Should J. Edgar Hoover’s Name Be Removed From the FBI Building?

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A recent article in the LA Times discusses the ongoing debate about whether to remove J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI building. J. Edgar Hoover was the head of the FBI from 1924, its early days before it was even called the FBI (it used to be called the Bureau of Investigation), until his death in 1972. Throughout his career, Hoover engaged in a massive array of abuses. According to the LA Times article:

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Every year for the last three years, Rep. Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana, has introduced a bill to strip J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI’s headquarters — an initiative that has been largely ignored.

Now, however, amid headlines about possibly illegal government surveillance of Americans inside the United States, the effort to rename the Hoover building is starting to attract more supporters, most recently U.S. Circuit Judge Laurence H. Silberman, a Republican who was a leader of the presidentially appointed commission on pre-Iraq-war intelligence.

“This country — and the bureau — would be well served if his name were removed from the bureau’s building,” Silberman, a Reagan appointee, told the 1st Circuit Judicial Conference in June. “It is as if the Defense Department were named for Aaron Burr.”

Should Hoover’s name be removed from the FBI building? My answer is a definite yes. Although Hoover played an enormous role in shaping and growing the FBI, his record of abuses is so ugly and inexcusable that it far overshadows any achievements. For example, here are some of the things Hoover did:


* Hoover had hundreds of people wiretapped, including politicians, dissedents, academics, Supreme Court Justices, and others.

* Hoover maintained a vast array of dossiers on scores of people, including John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin, Marlon Brando, Muhammad Ali, Albert Einstein, Justice William Douglas, and numerous Presidents and members of Congress.

* The FBI vigorously investigated, wiretapped, and attempted to disrupt political dissenters in a program known as COINTELPRO (counterintelligence program). This was done in the name of national security. COINTELPRO focused on the American Communist Party, but the program extended far beyond to encompass the Civil Rights Movement and opponents of the Vietnam War.

* Hoover would gather extensive data about people’s private lives and use it to blackmail them or to publicly discredit them.

* Hoover had Martin Luther King placed under extensive surveillance. The FBI sent recordings revealing King’s extramarital affairs to King and his wife, along with a letter suggesting that King commit suicide or else his “filthy, abnormal fraudlent self [would be] bared to the nation.”

There’s much much more. Hoover’s abuses are chronicled in the extensive Church Committee Report of 1976.

hoover-gentry1.jpgFor more about Hoover, I recommend Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets (Norton, 1991). This is one of the most engaging and fascinating accounts of Hoover’s activities, and although it is over 800 pages long, it isn’t an onerous read.

For an account of the surveillance of Martin Luther King, David J. Garrow’s The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1980) is a short and interesting read.

Hoover’s abusive surveillance was one of the factors that led Congress to pass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, the law that President Bush is claiming he can ignore when conducting NSA surveillance. Although Hoover has a great historical significance to the FBI, the agency sorely needs to move past his influence, not have it still emblazoned on its building. On the other hand, perhaps having Hoover’s name on the building will serve as a constant reminder of the FBI’s shameful past, of Hoover’s unfettered and unchecked power . . . a reminder that some in Washington sorely need.

Other books of interest:

* Fred Jerome, The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret War Against the World’s Most Famous Scientist (2002)

* Richard Hack, Puppetmaster: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (2004)

* Ronald Kessler, The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI (2002)

* Richard Gid Powers, Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1987)

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10 Responses

  1. jimbino says:

    As Tom Lehrer noted: “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.” I say, keep Hoover’s name on the building so that future historians will have no doubt about the decadence of our American political system, just as they now have no doubt about the legacy of Ozymandias.

  2. Brian Duffy says:

    I agree with jimbino — Hoover’s name on the building reminds us of the role that quasi-secret police have in our society.

  3. Simon says:

    In the spirit of logrolling, I’ll vote to dump Hoover’s name from the FBI building if you’ll vote to dump Jackson from the money and replace him with Henry Clay (or really, anyone else Jackson disliked). 😉

  4. jessica says:

    Take his name off? Why not? Has he not offended enough people. Continue to praise him and offend many others

  5. Brent says:

    J. Edgar Hoover has done more to dismantle this country than any president or other political figure in the history of the country. Having the support of Richard Nixon, he was able to push forward an agenda of race hate and fuel the anomosity between dem’s and reb’s. The fact that he was a closet cross dresser is an example of the type of things that came out (no pun intended) that was never looked at during his reign.

  6. simon says:

    I’d like it to be removed, I found the man to be an abomination of all that america is and can be.
    also, i’d like to see presidents removed from teh us currency and bank robbers replace them, Dilinger on the 100, that would be great.

  7. Dean says:

    Hoover’s dead, he can’t blackmail anyone who sanctions the removal of his name from FBI headquarters – remove his name, if we need reminding of the man, read a book: J. Edgar Hoover – The Man And His Secrets by Curt Gentry is voluminous, well researched, and all around a good read. Many or most on this site realize that Hoover was a deceitful, manipulative, horrible person … but many who see his name on such an important structure will be led to believe that he was honourable. There is no reason to aggrandize such a terrible person. He was responsible for rounding up thousands of innocent and, in many cases, ruined their lives for only self promotion and a distorted world view among other atrocities.

  8. J Jenkins says:

    BORN IN THE 50’S When it was just being discovered the horrible cunning sly misuse of his rank, Hoovers’ name should be removed.We are still trying to overcome prejudice,wickedness at the hands of ONE MAN.He WAS TERRIBLE! We need to hold our heads high as we walk past such a monument of a building.Think honourable titles.One day we will see a building with Capone’s name on it because he did so much for the poor…..

  9. North American guy says:

    Hoover was a psychopathic racist. He does NOT deserve to have ANYTHING named after him.