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Marxism: Highlights from Groucho’s FBI file
07.27.2016
12:06 pm
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The other day I was refreshing my memory on Groucho’s LSD escapade with Paul Krassner, when it occurred to me that it might be beneficial to see if the FBI ever had a file on Groucho.

Of course they did, and it’s available for anyone to look at, heavily redacted of course. The Xerox machines at the FBI a few decades ago were super shitty (a feature not a bug?) so a lot of the pages you can’t make out a damn thing, but other sections are perfectly legible.

If you know anything about J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, the contents here aren’t too surprising—they were mainly worried that Groucho might be a Commie (if not a Marxist) in the early to mid-1950s. There are countless (redacted) reports to the effect that Groucho had a lot of pro-Communist sympathies but was almost certainly not an actual party member. (I guess the G-men already knew that he’d refuse to join any club that would have him as a member?)  There are some interesting references to a quotation of Groucho’s that appeared in the Daily Worker in 1934 that went “The battle of the Communists for the lives of these boys is one that will be taught in Soviet America as the most inspiring and courageous battle ever fought.”

Keep in mind that in 1934 Hitler was running Germany but not yet regarded as an obvious scourge to be eliminated. Still his anti-Jewish sentiments were clear enough. As a well-informed Jewish American it would be weird if Groucho hadn’t gotten interested in Communism around then. Plus for similar reasons the mid-1930s was a high-water mark for leftist and/or pro-Soviet feeling, especially once the Spanish Civil War got going in 1936. A lot of people who weren’t all that political got into trouble later for things they did (and thought) before WWII.

There’s also some business about Groucho and Chico being found guilty in a copyright infringement case in 1937 and having to pay a $1,000 fine.

For some reason Groucho (né Julius) is invariably referred to as “GRAUCHO MARX.” Once we reach the 1960s he is referred to as “Groucho.” I don’t know what’s up with that. In the summary sections of the file there is some background about how musically talented Groucho and his brothers are—the musical talents of Harpo and Chico are well known, but the file also, intriguingly, says this: “GRAUCHO MARX is rated as one of the best guitar players in the country.”

Did any of you know that?? So Groucho Marx, was, in a sense (at least according to his FBI file) a peer of Charlie Christian, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Van Halen? Well, maybe, maybe not.

There’s some business I don’t understand from 1957 about someone trying to “extort” Groucho. I can’t tell if it’s just a weird piece of fan mail that was referred to the FBI that they were obliged to look into or something more serious. On that page there is this chilling passage:
 

The death threat letter sent to GROUCHO MARX from ELVIS PRESLEY fanatics from Brooklyn stating that GROUCHO wouldn’t live through the holidays, might seem ridiculous if it weren’t such a serious offense to send such a threat through the mails.


 
Much more from the Groucho file, after the jump…....

READ ON
Posted by Martin Schneider
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07.27.2016
12:06 pm
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Susan Sontag in a bear suit is probably more incriminating than Susan Sontag’s FBI file
06.19.2014
02:34 pm
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Obviously one of Sontag’s espionage-related disguises
 
Writer and intellectual Susan Sontag is usually remembered more for her cultural criticism than for her political activism., Although I eventually grew to find her pretentious as hell, I can honestly say her “Notes on ‘Camp’” may have validated my dirtbag tastes early on. Her anti-Vietnam War activism was actually fairly tame, but combined with a characteristically sober article she wrote on Vietnam for Esquire, her lefty resume earned her an FBI file.

It appears however, that the Bureau was seriously grasping at straws in trying to assess her threat to national security. A New York intellectual protesting the war in the 1960s? Columbia teach-ins? Signing petitions? International travel?!? Even the Esquire essay, “Trip to Hanoi” is hardly an impassioned call for revolution, but rather a reserved account of her own experience mired in (arguably egotistical and naval-gazing) self-reflection. Though more radical anti-war activists like Students for a Democratic Society were present, Sontag states plainly in the piece that, “I was a writer and Vietnam was ‘material.’”
 

 
The FBI never questioned Sontag, saying in the file that “an attempt to interview her could result in embarrassment to the Bureau.” I have to agree with that one. Fear of intellectuals is one thing, but it’s easy to imagine what sort of New Yorker article Sontag would have penned should the FBI have tried to recruit her! Furthermore, Susan Sontag was never more threatening than a fountain pen and the FBI should definitely be embarrassed to have ever “feared” her in any way. Below is a sampling from Sontag’s FBI file of her notorious political activities:

Records of the New York City Police Department reflect that during Anti-Draft Activities, December 4-8, 1967, in New York City, Susan Sontag, white female, born January 16, 1933. and a resident of 346 Riverside Drive, New York City, was arrested on December 5, 1967, on a charge of disorderly conduct. The records further reflect that Sontag is single, a citizen of the United States and is a writer by occupation.

On March 7, 1968, the records of the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Bureau of Special Services, were reviewed by Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) August J. Micek, and no information pertaining to the subject was reflected.

On February 21, 1966, a source who has furnished reliable information in the past advised that Susan Sontag attended a “Read-In For Peace In Vietnam” held at Town Han, 123 West 43rd Street, New York on February 20, 1966.

The “New York Post” of November 18, 1967, reflected that Susan Sontag spoke at a program “From Dissent To Resistance” at a Vietnam Teach-In at Columbia University in November, 1967.

The’Village Voice” of January 18, 1968 on page 11, column 1 reflected that Susan Sontag signed a scroll pledging to counsel aid and abet any young man who wished to refuse the draft.

The’New York Times” of January 31, 1968, reflected that Susan Sontag signed a protest advertisement in the New York Times concerning the surtax. The advertisement was sponsored by the “Writers and Editors War Tax.”

During March and April, 1968, informants cognizant of some Communist activities in the New York City area were contacted and could furnish no information concerning the subject.

As an added bonus, I’ve added my absolute favorite video of Sontag, in which she claims unfamiliarity with the work of notorious libertarian feminist troll, Camille Paglia. (Paglia is incensed beyond belief.) Susan Sontag did not lead revolutions, she destroyed your composure with passive-aggressive barbs.
 

 
Via The Hairpin

Posted by Amber Frost
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06.19.2014
02:34 pm
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Which FBI public service announcement is the most worthless? YOU decide!

The X-Files
The only feds I’ll ever love…
 
Listen people, you probably know me well enough by now to realize that I’m no austerity hawk! I’m as red (not to be confused with “red state,” I mean commie) as they come, and I say tax the rich like they deserve it (they do), and spend all their money on comprehensive social programs, beautiful, harmonious infrastructure, and an efficient, innovative public sector! I’m just saying that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is not the best example of a that ideal infrastructure, that’s all!

So when Paul Ryan’s latest baby, The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, promised not only to avoid $700 million in FBI budget cuts in 2014 (the FBI’s budget request for 2013 was $8.2 billion), but also, to increase FBI funding… well, I have to wonder what they’re spending it on. And before you say, “OMG, Amber! They’re spending it on super-secret important spy stuff they’re using to keep the free world safe from terrorism,” let’s take a little look at the public face of the FBI.

I’m not sure how much these FBI public service announcements cost, but I guarantee it is too damn much, so let’s play a little game! Let’s watch my top three picks from the FBI YouTube channel (all of which are made in conjunction with private industry), and we’ll let the readers of Dangerous Minds pick which one is the worst! The FBI is obviously Internet-savvy, so I’m sure they’ll appreciate the feedback and re-tool their YouTube presence accordingly!

So what will it be? The evils of counterfeit fashion (as if name-brand stuff isn’t made in sweatshops, too)? The evils of illegal downloading, which is just “not cool”? Or “cyber-bullying,” because apparently it’s cool if kids are harassed, as long as it’s not online? Cast your vote now!
 

 

 

Posted by Amber Frost
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12.18.2013
11:38 am
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F is for Orson Welles’ FBI file
11.15.2013
03:36 pm
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Orson Welles
 
From 1941 until 1949, Orson Welles, director of Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, was a serious object of surveillance by the FBI. This is not new information; you can read about it in biographies about Welles. You can read the actual FBI file on Orson Welles on the FBI website section called “The Vault” (PDF file). It’s 194 pages long, contains a great many documents from different places and times. Once you get used to the bureaucratic throat-clearing, it makes for very diverting reading.

It’s not stated in so many words, but Welles seems to have become a subject of FBI interest after Citizen Kane was made. William Randolph Hearst, thinly disguised subject of the movie, was friendly with J. Edgar Hoover. As is well known, Hearst mobilized his vast network of newspapers against Welles after the movie was released. To judge by the nomadic second half of Welles’ career, which he spent mostly in Europe and in which he made many literary adaptations on a low budget, it’s reasonable to posit that Hearst’s campaign against Welles had some success.

Little of that is in the file, however. To read the file is to be transported back into the pages of a James Ellroy novel, perhaps The Big Nowhere (that one’s my favorite) in which powerful wealthy white men deploy scandal and innuendo in order to defend their increasingly unhinged vision of American empire.

Most of the material pertains to two periods, 1941/42 and 1945. Welles’ association with various left-wing organizations is described in portentous terms. It is reasonably clear that Welles was left-leaning and lent his name to a great many organizations deemed subversive by the federal authorities, but that he was not a particularly organized political thinker and probably never joined the Communist Party.

What is so fascinating in retrospect is that many of the actions held against him do not appear to be very objectionable in the clear light of day. Two examples of this.

On page 48 his membership in the Negro Cultural Committee is discussed. The group is ominously described as a pro-Communist organization, but one of the charges leveled against it is: “The Negro Cultural Committee was reportedly a group organized by the Communist Party for the purpose of agitating in favor of anti-lynching bills.” That’s right—if you are the member of a race that is the systematic target of violent terrorist activity and you try to organize against it, then you are suspicious in the eyes of the FBI.

A page later we read the following: “An article appearing in the New York Times for January 17, 1939, stated that Welles was among the signers of a petition protesting the dismissal of 1500 employees of the WPA Federal Arts Project.” Again—if you belong to an interest group affected adversely by a decision made by the federal government, and you sign a petition protesting this, then you might be labeled a subversive. Eighty years later, it’s difficult to see why either of these two activities should be considered especially noteworthy.

In 1945 you can see the hysteria of the Red Scare cranking into gear. Welles’ support of the UN is held against him, and several times it is mentioned as a point of some interest that Welles undertook some travel for, or otherwise was working at the behest of Franklin Roosevelt, who, let’s remember, was the president of the United States at the time. Similarly, wartime activities in support of the USSR—at the time an ally of the United States in the global conflict known as “World War II” against Nazi Germany—that’s also used as evidence that Welles is probably a subversive.

There’s a bit of business involving Hedda Hopper and Welles’ increasingly estranged wife Rita Hayworth—there’s a good deal of talk of informants revealing this or that, a group that apparently includes Hayworth. On page 90 there is mention of of “extra-marital activities with [REDACTED] former Main Street burlesque strip tease artist.” Those of a salacious cast of mind are recommended to go to this series of pages first.

On page 119 (1949) a memo glumly admits that “In view of the fact that WELLES has never been placed as a member of the Communist Party by confidential informants of this office,” it is time to seriously consider “cancellation of his Security Index Card,” which I think means that they’re going to stop treating Welles as an active subject.  A few pages later this recommendation is approved.

Sigh. After the PATRIOT Act was passed into law, there were ample stories that it was being used against, among other people, harmless left-wing activists in New England. Given the fates of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Aaron Swartz as well as the spate of shocking recent stories about the breadth of NSA surveillance, it seems safe to conclude that the age of federal agency files of this type is far from overwith.
 
Orson Welles, FBI file
 
Orson Welles, FBI file
 
via Cinephilia and Beyond

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Orson Welles: Trashing Rosebud In Paris
Orson Welles hated Woody Allen

Posted by Martin Schneider
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11.15.2013
03:36 pm
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FBI Director acknowledges that surveillance drones have been used against US citizens
06.21.2013
12:49 pm
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Droney the drone
Droney the Drone, from This Modern World
 
We already know drones are great for killing people (even small, difficult to hit people), but they can be used for so much more—and not just against our underage enemies abroad!

On Wednesday, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned FBI Director Robert Mueller on the use of drones for surveillance of US citizens. Mueller reassured the Senator that, yes, we do use robot spies, but “very seldom.” He also said that the FBI, itself, is drafting protocol to ensure privacy, saying, “I will tell you that our footprint is very small. We have very few and of limited use, and we’re exploring not only the use, but also the necessary guidelines for that use.”

Well, my concerns are completely alleviated, how about yours?

Of course, this revelation (which many have already been suspecting for some time) has largely fallen under the radar. (See what I did, there?)
 

Posted by Amber Frost
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06.21.2013
12:49 pm
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Fear and Loathing in Hunter S. Thompson’s FBI file
10.17.2012
03:04 pm
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image
 
Although he doubts that what he got via an FOIA filing is anywhere near complete, MuckRock user Cody Winchester still found plenty of interesting items in the file the FBI kept on gonzo journalist Dr. Hunter S. Thompson:

In 1967, the FBI was keeping close tabs on The People’s Weekly, the communist party’s west-coast newspaper affiliate. They had an informant who knew his way around the circulation department and was feeding them names of subscribers.

Among them, according to newly released records, was Hunter S. Thompson, a high-flying, drug-addled journalist who had just written a book about riding with the Hell’s Angels.

The FBI began gathering string on Thompson, who moved from San Francisco to Woody Creek, Colo. (where, decades later, he would commit suicide).

The agency followed Thompson’s unsuccessful bid for sheriff of Pitkin County, in which the Freak Power candidate memorably shaved his head bald and began referring to the crew-cut sheriff he was running against as “my long-haired opponent.” (Thompson campaigned on promises to rename Aspen “Fat City USA”; to jackhammer the streets and lay down sod; and to legalize drugs for personal use. Profit-seeking traffickers would be put in stocks on the courthouse lawn.)

FBI agents interviewed Thompson’s mailman and other Woody Creek locals. They collected copies of the Aspen Wallposter, a bimonthly newspaper that Thompson edited with the artist Tom Benton; illustrations of a bloody-mouthed Nixon (spelled with a swastika) and “comments regarding law enforcement and the Director” caught the agency’s eye. The Secret Service was alerted.

All this and more is detailed in Thompson’s FBI file, which I got a copy of last week.

But it’s only 58 pages long. Cody is probably right about this not being the entire file. I have Timothy Leary’s FBI file and it’s a foot tall stack of photocopies. Hunter S. Thompson’s life would surely have called for the same level of “documentation” during the Nixon administration and beyond, as Leary’s did.

Read Hunter S. Thompson’s FBI file (or at least part of it) at MuckRock.

Thank you, Chris Campion!

Posted by Richard Metzger
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10.17.2012
03:04 pm
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Anonymous takes down the FBI’s website, issues new video
01.19.2012
09:24 pm
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image
Image via AnonNews
 
After the closure of the hugely popular Megaupload site earlier today, the Anonymous group has struck back by taking down the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s website, www.fbi.gov. From Russia Today:

The official website for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation is the latest victim in a massive online attack against both the government and entertainment industry.

The Bureau’s official website, FBI.gov, went down Thursday evening after hacktivists participating in campaigns waged by the loose knit collective Anonymous attacked a series of sites in retaliation for a raid earlier in the day against the Megaupload service.

Following a federal raid that not only shut down the file sharing service Megaupload but also led to more than 20 warrants being served and at least seven arrests internationally, hacktivists took to the Web to respond. The result was an attack on the sites of several entertainment industry and government sites that crippled many of them. The websites for the US Department of Justice and Universal Music Group were among the first to go, with the sites for US Copyright Office, Warner Music, BMI, and RIAA following suit shortly after. At around 7:40 PM ET, FBI.gov finally went down.

Anonymous have also issued this video, declaring the launch of Operation Blackout, and stating:

This is not only an Anonymous collective call to action… this is a call for a worldwide internet and ohysical protest against the powers that be.

 

 
The reaction to this is going to be interesting, to say the least!

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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01.19.2012
09:24 pm
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Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s FBI file in its entirety

image
 
Rich Jones, of Gun.Io, says one of his hobbies is “liberating government documents using Freedom of Information Act requests.”

He’s done just that, by obtaining the full FBI profile of Wu-Tang Clan member Russell Tyreese Jones aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

From Gun.Io:

Some gems include:

  • “The WTC is heavily involved in the sale of drugs, illegal guns, weapons possession, murder, carjacking and other types of violent crime.” [p5]
  • Connections to the murder of Robert “Pooh” Johnson and Jerome “Boo Boo” Estrella. [p6]
  • Connection to murder of Ishamael “Hoody” Kourma. [p13]
  • A shoot-out with the NYPD. [p15]
  • Arrest for felony possession of body armour. [p16]
  • Connections to the Bloods Gang. [p17]
  • Found in possession of large bags full of paper currency. [p40]
  • Details of his being robbed and shot while staying in the Kingston projects. [p45]
  FBI File of Russell “Old Dirty Bastard” Jones (via The World’s Best Ever)
Posted by Tara McGinley
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01.10.2012
02:09 pm
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The Monkees FBI File
06.03.2011
07:07 pm
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Instamatic photo of The Monkees in June, 1966, taken by then 12-year-old Bruce Sallan

In April, the FBI released an amusing file on its website that was kept confidential for three decades regarding a 1967 Monkees concert which featured (according to the memo’s author) “subliminal” and “left wing” messages.

“This series, which as been quite successful, features four young men who dress as ‘beatnik types’ and is geared primarily to the teenage market.”

A lot of it is still redacted, but here is the pertinent description of the concert from the file:

“…that ‘The Monkees’ concert was using a device in the form of a screen set up behind the performers who played certain instruments and sang as a ‘combo’. During the concert, subliminal messages were depicted on the screen which, in the opinion of [redacted] constituted ‘left wing innovations of a political nature.’ These messages and pictures were flashes of riots in Berkeley, anti-U.S. messages on the war in Vietnam, racial riots in Selma, Alabama, and similar messages which had received unfavorable response from the audience.”

There is a second Monkees-related document that remains classified!
 

 
Below, “Daily Nightly,” thought to be the first use of the Moog synthesizer in a pop song. Micky Dolenz saw one demonstrated at the Monterey Pop Festival and was amongst the first people to own one.
 

Thank you Nate Cimmino!

Posted by Richard Metzger
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06.03.2011
07:07 pm
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