A Democratic member of the United States Congress thinks it’s time for the world to know the full extent of the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO operation and has introduced a piece of legislation that would make it so.
Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, who has served as the U.S. Representative for Illinois’ 1st District since 1992, introduced the bill, which would “require government agencies including the FBI and the DOJ to release records related to COINTELPRO so that the public can determine and understand the full extent of the FBI’s monitoring of American citizens and its assault on Americans’ legal and constitutional protections.”
“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,” Rep. Rush said in a statement. “This exceptionally important legislation goes to the crux of power, law, and the pervasive counterintelligence program conducted against American citizens.”
The FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program was created in 1956 in an effort to “to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States,” but later expanded to include “Ku Klux Klan, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Black Panther Party,” among other domestic groups, according to FBI website. The project notoriously led to the government-sanctioned murder of Rush’s friend Black Panther Party Chicago chapter leader Chairman Fred Hampton in 1969.
“COINTELPRO was spying on American citizens,” he said. “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.”
Rush, who co-founded the Black Panther Party’s Illinois chapter with Hampton and sees himself as a victim of the operation as well, seeks to have all documents related to the program released, with no redactions, within six months of the law’s passage.
“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?”
Rush’s bill also seeks to remove COINTELPRO orchestrator and former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI headquarters. “It is beyond time for someone who was as un-American as J. Edgar Hoover, whose legacy was clear as the No. 1 assailant on American constitutional guarantees for its citizens, should have his name is removed from the federal building,” Rush told The Washington Post.
Details of the project remained under wraps for years until they were exposed when a peace activist group called the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI burglarized one of the bureau’s offices in 1971, stealing over 1000 classified documents, which they released to the media and were published by The Washington Post.
Interest in Hampton’s assassination has been reignited following the release of this year’s critically-acclaimed film “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which follows the story of the FBI’s involvement in the death of the Black Panther Party leader, who actually was slain by Chicago police.
“I want to shine a bright light on this dark chapter of our nation’s history. And I think it is very timely and very important that we do it at this moment,” said Rush.