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On This Day In Music… February 18, 2000: John Lennon's Secret FBI Files Finally Revealed

President Nixon had ordered the Bureau to keep tabs on the singer after he was deemed a threat to national security.

john lennon j edgar hoover fbi file
Source: mega / lennonfbifiles.com

The FBI built a huge file on John Lennon in the early 1970s.

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In 1971 John Lennon relocated to New York City – and immediately became the subject of a full-blown clandestine government investigation. The former Beatle had caught the attention of President Nixon as early as 1969, after his song “Give Peace a Chance” had become the unofficial anthem of the anti-Vietnam War protests… and now, with Lennon no longer an occasional visitor to the U.S. but applying for a visa to live there permanently, the President wanted action taken.

Nixon got the FBI on board: Lennon was a dangerous subversive, he insisted. The musician was capable of corrupting and brainwashing a whole swathe of American youth. If you tolerate this, he all-but instructed the Bureau, Communism will be next.

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john lennon and yoko ono new york
Source: mega

John and Yoko had moved to New York in 1971, but the Nixon administration fought to reject his visa.

Under instruction from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, over the following two years a huge file was built up, gathering hundreds of snippets of intelligence against the singer – all while the Nixon administration simultaneously fought a legal war to have him deported.

Three decades later, on February 18, 2000, a court in Los Angeles finally ordered the FBI to release the files, following the publication of the book Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files by investigative journalist Jon Wiener.

If it is scandalous that the U.S. government tasked the FBI to investigate Lennon at all, the quality of the material in the files is shocking for another reason – most of the 300 or so entries are laughably banal, contain material already in the public domain, or else show just how out of touch the Nixon administration was. Wiener himself described the top secret dossiers as largely containing “immense triviality”.

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john lennon fbi file j edgar hoover
Source: lennonfbifiles.com

Notorious FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover took personal charge of the investigation into Lennon.

One of the documents that the FBI sought to keep secret for national security reasons included the information that: “The International Society for Krishna Consciousness was backed by George Harrison and John Lennon. It appears that these individuals are members of the Beatles singing group.”

Another entry reports on Lennon’s appearance at an anti-war rally in Michigan, and reads: “Source advised Lennon prior to rally composed song entitled ‘John Sinclair,’ which song Lennon sang at the rally… Source advised this song was composed by Lennon especially for this event.”

The “source” in question would appear to be Lennon himself, who announced to the crowd that he had just written the song.

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the beatles
Source: mega

John Lennon and George Harrison were identified by the FBI as members of members of 'the Beatles singing group.'

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A later entry to the files reproduced the lyrics to “John Sinclair” – and is marked as “confidential”, despite the fact that anyone who had bought his album Some Time in New York City could read the lyrics for themselves on the sleeve notes.

Another 1972 entry simply lifted an interview Lennon gave to Red Mole magazine, adding ominously that the quotes therein “can reasonably be expected to… lead to foreign diplomatic, economic and military retaliation against the United States.”

john lennon fbi files donations
Source: lennonfbifiles.com

The last of the files was only released in 2006.

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In fairness to the FBI, Lennon was a prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and he did donate to various anti-Republican organizations, including a reported $75,000 to a campaign urging young people to register to vote. And it seems that he genuinely had the Nixon administration alarmed. Even as they sought to have him sent home to the U.K., Republican senator Strom Thurmond wrote to the White House advising that, “Caution must be taken with regard to the possible alienation of the so-called 18-year-old vote if Lennon is expelled from the country”.

In the end, Lennon beat the deportation rap on appeal, Watergate saw the end of Nixon, and following the death of J. Edgar Hoover in 1972, the paranoia at the heart of the FBI receded. Despite all that, and even after Lennon’s own death in 1980, the files remained a matter of national security for nearly 20 years (the final 10 documents remained hidden for another six years even after the 2000 court ruling) but can now be viewed on Wiener’s website, lennonfbifiles.com.


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