Merrick Garland isn’t J. Edgar Hoover and Trump isn’t Fred Hampton

The history of the FBI and the Justice Department doesn’t mean they’re always the bad guys

Tim Wise
7 min readAug 15, 2022


Caricature: Merrick Garland, Image by DonkeyHotey, Flickr, Creative Commons license 2.0 generic

I don’t need a lecture on the historical evils of the FBI or the Justice Department, of which it is a part.

Trust me.

I know and have many friends who were active in the Civil Rights, Black Power, and anti-war movements of the 1960s and ’70s. Some were arrested and jailed. Others were prosecuted on bogus or exaggerated charges and though acquitted, were regularly hounded by federal law enforcement.

Martin Luther King Jr. was viciously targeted by the agency and its director, J. Edgar Hoover, initially with an assist from Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Other than fighting the Mafia, Hoover’s obsession was upholding white power and warring against the specter of communism, which he managed to find everywhere.

To this end, he oversaw the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, about which the nation would learn in the mid-1970s, two decades after it had begun.

Under COINTELPRO, some of America’s most important freedom fighters were targeted for defamation and destruction.

Even after Hoover’s death, the agency’s misconduct continued.

When I moved to New Orleans in the mid-’80s, I was involved with a citywide group opposed to U.S. intervention in Central America, which — as we would later learn — had been infiltrated by federal agents.

Their purpose? To sow division between various left factions and thereby undermine the peace and justice work in which we were engaged.

Since then, the FBI has targeted pro-Palestinian activists and has aggressively monitored so-called “Black identity extremists,” including those associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.

They have focused on groups like this far more readily than on right-wing terrorists or white supremacists, even as the evidence suggests these are the most significant domestic terror threats.

I know. I know all of it.

But none of this means the recent FBI search at Mar-a-Lago — Donald Trump’s…



Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)