Aug. 25, 1967

This COINTELPRO document from FBI files outlined the agency’s plans to “neutralize” Jean Seberg for her support for the Black Panther Party. Credit: Wikipedia

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover issued directives in the counterintelligence program, COINTELPRO, to spy on, gather information and discredit those associated with the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King Jr. 

The COINTELPRO operations infiltrated black nationalist groups and anti-war groups, spying on boxer Muhammad Ali and others. Under Hoover’s orders, agents were to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” the activities of these groups and members. 

In 1971, COINTELPRO’s work was exposed after citizens burglarized a Pennsylvania field office and shared the files with the press. Within a year, Hoover announced the end of COINTELPRO, saying future counterintelligence would be handled on an individual case basis. 

In 1976, U.S. Sen. Frank Church led an investigation of the FBI, concluding that COINTELPRO abused the law and the constitutional rights of citizens: “The Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence.”

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.