What the FBI’s Surveillance of Martin Luther King Tells Us About the Modern Spy Era

There is a myth in this country that in a world where everyone is watched, everyone is watched equally. It’s as if an old and racist J. Edgar Hoover has been replaced by the race-blind magic of computers, mathematicians, and Big Data. The truth is more uncomfortable. Across our history and to this day, people of color have been the disproportionate victims of unjust surveillance; Hoover was no aberration. And while racism has played its ugly part, the justification for this monitoring was the same we hear today: national security.

… wiretaps were only the beginning of the government’s violations against King—or the broader civil rights movement. The FBI used information gleaned from taps and secret listening devices to smear King to the press and potential funders, and to engage in repugnant, sexual blackmail. And government surveillance went far beyond King. It extended to Chavez, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Whitney Young of the National Urban League. It extended to their forefathers, DuBois, Marcus Garvey, and countless others who knew that the government was watching—and listening—waiting for them to make a mistake.

What the FBI’s Surveillance of Martin Luther King Tells Us About the Modern Spy Era

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