Freeh's Blind Mice: A Critical Look at "Tolerance Training," FBI Style
I'm no Biblical scholar is an understatement of monumental proportions. And yet,
recently I found myself--for reasons I'll explain shortly--thinking of the
following verse from the book of Matthew, if memory serves:
behold the mote in thy brother's eye, but consider not the beam in thine own
language aside, let it suffice to say this verse has something to do with what
we'd now refer to as the "pot calling the kettle black."
reading the headline of my local paper a few weeks ago, I couldn't help but
think of these pots, and kettles, and motes, and beams. For there, in black and
white was the following:
role in the Holocaust added to FBI Agent's training."
to the article, FBI Director Louis Freeh has implemented new training for Bureau
recruits, to "teach of the failure of law enforcement to protect citizen's
rights," in Nazi Germany. According to Freeh, the course will demonstrate
the evil of law enforcement when it "abandons its mission to protect
people," and becomes "an engine of repression."
by the Anti-Defamation League, the new training takes recruits on a guided tour
of the Holocaust Museum and then asks them to write essays on the relevance of
the training to their work. One recruit who went through the process explained
it had made clear his duty to "preserve human life and protect the civil
rights of every man, woman and child."
nice. Presumably if Hitler ever comes back, this recruit will make sure to stand
tall against the impending threat of German fascism, since apparently, that's
the only kind worth fretting over, and the only kind capable of teaching the
lesson intended here. The pot calling the kettle black, indeed.
hardly need travel thousands of miles away and a half-century back in time to
demonstrate the complicity of law enforcement with repression. Frankly, new FBI
recruits would do better to learn about the nefarious history of their own
employer, which provides more than enough examples of the same phenomena Freeh
seeks to demonstrate.
new training spends a great deal of time discussing the passivity of German law
enforcement in the face of growing repression under the Third Reich. But we
needn't look to Hitler's regime for that lesson.
all, FBI agents were notorious for standing around, watching, and doing nothing
while civil rights workers and freedom riders were beaten by racists throughout
the South in the 1960's.
ask Howard Zinn: he'll tell you how FBI agents looked him in the eye and
insisted they had no power to do anything, even as Selma, Alabama police below
the Bureau's own window, dragged, beat, and shocked with stun guns those seeking
to register black voters.
how, in 1964, J. Edgar Hoover waited 37 hours after the disappearance of three
other civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi before finally beginning
a pathetically weak investigation.
how FBI operative, Gary Rowe, rode along with the assassins of Viola Liuzzo,
after the Selma to Montgomery march, knowing they planned to kill someone, and
yet, did nothing.
as for the new training's discussion of how law enforcement sometimes takes an
active role in repression, here too it's hardly necessary to study German
noted in Michael Linfield's book, Freedom Under Fire, by the late 1920's, the
FBI had already compiled an "enemies list" of nearly half-a-million
suspected "subversives," and in 1936, even as Hitler was consolidating
his power, President Roosevelt authorized the Bureau to spy on organizations
considered "dangerous." Four years later, FDR would authorize massive
wiretapping by the Bureau, increasing the number of "anti-subversive"
investigations to nearly 70,000 annually. From 1947-1952, the FBI conducted
roughly 6.6 million "security investigations" of U.S. citizens: about
3000 such actions every day.
for involvement with direct repression, you can't get much better than the 2,300
or so FBI COINTELPRO operations to "disrupt and neutralize" targeted
groups and individuals from the mid-'50-'s to 1971. According to declassified
documents and a Senate Committee investigation (about which I doubt FBI recruits
are informed), the Bureau actively attempted to discredit and destroy the civil
rights movement, the antiwar movement, and dozens of organizations dedicated to
Black, Latino, and Indigenous liberation.
Luther King Jr. may be a revered icon today, but from the early 1960's until his
death, the Bureau marked him for political (if not literal) destruction by
wiretapping his phones (with the approval of Attorney General and liberal hero
Bobby Kennedy), as well as spreading rumors about marital infidelity and sending
him letters encouraging him to commit suicide. A month before his assassination,
Hoover wrote that there was a need to "pinpoint potential
troublemakers" in the black movement, "and neutralize them."
William Sullivan--the agent in charge of the anti-King operation--told the
Senate, "No holds were barred. We've used similar techniques against Soviet
agents. We did not differentiate. This is a rough business."
suspects the new FBI recruits are too busy learning about the suppression of the
Warsaw Ghetto uprising to be told that the agency they've joined conspired with
Chicago police in 1969 to assassinate Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton,
by providing them with detailed floor plans of Hampton's apartment prior to a
raid they knew the police were planning to launch. Or that the Bureau
collaborated with other police departments in killing nearly thirty Panthers in
the late '60's and early 1970's.
imagines the new FBI recruits writing heartfelt essays about the horrors of
Kristallnacht, while studiously ignoring their employer's admitted role in
fomenting the factional dispute within the Nation of Islam that led to the
assassination of Malcolm X, or their all-out war on the American Indian Movement
that led to the murder of over seventy residents of Pine Ridge Reservation in
can only guess that these FBI recruits will emerge from their Holocaust training
with a newfound revulsion for the support given racism and Nazism by German
police, but with no knowledge of their own agency's financial support of a group
of white supremacists from California who attacked Chicano activists and tried
to murder anti-war activist Peter Bohmer in 1972.
that most of the new recruits probably grew up in the Reagan '80's, they should
perhaps know--but I'm sure won't be told--that even after COINTELPRO, the FBI
continued spying on domestic organizations. Early in his administration,
President Reagan--himself a former FBI informant against fellow actors--issued
Executive Order 12333, allowing the FBI to wiretap without a warrant and engage
in undercover operations against organizations opposed to his Central America
of the FBI's key infiltrators in this period, Frank Varelli, has said the FBI
paid him to destroy the Dallas chapter of the Committee in Solidarity With the
People of El Salvador (CISPES) by burglarizing member homes, recruiting thugs to
start fights at CISPES rallies, and even seducing an activist nun so as to
procure blackmail photos for use against the group. The FBI encouraged him to
plant guns on CISPES members, and Varelli regularly passed information on U.S.
and Central American-based activists to the Salvadoran National Guard: the
entity in control of that nation's vicious death squads, responsible for the
deaths of tens of thousands of Salvadorans.
I would imagine Freeh's new foot soldiers will now be aware of the diabolical
experiments conducted on twins by Joseph Mengele, but know nothing about the
program operated by the FBI's sister agency, the CIA, called MK ULTRA, whereby
unsuspecting residents of the San Francisco Bay area were intentionally exposed
to a whooping cough virus, and unwitting hospital patients were subjected to
chemical experiments using hallucinogenic drugs.
while we're on the subject of Nazis, one can only wonder if the Holocaust Museum
will mention that after World War Two, U.S. intelligence agencies helped over
5,000 Nazi scientists and doctors find refuge in the states, including many who
had been directly involved in mass atrocities. Somehow, I doubt it.
the Anti-Defamation League is giddy about the new training ought to be enough
evidence that there is something wrong with it: after all, it was this group's
San Francisco area affiliates who were exposed in the early '90's as having
spied on, and passed information to the FBI about, assorted Central American
peace and justice activists, as well as anti-apartheid activists and those
supporting Palestinian rights and liberation. Birds of a feather, are, in this
instance, flocking very closely together.
this serve as yet another exhibit item, to be filed away under "passing the
buck," 101: yet further proof that we are more than comfortable discussing
the crimes of others, but still unwilling to peek under the hood of our own
engines of repression. The one thing the FBI's new attempt at "tolerance
training" apparently can't tolerate, is the truth that hits a bit too close
Tim Wise is a Nashville-based activist and educator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org