Congressman Bobby Rush introduced legislation yesterday that would disclose records from the Counterintelligence Program, known as COINTELPRO. The bill would establish both a COINTELPRO Records Collection and a Review Board and eradicate J. Edgar Hoover’s name from FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Hoover, leader of the FBI from 1924-1972, was the principal public official who conceived of and implemented the COINTELPRO operation, and he was famously depicted in the motion picture film Judas and the Black Messiah for leading COINTELPRO when federal and local law enforcement assassinated Black Panther Party icon Fred Hampton, though Hoover’s exact involvement is not yet known.
In the 1950s, the FBI started COINTELPRO in the midst of the Cold War to initially disrupt the Communist Party in the United States before increasing its reach in the 1960s to other domestic groups, including the Black Panther Party. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “COINTELPRO targeted numerous non-violent protest groups and political dissidents with illegal wiretaps, warrantless physical searches and an array of other dirty tricks.”
On December 4, 1969, in a predawn raid while Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton slept in his bed, agents of the Cook County State’s Attorney Office, Chicago Police Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) brutally assassinated him.
Hampton’s murder has been attributed to having “fulfilled FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s goal of disrupting the local Black Panthers.” Hoover’s reprehensible COINTELPRO operation was only exposed after a wrongful death civil suit and through efforts of an FBI whistleblower. In 1976, the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the Church Committee) final report found that COINTELPRO had essentially undermined and infringed upon U.S. citizens’ constitutional rights.
More than 50 years after Hampton’s untimely death, the search for transparency and answers persists. In March, U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-IL), co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and personal friend to Hampton, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting information and calling for the release of unclassified and unredacted files around the suspicious circumstances of Hampton’s assassination.
In a statement introducing this hallmark piece of legislation, Rush said “It is high time that the American people know about the odious and inhumane legacy of J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO operation and its assault on our nation’s civil liberties. COINTELPRO was spying on American citizens. Anyone who took a political position against the status quo, anyone who wanted to make America better was subject to being penalized, investigated — and in the case of my friend Fred Hampton, assassinated — by the official legal arm of the federal government. As a victim of COINTELPRO, I want to know, with honesty, with clarity, and with no redactions, the full extent of the FBI’s nefarious operations. I want to know the breadth and depth of the conspiracy to assassinate Fred Hampton and how taxpayer dollars were spent on his assassination. I want to know why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a focus of the FBI, why Billie Holiday was a focus of the FBI — I want to know why so many young activists were harassed by the FBI. What was the justification for the impact that it had on their lives?… And I think it is very timely and very important that we do it at this moment.”