I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It covered so many aspects of U.S. history and filled in a lot of blanks for me about key characters. Here are some random observations.
While the author tilts to the Left politically and clearly doesn’t like Hoover (and not without many good reasons), his thorough analysis can’t help but show the many foibles and evils of Democrats as well as Hoover and Republicans. It was FDR that expanded Hoover’s powers greatly, and FDR, Kennedy and Johnson loved how Hoover provided them with gossip and blackmail material. He also noted the vote-stealing of Kennedy and Johnson and the manufactured images of the Kennedy family.
Hoover provided irrefutable evidence of what a fraud the “Reverend” side of MLK was, but the media and politicians chose to ignore it.
He pretended for years that significant organized crime didn’t exist, perhaps because they had something on him and/or because the difficulty of the cases would impact his success rate for solving crimes. But when it became public just how real it was and when Attorney General Robert Kennedy pushed him on it in the 1960’s , he went after it with a vengeance and made great progress.
All over the United States crime families discussed this sudden, astonishing turn of events—they were especially stunned to find that the FBI even knew the family infrastructure—and agreed there should be no recurrence. But mob leaders in Youngstown, Ohio, didn’t get the message. The agents overheard them discussing which of their three available hit men to use to kill an FBI agent they particularly disliked. Some twenty of the area’s biggest and baddestlooking agents barged into the Mafia chieftain’s penthouse apartment, “accidentally” knocked over expensive vases, dropped cigarettes and still-lit matches on the Oriental carpets, urinated on a favorite potted palm. “You may have three hit men,” they told him, “but Mr. Hoover has thousands.”54
After that, no one again referred to FBI agents on overhears as Boy Scouts.
But the Mafiosi didn’t blame FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who had left them alone for so many years. They were sure that he was only a reluctant warrior, acting on the orders of Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
He was also a racist who stood to the side on various KKK issues, but again, when finally pressed into action, he made great strides against the KKK. Whether legal or not, actions like sending postcards to KKK members (that others were sure to read) noting how they were known members and such helped shame people into leaving the group. The FBI would even send fake letters to spouses telling them that their KKK-member husbands were having affairs. The idea was to distract them at home to keep them from terrorizing others.
Here’s an example of how they worked to pit the Communists and Mafia against each other:
In November the director [Hoover] informed selected SACs [Special Agends in Charge] about the Bureau’s inspiration for a Klanzi party COINTELPRO [COunter INtelligence PROgrams]: “We created the impression that the Klan and the American Nazi Party might form the Klanzi Party…for the purpose of ridicule and to provoke certain Klan leaders to an attack on the ANP.” A month before, someone suggested a rather similar plan to disrupt the Communist party and La Cosa Nostra by “having them expend their energies attacking each other.” A supposedly Communist leaflet attacking the working conditions at a mob-owned business was to be the first fruit of Operation Hoodwink.
If you ask most Lefties who the Vietnam war hawks were they would probably blame Republicans, but it was Kennedy and Johnson who drove it.
The un-checked power of someone who had the power to dig up dirt on everyone except Jesus made for a dangerous combination. He could blackmail just about anyone, including Presidents.
It was interesting how many times homosexual issues came up in the book. The government would screen for that, because it opened people to potential blackmail. But what was interesting is that most of the evidence was from police records where individuals had been caught in parks, restrooms, etc. What is it with that deviancy that leads people to such reckless behavior?
And then there were the “special requests,” as in November 1969 when H. R. Haldeman asked for a list of known or suspected homosexuals in the Washington press corps. Within hours, a detailed report was delivered to the White House, indicating that the FBI director had this particular information close at hand.
The author also noted that “Much has been made of Nixon’s “enemies list.” Every administration had had such a list.”
Sadly, Hoover spent so much time self-promoting and covering for the bureau that they could have accomplished much more. They missed out on some important opportunities because of his foolish pride. And he engaged in and allowed a lot of petty embezzlement while he should have set the best example.
The urban legend of Hoover being a cross-dresser wasn’t even noted. I hate when those things seep into the public consciousness. But the author frequently alluded to the potentially homosexual relationship of Hoover and his long-time (and also single) 2nd in command, Clyde Tolson, even though he never made a definitive conclusion.