Fri. Jun 9th, 2023
Nicholas Goldberg: Why honor racist, homophobic J. Edgar Hoover?

Fifty years in the past this week — on Might 2, 1972 — J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, died at his home close to Washington’s Rock Creek Park, and was discovered the following morning by his housekeeper slumped on the ground subsequent to his mattress.

Within the days that adopted, he acquired fulsome reward. President Nixon eulogized him as a “large” and a “legend” who personified integrity, honor, precept and braveness, who had fought all his life in opposition to the “development of permissiveness” that Nixon mentioned was eroding the nation. Supreme Court docket Chief Justice Warren Burger known as Hoover a “splendid man” who “wouldn’t sacrifice precept to public clamor.”

However the full story wasn’t being instructed. The truth is, Nixon had hoped to push Hoover out of the job just some months earlier however feared the director’s retribution. At the least four other presidents reportedly had hoped to take away him as effectively however have been unable to or didn’t dare.

Stipple-style portrait illustration of Nicholas Goldberg

Opinion Columnist

Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg served 11 years as editor of the editorial web page and is a former editor of the Op-Ed web page and Sunday Opinion part.

Hoover was no American hero. He was a bigot, a racist and a homophobe — a conspiracy theorist who amassed and abused monumental energy, pursued his enemies unscrupulously and trampled on the civil liberties of law-abiding Americans.

So right here’s a proposal on the anniversary of his dying: Let’s take the chance to proper an egregious mistaken by stripping Hoover’s title off the massive, brutalist J. Edgar Hoover FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.

It by no means belonged there. He deserves no such honor.

For individuals who don’t bear in mind the Hoover days, right here’s a fast evaluation.

He headed the bureau for 47 years, starting in 1924 and ending solely when he fell away from bed and died at age 77.

On his watch, to present him his due, brokers helped clear up the Lindbergh child kidnapping case and arrested (or in some circumstances killed) Despair-era gangsters reminiscent of John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Fairly Boy Floyd and Child Face Nelson. Hoover supervised the seize of Nazi saboteurs throughout World Struggle II and Soviet spies through the Chilly Struggle.

However he grew to become too highly effective, stayed within the job too lengthy and believed himself and his group exempt from guidelines, legal guidelines and the Structure itself.

Hoover’s FBI illegally compiled hundreds of dossiers on teams that weren’t engaged in crime or violence. He undertook a marketing campaign in opposition to suspected homosexual and lesbian folks working for the federal authorities, putting together more than 360,000 files in hopes of eradicating “sexual deviates” from their jobs. He was an anti-communist zealot of the ugliest type.

His putative bosses within the White Home didn’t stand as much as him not less than partly as a result of they feared he would take revenge by releasing disparaging details about them. “You don’t fireplace God,” President Kennedy reportedly said.

In 1956, Hoover created the now-notorious COINTELPRO program to “disrupt,” “discredit” and “neutralize” radical organizations and their leaders. The FBI cast paperwork, unfold derogatory rumors, carried out warrantless break-ins and engaged in unlawful surveillance, amongst different ways. It sought to interrupt up marriages, disrupt conferences, destroy reputations, provoke rivalries. Its targets weren’t simply spies, Klansmen and violent, militant organizations, but in addition civil rights teams and anti-Vietnam warfare teams participating in peaceable protest protected below the first Modification.

One of many bureau’s chief targets was Martin Luther King Jr.

Publicly, Hoover known as King “probably the most infamous liar within the nation.” Privately, he known as him a “burrhead” who wanted to be destroyed. At Hoover’s route, FBI brokers planted wiretaps in King’s house and workplace, and positioned bugs in his lodge rooms, after which peddled what they’d realized about his intercourse life to the press.

Historian Taylor Branch says that Hoover “manipulated” Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy to log off on the King wiretaps with “implicit threats” about revealing John Kennedy’s extramarital affairs.

In 1964, a high deputy to Hoover despatched an nameless letter to King calling him a “filthy irregular animal,” accusing him of adultery and of collaborating in orgies — and seemingly urging him to commit suicide. (“There may be however a method out for you.… You already know what it’s.”) The letter got here with an audiotape the bureau had recorded surreptitiously in King’s lodge room. It was acquired not by King however by his spouse, Coretta.

“No person must be naming something after the likes of J. Edgar Hoover,” says Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who has introduced a bill to take away Hoover’s title from the FBI constructing. “He was a despicable character. He’s no function mannequin.”

Connolly famous that if the FBI strikes ahead with plans to relocate from D.C. to the suburbs, it’s crucial that Hoover’s title not be relocated together with it.

Usually, I’m not the largest fan of ripping down statues or disappearing the names of historic figures. I imagine folks ought to usually be considered within the context of the occasions once they lived. And I imagine we are able to honor flawed folks whose good qualities outweighed their unhealthy ones.

However I don’t imagine Hoover’s good outweighed his unhealthy. Having his title on the FBI constructing insults the U.S. Structure.

Nixon — whose personal respect for the Structure left one thing to be desired — mentioned in his Hoover eulogy that the FBI director must be remembered so “the profound ideas related together with his title is not going to fade away.”

And that’s true. His ideas, or lack of them, ought to be remembered, in order that we don’t discover ourselves happening the identical street once more. Former FBI Director James B. Comey, as an illustration, kept a copy of the Martin Luther King wiretap request on his desk as a reminder of the bureau’s previous errors.

However neither Hoover nor his so-called ideas must be honored.


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