• Donald V. Watkins

Is the FBI Weaponized Against Donald Trump?

Updated: Oct 11

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on September 28, 2022


History has a way of repeating itself.


Republicans leaders around the nation are still livid at the way the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) treated former president Donald J. Trump during the Bureau's raid at his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida on August 8, 2022.


Pursuant to a duly issued search warrant, a large number of FBI agents descended upon Mar-a-Lago to retrieve classified documents from the Trump presidency that belonged in the National Archives.


Of course, the FBI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Attorney General Merrick Garland, a Joe Biden appointee, heads the DOJ. Garland personally approved the FBI raid.


Led by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S. Carolina) and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) and Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), these Republicans claim that the DOJ and FBI have been weaponized for the purpose of taking down Trump and his staunch political allies.


Rep Greene has even called for defunding the FBI.


Does the FBI have a history of being weaponized to further the political agendas of powerful people in Washington?


The answer to this question seems to take us back to the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO era.


COINTELPRO


COINTELPRO was a secret counterintelligence program carried out by the FBI to spy on, infiltrate, discredit, and disrupt domestic political and civil rights organizations. Centralized COINTELPRO activities began in August of 1956 and ended centralized operations in April of 1971. I have written about COINTELPRO on several occasions.


Two of the most famous targets of COINTELPRO operations were Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a non-violent civil rights organization founded by Dr. King in 1957. Both targets were viewed to be "extremist"because they challenged racial segregation and widespread discrimination against African-Americans in all aspects of American society.


Under COINTELPRO, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered FBI agents to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" individuals and organizations targeted by the program.


By the early 1960s, the FBI identified Dr. King as “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation.” The Bureau was intent on bringing about King's replacement with someone "acceptable" to the FBI. The Bureau sought to achieve this goal by: (a) continuing and ramping up its efforts to discredit King, (b) maintaining a drumbeat of mass media-distributed propaganda concerning King’s supposed "communist influences" and sexual proclivities, and (c) triggering a spate of harassment by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)


In 1964, the Bureau tried to convince Dr. King to committed suicide by anonymously mailing him a suicide letter that had been written by the FBI. The suicide letter, which referred to Dr. King as an "evil, abnormal beast," was prepared two days after the announcement of King’s impending Nobel Peace Prize Award.


The letter was accompanied by an audiotape recorded by the FBI that allegedly contained a series of King's sexual indiscretions. Dr. King was told the audiotape would be released to media organizations nationwide if he did not acquiesce and commit suicide prior to accepting his Nobel Peace Prize Award.


"There is only one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation,” stated the FBI letter.


Dr. King resisted this FBI-sponsored blackmail attempt and effort to end his life. He would be assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968.


COINTELPRO was successfully kept secret until 1971 when Director Hoover declared that the centralized COINTELPRO was over, and that all future counterintelligence operations would be handled on a case-by-case basis in FBI field offices.


In 1976, the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of the United States Senate, commonly referred to as the "Church Committee," launched a major investigation of the FBI and COINTELPRO. The Final Report of the Church Committee confirmed the primary methods used by the FBI to carry out the objectives and abuses of COINTELPRO. They included:


1. Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political activists. Their main purpose was to discredit, disrupt and negatively redirect action. Their very presence served to undermine trust and scare off potential supporters. The FBI and local police exploited this fear to smear genuine activists as agents.


2. Psychological warfare: The FBI and local police used a myriad "dirty tricks" to undermine progressive movements. They “planted” false media stories and published bogus leaflets and other publications in the name of targeted groups. They also forged correspondence, sent anonymous letters, and made anonymous telephone calls aimed at disrupting legitimate, peaceful protests.


3. Harassment via the legal system: The FBI and local police abused the legal system to harass COINTELPRO targets and make them appear to be criminals. Officers of the law gave perjured testimony and presented fabricated evidence as a pretext for false arrests and wrongful imprisonment. They discriminatorily enforced tax laws and other government regulations and used conspicuous surveillance, "investigative" interviews, and grand jury subpoenas in an effort to intimidate activists and silence their supporters.


4. Illegal force: The FBI conspired with local police departments to threaten dissidents; to conduct illegal break-ins in order to search dissident homes; and to commit vandalism, assaults, beatings and assassinations. The object was to frighten or eliminate dissidents and disrupt their movements.


5. Undermine public opinion: One of the primary ways the FBI targeted organizations was by challenging their reputations in the community and denying them a platform to gain legitimacy. Director Hoover specifically designed programs to block leaders from "spreading their philosophy publicly or through the communications media.” Furthermore, COINTELPRO created and/or controlled negative media for the purpose of undermining civil rights and political organizations.


In Alabama, the Birmingham News (now known as AL.com) was a willing and active participant in COINTELPRO. On October 8, 1962, the initial five newspapers selected for the purpose of disseminating anti-King propaganda and lies were the Long Island Star-Journal, Augusta (GA) Chronicle, Birmingham News, New Orleans Times-Picayune, and the St. Louis Globe Democrat.


The News also worked closely with the Alabama Sovereignty Commission throughout the 1960s to implement its “massive resistance” to desegregation initiatives in Alabama and across the South.


COINTEPRO Initiatives Can Be Effective


Over the course of time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., evolved from an early COINTELPRO target to become the first and only African-American (and non-President) to have a Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and a national holiday in his honor.


However, when Dr. King was assassinated on April 4,1968, 75% of Americans disapproved of his civil rights activism and push for meaningful economic opportunities. The FBI's campaign of sustained COINTELPRO activities (which continued to tarnish Dr. King’s name a year after his death) is widely credited with turning public opinion against him.


FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover died on May 2, 1972. His legacy is marred by the public outing of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. However, this did not stop Congress from naming the FBI headquarters in Washington after Hoover in October of 1972. Repeated efforts to rename the building have failed.


FBI field offices in the Southern states like Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida never ceased COINTELPRO activities. These offices enjoy the support from homegrown federal prosecutors and conservative federal judges that is needed to keep the program alive under the benign PR banner of “law and order” activities.


The Birmingham News continues in its COINTELPRO role of smearing prominent African-Americans civil rights and business leaders by spewing negative news stories about them in an effort to undermine their reputations in the community. Not surprisingly, the News organization has never condemned any of the FBI’s COINTEPRO activities.


Fortunately for all Americans, dynamic changes in the news business and stiff competition from independent online journalists have minimized the adverse impact of the News’ longstanding COINTELPRO tactics.


Epilogue


Now, we are back to the original question. Does the FBI have a history of weaponizing its investigations and related DOJ prosecutions to further political agendas in Washington? Yes. And, this history is well-documented in Congressional reports and various critically acclaimed publications.


Furthermore, there are countless cases that pre-date and post-date the centralized and formal FBI COINTELPRO period (from 1956 to 1971) where the Bureau used its vast resources to harass, discredit, and/or destroy targeted Americans solely for political purposes. The agency was often successful in this effort, but occasionally it was not.


USA v. Callie House (1916), USA v. Marcus Garvey (1922), USA v. Alcee Hastings (1981-1983), USA v. Harold Ford, Sr. (1987-1993), USA v. Richard Arrington, Jr. (1988-1992), USA v. Marion Barry (1990), USA v. U.W. Clemon (1996), USA v. Don Siegelman (2005-06), USA v. Ted Stevens (2008-2009), USA v. Jonathan Dunning (2014), and USA v. Christopher Pitts (2016) are just a few examples of the FBI’s willingness to weaponize its resources against well-known political/business figures who were disliked by the political establishment in Washington.


What is worst, many federal judges are lawbreakers themselves. Mark E. Fuller, the Montgomery, Alabama federal judge who railroaded former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman in USA v. Don Siegelman was a wife-beater, liar, and obstruction of justice perpetrator.


A lot of federal judges have a dark side that nobody wants to talk about. Their colleagues on the federal bench simply bail them out of their embarrassing predicaments and move on.


Picking political leaders of their liking seems to have morphed into a tradition at the FBI/DOJ.


Has the FBI been weaponized in Donald Trump’s case? Most Republicans think so. Only the passage of time will definitively answer this question.

IMAGE: Donald J. Trump. Is he a modern-day COINTELPRO target or a legitimate federal criminal suspect?

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