There is a lot of talk about government watch lists and how individuals on any such a list pose a threat to our nation and shouldn’t be afforded the same rights as the rest of us. Then again, this is nothing new.
Demonization of one’s opponents is one of the oldest and most effective short-term means of inspiring hatred toward the enemies of the state. The United States of America has used this technique many times in many different ways throughout its existence; but it was particularly active in doing so during the decades proceeding World War II. “Communism” became the preferred label. Its plain meaning was coopted; from an economic and social philosophy to a broad brush to label enemies of the state.
This is an important distinction because the U.S. Government itself was far from a bastion of capitalism and had already implemented its own socialistic policies (i.e. Social Security, the New Deal, etc). And, as Machiavelli warned, demonizing a pseudo-communism has increased the strength and belief in actual communism/socialism in the present-day U.S. (see Bernie Sanders campaign support).
Below are just a few examples of how prominent Americans were put onto FBI watch-lists and investigated for being “communist.”
1. Barry Goldwater
Former United States Senator and Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, was under investigation by the FBI on multiple occasions. Though he is sometimes referred to as the father of the modern conservative movement, the FBI suspected Goldwater of collusion with the Progressive Party (a communist-influenced organization). He was also suspected of mafia connections and of collusion with known racketeers; but nothing was ever proven. Today’s lesson boys and girls: if you diverge from the party-line, the government just might accuse you of witchcraft; and commence the hunt.
2. Eleanor Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is often (falsely) considered to be one of the greatest presidents in US history. It might be surprising then that his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, was being actively investigated by the FBI while she was living in the Whitehouse. J. Edgar Hoover (FBI Director) believed her to be a communist because of her opposition to Jim Crow laws and to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (how is this communist?). FBI agents closely monitored her daily activities and taped her phone conversations; resulting in one of the largest FBI files on a single person in history.
3. Malcom X
Malcom X was a well-known African-American activist who was intensely investigated by the FBI. He was suspected of subversion by the government due to his frequent disquisitions against whites, his association with avowed communists, and his advocacy of armed self-defense for black Americans (according to his lawyer, Malcolm, himself, frequently carried a pistol for self-defense). His FBI file contains thousands of pages of surveillance data on his various exploits.
4. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr., an African-American leader and non-violent champion of civil rights, was the subject of an immense FBI surveillance project. Like the other situations in this piece, looking for communists hiding in the general population was certainly the “witch-hunt” of the day, and Dr. King was suspected as such. The FBI did uncover that King was a serial adulterer and used this information against him by sending tapes of his conversations with other women to his wife.
But, hey, don’t worry people! The government would never abuse the intelligence gathering capabilities of the United States on a personal vendetta. We certainly don’t have to worry the government labeling people who hold opposing political views as enemies of the state! Surely, no one could ever be placed on a terror watch list for the wrong reasons! I’m sure we have nothing to worry about…