Trump’s call for Spying on US Muslims recalls FBI bugging of MLK, Black Churches

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

As Donald Trump supporters beat a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protester at his rally in Birmingham, Ala., Trump himself reminded us of the dark days when a paranoid J. Edgar Hoover had the FBI monitor the Rev. Martin Luther King and black Churches of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Trump said in Birmingham, “I want surveillance of certain mosques . . . We’ve had it before, we’ll have it again. … We have a situation where ISIS has raised its ugly head again and we have to chop off that head like they’re chopping off heads.” He also said he would send Syrian refugees back to Syria if he were elected. Many Syrian refugees have fled because they would be killed in their homeland.

The African-American protester was beaten, kicked and pulled down, with 8 or 9 people on top of him, as he was called a “monkey” and the N-word. You wonder if they were wearing brown shirts. The Trump campaign later said it did not condone the behavior, but we haven’t heard Trump himself publicly denounce it. During the altercation, Trump said from the podium, “Yeah, you can get him out. Yeah, get him out. Get him the hell out of here.”

Trump’s desire to spy on American congregations recalls Cointelpro and other domestic surveillance programs of the 1960s that led to massive abuses and in some ways led to Watergate under Nixon.

The ACLU noted that the FBI looked into King in the late 1950s and:

“The FBI formally opened another investigation of Dr. King and the SCLC in late 1962 under an FBI pro gram called COMINFIL that permitted investigation of legitimate noncommunist organizations suspected by the FBI of having been infiltrated by communists. The charge was ludicrous. Dr. King repeatedly criticized Marxist philosophy in his writing and speech es and all evidence indicated the Communist Party had little, if any, influence on Dr. King or the SCLC.”

Since Rev. King and the SCLC advocated nonviolence, there were no actual legal grounds for an FBI investigation of them. They had broken no federal law.

The FBI also tried to stop Rev. King from meeting the Pope, and pressured church leaderships to make sure he received no donations for his work from their congregations. It tried to prevent him publishing in a national magazine, a clear violation of the First Amendment. And, of course, field officers unconstitutionally bugged his bedroom without any warrant.

On another occasion, according to the ACLU says documents show that the FBI spied on a Roman Catholic group:

‘The Catholic Workers Group (CWG), a religious group dedicated to nonviolence, appears in another FBI document describing a National Missile Defense protest. The document states that “CWG … advocates a comm unist distribution of resources.” ‘

In an earlier time, during the 1940s, the Federal government not only spied on but actually illegally interned Japanese Buddhist priests.

So Mr. Trump is correct that “it has been done before.” The question is whether it ought to have been done before, whether it was constitutional when it was done before.

Trump’s proposals resemble those of other historical figures in other places. It should be remembered that after 1938 in Mussolini’s Italy, as C. Fonio writes,

“Following the racial laws, the Ovra specifically focused on spiritual matters. Surveillance through personal biographical files on Jews, but also on Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses, became common practice and special inspectorates carried out ‘religious persecutions’ (Franzinelli 1999, 370). Pentecostals were considered anti–fascists and rebels and thus ‘subversives’ like the communists (1999, 366). The prefects solicited the Carabinieri to record all the Jews who either lived or passed through their provinces. In particular they collected detailed information on jobs, incomes, behaviors and attitudes towards the regime (Franzinelli 2001, 141). Institutional top–down surveillance was greatly facilitated by ordinary citizens who denounced Jews thanks also to a harsh campaign of propaganda in the press which, however, is not enough to explain why Italians informed the State about Jews who violated the law.”

Trump’s campaign has not only a lot of 1958 Alabama about it, it has a lot of Rome 1938 about it. It is a blot on the countenance of the American Republic.


Related video: “Watch Donald Trump speak at a rally in Birmingham”

10 Responses

  1. The specific kind of surveillance he is talking about has been carried out by the NYPD for a number of years. It is just as odious without adding Trump’s bombast to the equation.

    • Trump’s bombast is the conversion of that activity from a secret of professionals, to a crusade by the entire “loyal” population, like those assailants in Birmingham.

  2. The best course of action for the Western Muslims is to focus on their inner self so that it reflects the higher qualities, such as love, forgiveness, patience, generosity, selflessness, compassion, humility, etc., and to carry out good acts without any expectations, for they’ll cancel out the bad acts done to them and the acts of those so-called Muslims who are engaged in bad to evil actions and are wreaking havoc on the planet.

  3. During the altercation, Trump said from the podium, “Yeah, you can get him out. Yeah, get him out. Get him the hell out of here.”

    At which point the would-be emperor tossed his clown’s mask aside and revealed himself naked. But it pleased the crowd that reveled in their shared fear and hatred.

  4. Trump’s repugant political posturing is red meat to his primary base.

    If he wins the GOP nomination, it’s highly questionable – but not impossible – whether he can draw in a wider cross section of the general population, with his hyperbole.

    US media “normalising” Trump’s rhetoric, could garner “offensive creditability”?

  5. But wait, there’s more:

    “Trump and Carson back use of waterboarding in fight against Isis: Technique widely denounced as torture is ‘peanuts compared with what they are doing to us’, says real estate mogul as he does not rule out independent run” – link to

  6. Trump and his supporters show the shallowness of their understanding of the refugee crises emanating from Iraq, Syria and Central America in their rants and cheers. These three areas have something in common. The United States was complicit in the degradation of their homelands. Honduras is a particularly horrid example of US complicity thanks in great part to Obama and Hillary. By their callousness towards these refugees, Trump and his supporters show no sense of responsibility to the victims of American foreign policies. But then, racists never do, do they?

  7. The progressives desperately need a Trump like figure, but one knowing and spouting the true facts. There is no hesitation on the part of the Republican candidates to bash Clinton at every opportunity. But responses or criticisms by Clinton lack any fire in the belly. I kike Sanders but I don’t think he’s going to start throwing expletives around.

    A progressive Trump-like creature would have a field day just exploiting the lies and stupidity of the real Trump and his fellow candidates, let alone the 1% issues, climate change denial, vagina regulation, and war mongering.

  8. New developments:

    “After his supporters beat up a Black Lives Matter protester on video, Donald Trump suggested that they may have done the right thing.

    The protester, a black man, reportedly started chanting Black Lives Matter at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama on Saturday. In a video captured by CNN reporter Jeremy Diamond, rally attendees swarm around the man, kicking and punching him as he curls up on the ground

    Trump was asked to weigh in on his supporters’ actions on Fox & Friends Sunday morning. “Maybe he should have been roughed up,” he said. “It was disgusting what he was doing.””

    Any questions?

  9. All too often we see the Nazi or fascist analogy misused. However, Trump is the closest thing to a fascist I can think of in American history among major political figures. Maybe Father Coughlin in the 30’s, but he never ran for office. And while there were prominent sympathizers during the 30’s, they weren’t candidates for high office. Trump has gone from being a buffoon to being a real danger to the Republic.

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