1968: The FBI's Plans to “Neutralize” Dick Gregory 

August 29, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Comedian and activist Dick Gregory, who died on August 19, 2017 at 84 years old, was a courageous fighter against injustice. And for this, he became a target of FBI surveillance and vicious plots. 

In 1968, then FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover wrote the Chicago FBI office saying, “Gregory has traveled all over the country preaching black nationalist extremism, hatred, and violence.... Chicago should review Gregory’s file and his current activities to develop counterintelligence designed to neutralize him. This should not be in the nature of an exposé, since he already gets far too much publicity. Instead, sophisticated, completely untraceable means of neutralizing Gregory should be developed.” And Hoover wrote in one of his memos, “Gregory uses his reputation as a … comedian to insure [sic] his vitriolic statements are reported by the press.” (See “FBI memo: Use mob against Dick Gregory”)

What did Hoover mean by “neutralizing Gregory?” This could have meant a whole range of things that rendered someone unable to live their life, maintain their job, their sanity, or have an impact on society. In 1969, the FBI collaborated with the Chicago police, to assassinate Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. 

And who did Hoover think should do this “neutralizing?” Hoover wrote another memo to the FBI agent in charge of the Chicago office with more specific instructions—suggesting that “La Cosa Nostra” (the Mafia) be alerted that Gregory had verbally attacked them. Hoover noted that in a recent comedy performance, Gregory had said, “Syndicate hoods [are] living all over. They are the filthiest snakes that exist on this earth.” And then said, “Consider the use of this statement in developing a counterintelligence operation to alert La Cosa Nostra [LCN] to Gregory’s attack on LCN.”  The FBI had no problem working through the mob, to “neutralize” Dick Gregory.

On July 2, 1968, the special agent in Chicago wrote Hoover saying, “The Chicago office has organized a counterintelligence ‘team,’ made up of SAs [special agents] experienced in RM [racial matters] and SM-C [security matters-Communist] Investigations, including SAs with lengthy prior counterintelligence experience. This group, together with the RM supervisor and the SA responsible for the coordination of this program, have [sic] devoted considerable effort to methods of inhibiting the effectiveness and credibility [sic] of Gregory. His file has been thoroughly and exhaustively reviewed to this end. Chicago is continuing to give the matter of discrediting Gregory top priority, and bureau authority will be promptly requested... in the event a specific counterintelligence device is formulated.”

All this was part of CONTELPRO—the government’s counterintelligence program. COINTELPRO started in the 1950s but only came to light after some activists broke into an FBI office in 1971 and then publicized FBI documents. In the 1960s and early 1970s the FBI conducted a massive super-secret, utterly illegal campaign to target groups and individuals resisting crimes by the U.S. in this country and around the world. It especially targeted those opposing the oppression of Black people. The FBI and other police agencies sent infiltrators into groups, recruited informers, broke into office of groups and homes of activists to gather information, and fomented antagonisms within and between different groups. 

When Dick Gregory learned about the FBI efforts to “neutralize” him, he said, “Do you realize what you have here? This piece of paper has the director of the most powerful police agency in the history of this planet proposing to contact the Mafia so ‘they could work together.’ Look, if the FBI was going to contact La Cosa Nostra. And, if the FBI knew who they were, why weren’t they arrested?...What I was saying was that one day we were going to find out that one of the most dangerous men in this country was J. Edgar Hoover and we would probably find out that Lyndon B. Johnson was one of the worst tyrants.” Gregory told Jet Magazine, “I’ve been knowing the FBI has been following me and tapping my phones for some time now. In fact, whenever I wanted to get a message to (the late J. Edgar) Hoover, I just put it on my phone.” (June 8, 1972)

The FBI’s secret, illegal operation to “neutralize” Dick Gregory, the whole COINTELPRO program, and the ongoing repression of political activists in this country, reveal the essential nature and role of the FBI. It is an instrument of violent enforcement for a system of injustice and oppression. 


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