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There’s Something Happening Here

There’s Something Happening Here: The New Left, the Klan, and FBI Counterintelligence

David Cunningham
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 382
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  • Book Info
    There’s Something Happening Here
    Book Description:

    Using over twelve thousand previously classified documents made available through the Freedom of Information Act, David Cunningham uncovers the riveting inside story of the FBI's attempts to neutralize political targets on both the Right and the Left during the 1960s. Examining the FBI's infamous counterintelligence programs (COINTELPROs) against suspected communists, civil rights and black power advocates, Klan adherents, and antiwar activists, he questions whether such actions were aberrations or are evidence of the bureau's ongoing mission to restrict citizens' right to engage in legal forms of political dissent. At a time of heightened concerns about domestic security, with the FBI's license to spy on U.S. citizens expanded to a historic degree, the question becomes an urgent one. This book supplies readers with insights and information vital to a meaningful assessment of the current situation.There's Something Happening Herelooks inside the FBI's COINTELPROs against white hate groups and the New Left to explore how agents dealt with the hundreds of individuals and organizations labeled as subversive threats. Rather than reducing these activities to a product of the idiosyncratic concerns of longtime director J. Edgar Hoover, Cunningham focuses on the complex organizational dynamics that generated literally thousands of COINTELPRO actions. His account shows how--and why--the inner workings of the programs led to outcomes that often seemed to lack any overriding logic; it also examines the impact the bureau's massive campaign of repression had on its targets. The lessons of this era have considerable relevance today, and Cunningham extends his analysis to the FBI's often controversial recent actions to map the influence of the COINTELPRO legacy on contemporary debates over national security and civil liberties.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93924-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    On June 11, 1968, the FBI’s Newark field office was developing ideas to promote a negative, and outwardly deviant, image of the nation’s largest New Left student organization, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The agent in charge of the Newark office submitted a proposal to FBI National Headquarters in Washington, DC, suggesting that the office draw up a leaflet with photographs of “the dirtiest most unkempt SDS demonstrators.” The photographs would be obtained from “mug shots” taken at a recent student demonstration by the Princeton University Police Department, and below the photos, a caption would read: “The above Princeton...

  6. 1 Counterintelligence Activities and the FBI
    (pp. 15-41)

    At the beginning of the twentieth century, the U.S. Department of Justice—the parent agency of what would later become the Federal Bureau of Investigation—was perhaps best known for its inability to effectively undertake any investigations at all. In a popular anecdote from those early days (the department had been created in 1870), a wealthy family requested that the attorney general track down their kidnapped daughter, only to be met with the reply that he would be happy to help if the family might supply “the names of the parties holding your daughter in bondage, the particular place, and...

  7. 2 The Movements
    (pp. 42-78)

    The Columbia University chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) began modestly in the spring of 1965, largely through the efforts of three students inspired by the SDS-sponsored antiwar march on Washington—John Fuerst, Harvey Bloom, and Michael Neumann (the last of whom, as the stepson of Herbert Marcuse, indirectly brought the group a certain leftist intellectual cachet). The march had been SDS’s first national Vietnam-related action, and it was by all accounts successful, drawing somewhere near twenty-five thousand protesters. April 17, 1965, had been filled with folk singers and various activist speeches, with none drawing more applause than...

  8. 3 The Organization of the FBI: Constructing White Hate and New Left Threats
    (pp. 79-108)

    As FBI lore would have it, an agent from the New York field office was grazed in the leg by a bullet in a brief shoot-out with a fugitive. He required only routine medical care, but the next morning, J. Edgar Hoover misspoke at a civic function honoring the agent by lamenting that his “heart was heavy” since “last night in New York one of my agents was killed in a gun battle.” Panicked, the other agents in the field office quickly mobilized for the grim ritual that they knew to be their only option: drawing straws to see who...

  9. 4 Acting against the White Hate and New Left Threats
    (pp. 109-145)

    Alabama, May 14, 1961. A bus carrying both black and white passengers—part of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)–sponsored “Freedom Rides” designed to test a federal ruling prohibiting segregation in terminals serving interstate buses—pulled into the Trailways station in Birmingham. Several of its riders were already battered as a result of beatings doled out by eight young white men who had boarded the bus in nearby Anniston. Another mob awaited them at this Birmingham stop, and what could only be described as a riot soon broke out, with freedom riders, reporters, and bystanders alike bombarded with fists,...

  10. 5 Wing Tips in Their Midst: The Impact of COINTELPRO
    (pp. 146-180)

    If the impact of COINTELPRO could be assessed simply by the state of its targets by the early 1970s, then the Bureau’s efforts were highly successful. To the consternation of many early SDS leaders, who had sought to build a “new” movement as a corrective to the out-of-touch Old Left that seemed to spend most of its energy battling its own internal ideological divisions, the 1969 version of the organization was tearing itself apart in the same way.¹ Perhaps 100,000 strong at the end of 1968, SDS never recovered from the factionalization of its national leadership during its 1969 National...

  11. 6 Beyond COINTELPRO
    (pp. 181-216)

    The FBI’s efforts to repress COINTELPRO targets surfaced publicly after the release of documents stolen from its resident agency in Media, Pennsylvania, in 1971, but this was not the first event of its kind. In 1949 Justice Department employee Judith Coplon was accused of stealing twenty-eight classified FBI intelligence reports to give to a Soviet agent, and during the subsequent trial, the Bureau was forced to reveal the documents’ contents. Like the Media files, which exposed a range of FBI intelligence-gathering activities and provided the first hint that a program called COINTELPRO existed as a formal entity, these twenty-eight reports...

  12. 7 The Future Is Now: Counter/Intelligence Activities in the Age of Global Terrorism
    (pp. 217-232)

    The start of the twenty-first century marks a period of perhaps unprecedented public scrutiny of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While the agency was subject to considerable public reevaluation late in Hoover’s life, its image during those “bad old days” (as some of the Bureau’s congressional adversaries like to call them) arguably pales in comparison to public concern over probable intelligence lapses that resulted in the failure to prevent the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. On that day, as we all know, nineteen men with ties to Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network hijacked four large commercial airliners and flew...

  13. Appendix A. A Typology of COINTELPRO Actions
    (pp. 233-251)
  14. Appendix B. Organizational Processes and COINTELPRO Outcomes
    (pp. 252-272)
  15. Appendix C. COINTELPRO Targets
    (pp. 273-284)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 285-342)
  17. References
    (pp. 343-356)
  18. Index
    (pp. 357-366)