Julie Zimmerman, a writer based in Cincinnati, recalling her first reaction to the video.
ZIMMERMAN: It was pretty cringeworthy.
VEDANTAM: By that night, the story was everywhere.
ZIMMERMAN: I talked to a friend of mine, who lives in New York, a former roommate of mine, and she said her yoga teacher called and said, let’s drive to that school in protest. Like, that’s the sort of level of reaction people were having to this. Like, this yoga teacher in New York wanted to hop in the car and drive 10 hours to protest in front of the school.
VEDANTAM: But in the hours that followed, Zimmerman realized that she and many others had gotten the story wrong. A longer video showed that it was the Native American man who had walked up to the teenagers. He was with a large group, not alone. Another group of protesters had been harassing the students.
American voters must choose between three sharply divergent visions of the future.
The incumbent president, Donald Trump, is clear about where he is guiding the Republican Party — white nativism at home and America First unilateralism abroad, brazen corruption, escalating culture wars, a judiciary stacked with ideologues and the veneration of a mythological past where the hierarchy in American society was defined and unchallenged.
On the Democratic side, an essential debate is underway between two visions that may define the future of the party and perhaps the nation. Some in the party view President Trump as an aberration and believe that a return to a more sensible America is possible.
Then there are those who believe that President Trump was the product of political and economic systems so rotten that they must be replaced.
[Watch the endorsement process on “The Weekly,” streaming on Hulu.]
The Democratic primary contest is often portrayed as a tussle between moderates and progressives. To some extent that’s true. But when we spent significant time with the leading candidates, the similarity of their platforms on fundamental issues became striking.
Three years after taking the oath of office, President Trump has made more than 16,200 false or misleading claims — a milestone that would have been unthinkable when we first created the Fact Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement he has uttered.
DENVER — They keep expecting to see Senator Cory Gardner everywhere — on the local Fox affiliates in Colorado, on Facebook, on literature crammed inside their mailboxes. They are voters who wear tasteful crepe blouses and carry structured Kate Spade totes, who like how their 401(k)’s are performing but say they could do without President Trump’s “temperament.”
They are members of one of the most coveted groups in electoral politics: suburban women. But in their field of vision, Mr. Gardner, Colorado’s top Republican officeholder, is almost nowhere to be found.
“I don’t hear him speaking out on things,” said Jennifer Gremmert,50, the executive director of an energy nonprofit. She is the kind of voter who could help Mr. Gardner win re-election in November, a registered Democrat who considers herself “nonpartisan,” “not that enthusiastic” about her party’s Senate candidates, and “totally” open to Mr. Gardner. But when it comes to the bipartisan stands that Ms. Gremmert said she prized in a candidate, “I don’t see him.”
On one level, this is strange: Many of these voters were crucial to Mr. Gardner’s narrow Senate victory in 2014, when he carried the suburban vote and was ahead among independents, according to exit polls. And they may be even more essential to him now — he is widely considered to be one of the most at-risk G.O.P. senators seeking re-election this year.
But Mr. Gardner’s invisibility — he hasn’t held a town hall-style meeting in two years — is also pragmatic, a means of avoiding questions about his ties to the divisive president, especially as the Senate impeachment trial nears. If Mr. Gardner ends up vocally supporting the president, or votes to acquit him in the trial, it will complicate and perhaps even endanger his race to hold onto his seat.
Mr. Gardner hasn’t indicated one way or the other whether he’d vote to subpoena witnesses in President Trump’s impeachment trial, even as some other senators facing tough re-election fights, like Senator Susan Collins of Maine, have expressed an openness to doing so. Last week on Capitol Hill, he evaded reporters eager to pin down his thoughts, his handler hurrying him into the nearest elevator. On Thursday evening, when a local Colorado reporter caught him at the Denver airport, a smiling Mr. Gardner offered still no clarity. “We have a trial,” he said. “That’s where we’re at right now.”
While Ms. Collins and some other senators open to calling witnesses have been critical of the president at times, Mr. Gardner is far more circumspect about Mr. Trump, and relies heavily on Republicans and conservatives for votes — people who are intensely loyal to the president.
But if Mr. Gardner is going to win in 2020, in a state that votes Democratic in presidential elections, he is also going to need voters like the women who joined Ms. Gremmert for lunch on a recent Friday in Denver’s Greenwood Village. They consider themselves moderate Republicans and likely to support Mr. Gardner, but want to hear him make a case for himself and his record.
“I think his presence is being overshadowed by Donald Trump,” lamented Sandra Hagen Solin, a 51-year-old Republican who runs her own lobbying firm. “He needs to get his message out.”
That message, many Republicans insist, is a strong one. Mr. Gardner’s supporters often note how in the last four years, he has had more legislation signed into law than the rest of Colorado’s congressional delegation combined. But such is the trade-off, perhaps, of Mr. Gardner’s disappearing act: While it allows him to sidestep uncomfortable questions about the president, it also prevents him from aggressively promoting the record that Republican strategists believe he can win on.
Dick Wadhams, a veteran Colorado Republican operative, was not bashful about calling out Mr. Gardner’s fear of public exposure. “If I had one criticism of him,” Mr. Wadhams said, “it’s that his team keeps him locked up in a fortress.” (Mr. Gardner and his aides did not return multiple requests for comment.)
“I think he wants to please everybody, but he needs to be more transparent,” Angela Carr, a 44-year-old flight attendant, said at the Denver Republican Party’s recent monthly breakfast.
She and others at the Denver breakfast acknowledged the political considerations that prevent Mr. Gardner from mirroring the approach of a Southern lawmaker like Mr. Graham on impeachment. In 2016, Mr. Trump lost Colorado to Hillary Clinton by just under five percentage points. In 2018, Democrats swept every statewide office in Colorado in what was largely seen as a rebuke to Mr. Trump’s administration. And now, Mr. Gardner, according to Morning Consult, has an approval rating of just 36 percent.
But many Republicans were quick to point out that Mr. Gardner is no stranger to long-shot races and the complicated political dynamics that come with them.
In 2014, Mr. Gardner, then a congressman, challenged Senator Mark Udall in a race where “Cory was seen as a dead man walking,” according to Tyler Sandberg, a Colorado Republican operative. The reason: Just two years earlier, President Barack Obama had beaten Mitt Romney in the state by more than fivepoints.
But Mr. Gardner won his seat in 2014 by 2.5 percentage points, or about 50,000 votes, in a year when Republicans flipped nine Democratic-held seats nationwide and took control of the Senate. He was able to do so in large part, Mr. Sandberg said, “because he refused to let himself be pigeonholed into something he wasn’t.”
In his campaign, Mr. Udall sought to characterize Mr. Gardner as an extreme social conservative, which Mr. Gardner — in a steady stream of television ads, digital media and public appearances — consistently pushed back on.
In the middle of September, shortly before the House of Representatives opened its impeachment inquiry against President Trump, I started texting with his personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, to try to arrange a time to get together. I stressed that I wasn’t looking for sound bites; I wanted to talk, in depth, about the whole arc of his career, with the goal of explaining how he wound up at the center of this historic moment. There were several weeks of inconclusive, if at times amusing, exchanges — when I reminded him of the numerous Giuliani profiles this magazine has published over the course of the last four decades, he ‘‘loved’’ my text — before I decided to call him on his cellphone. It was a Friday evening, a few days after his business associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were arraigned on charges of conspiring to funnel foreign money into American elections. To my surprise, Giuliani answered. I could hear that he was in a crowded bar or restaurant; he sounded as if he was in good spirits. ‘‘I really want to talk to you,’’ he said. ‘‘The thing is, I’m a little busy right now. Give me another week, and I should have all of this behind me.’’
Since then, things seem to have gotten a lot worse for Giuliani. The House has impeached the president largely on the basis of Giuliani’s work, and Giuliani himself has come under investigation for possibly serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. And yet he has continued to go on cable television and Twitter, making reckless statements, all the while pressing a bizarre and baseless corruption case against Joe Biden. All of this has left a lot of people puzzled. How did a man who was once — pick your former Rudy: priestly prosecutor, avenging crime-buster, America’s mayor — become this guy, ranting on TV, unapologetically pursuing debunked conspiracy theories, butt-dialing reporters, sharing photos of himself scheming in actual smoke-filled rooms? What happened?
Giuliani never did sit down with me, and after awhile I stopped chasing him. There seemed to be little point: The whole drama, including his many unfiltered assertions about it, was out there for everyone to see. But he did eventually reply in writing to 65 statements derived from an early draft of this essay. It was a fascinating document, dismissive and yet indignant, alternating between angry denials, boasts, accusations, elisions and an almost confessional intimacy. In short, it was what I had come to think of as
I’ve been following Giuliani, as both a New Yorker and a historian of the city, for decades. When I first moved to Manhattan in 1990, he had just lost his first mayoral race and was already preparing for a rematch. Tom Wolfe’s satirical novel ‘‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’’ had recently been published and immediately become a sort of ur-text for a city that seemed to exist in Technicolor, a place of extreme wealth and desperate squalor, of rabble-rousers, con men and street criminals. Giuliani, who made his name during the 1980s as United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, wasn’t a character in Wolfe’s book, but he could have stepped out of its pages: the ‘‘jut-jawed lawman,’’ as this magazine called him in its 1993 profile, fueled by moral righteousness and a seemingly hormonal desire for power and fame.
He was an unlikely politician, with his hunched shoulders, bad comb-over, boxy suits, lateral lisp and rictus smile. He had no charm or charisma, nor even really a discernible ideology. Giuliani’s mother said in an interview published by the investigative reporter Wayne Barrett that he switched his registration, after Ronald Reagan’s election, from Independent to Republican — he was a Democrat before that — in order to advance his career. (‘‘He still feels very sorry for the poor,’’ she insisted.) During that second and this time successful mayoral campaign, Giuliani’s public speeches were almost comically grandiose and self-dramatizing, full of phrases like ‘‘We have a city to save.’’ He vowed to return New York to some golden age from which he — the son of a hard-working, Italian-American tavern owner; proud product of Brooklyn’s Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School; lifelong Yankee fan — had sprung. We would learn years later, also from Barrett, that Giuliani had left some key details out of this founding mythology:
But Giuliani steamed ahead. Over eight years in office, the mythic prosecutor became the larger-than-life mayor, the man credited with crushing crime and presiding over the city’s historic rebirth.
Giuliani practiced politics in a different key, one characterized by brazenness, by shamelessness, by chutzpah. He embraced publicity indiscriminately, picked the highest-profile fights he could find and took all of them to the furthest possible extreme. He acted as if he were bulletproof; and so, in a way, he was. As a prosecutor with political ambitions, he indicted a senior official in the administration of Mayor Ed Koch, the former Miss America, Bess Myerson, for corruption. She was acquitted, but the so-called ‘‘Bess Mess’’ dominated the tabloids for weeks, tarnishing Myerson and Koch. (Koch later wrote a short book titled ‘‘Giuliani: Nasty Man.’’) As he prepared for his second mayoral campaign, Giuliani spoke to a raucous rally outside City Hall of some 10,000 police officers, many of whom were drinking, calling Mayor David Dinkins’s proposal to increase civilian oversight of the police ‘‘bullshit.’’ He was nakedly vindictive. When AIDS activists from the nonprofit Housing Works criticized Giuliani’s mayoral policies, he tried to destroy the group by sabotaging its federal funding. When the Brooklyn Museum exhibited a painting that he felt desecrated the Virgin Mary,
Defeated in court, as he so often was during his tenure as mayor — he was sued for civil-liberties violations on more than two dozen occasions, losing nearly all of those cases in full or in part — Giuliani denounced the judge as ‘‘totally biased’’ and moved on to his next cause.
Giuliani had what often felt like an almost compulsive need to make a spectacle of himself, whether he was going on a crack buyin dark sunglasses and a Hells Angels vest (over a white dress shirt) or dressing in drag on ‘‘Saturday Night Live.’’ As United States attorney for the historically publicity-averse Southern District of New York, he became famous for his endless stream of news conferences. As mayor, Giuliani never had to leave the stage. The press gaggle of the media capital of the world followed him from morning until night, chronicling not only his city business but also his tawdry personal life.