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The Shame of COINTELPRO: How the FBI Tried to Drive Martin Luther King to Suicide 7:11 AM 11/15/2020

The Shame of the “COINTELPRO”: How the FBI Tried to Drive Martin Luther King to Suicide – 7:11 AM 11/15/2020

How the FBI Tried to Drive Martin Luther King to Suicide

Sunday November 15th, 2020 at 6:34 AM

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How the FBI Tried to Drive Martin Luther King to Suicide
SMEAR CAMPAIGN
A new documentary offers an anatomy of the motivations of J. Edgar Hoover’s unhinged efforts to smear MLK, including through interviews with King’s confidants.

A new documentary offers an anatomy of the motivations of J. Edgar Hoover’s unhinged efforts to smear MLK, including through interviews with King’s confidants.

Melissa Leon
Entertainment Editor

Updated Nov. 15, 2020 5:54AM ET / Published Nov. 15, 2020 5:03AM ET
Last year, an explosive trove of alleged information about the private life of Martin Luther King, Jr. became available for the first time in written FBI reports and surveillance summaries.

Quietly uploaded to the National Archives’ website and buried among tens of thousands of government documents, the reports revealed the crazed lengths to which J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI went to surveil, harass, and even attempt to drive King to suicide—all to expose what Hoover and his G-men claimed in a racist panic as the hypocrisy of a nation’s moral leader engaging in “degenerate” sexual acts in private. The married civil-rights icon and father of four had extramarital affairs during his travels across the country; that much is known, affirmed by some of his closest surviving confidants.

The truth of the rest of it is hazier. But in seven years, when the rest of the FBI’s file on King is unsealed, there will likely be exhaustive scrutiny of the materials’ grimmest allegation, involving rape. It will be important that when the time comes, the complete, often maddening history of King’s fraught relationship with the FBI is not forgotten.

Director Sam Pollard’s upcoming documentary MLK/FBI, now playing via the DOC NYC festival and planned for a January release from IFC Films, devotes itself to examining that history through a wide lens. It supplies what some of the sensationalized initial responses to the FBI reports neglected, namely a justifiable skepticism of the FBI’s surveillance and recording methods and an emphasis on the racist fears behind Hoover’s mission to destroy King at the height of the civil rights movement. Rather than simply relay the FBI’s lurid version of King’s sex life, it paints a portrait of a revolutionary more complicated—and controversial in his time—than the reductive, oft-sanitized avatar of nonviolence trotted out every year for social media likes (often by the very same politicians actively working against what King fought to achieve).

The film is stingingly resonant in 2020 amid a resurgent movement against police brutality and racial inequity, and a new generation of protesters targeted by state violence. It offers a sobering if also galvanizing reminder of how adamantly U.S. law enforcement institutions have historically opposed the fight for Black and poor peoples’ civil rights, and how enduring the movement is despite that. Through archival footage, photographs, and interviews with historians and a handful of ex-FBI agents and King’s surviving confidantes, the film illuminates a stark picture of how white America’s fear of social progress is no Trump-adjacent anomaly—it is a damning founding element of our mainstream political order.

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The Shame of COINTELPRO: How the FBI Tried to Drive Martin Luther King to Suicide 7:11 AM 11/15/2020

The Shame of the “COINTELPRO”: How the FBI Tried to Drive Martin Luther King to Suicide – 7:11 AM 11/15/2020


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