J. Edgar Hoover

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We are a fact-gathering organization. We don’t clear anybody. We don’t condemn anybody.

John Edgar Hoover (January 1, 1895May 2, 1972) was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States, appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation—predecessor to the FBI—in 1924. He was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director until his death in 1972 at the age of 77. Hoover is credited with building the FBI into a larger crime-fighting agency, and with instituting a number of modernizations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories. The FBI's current headquarters is named in honor of him.

Quotes by Hoover

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The thousands of criminals I have seen in 40 years of law enforcement have had one thing in common: Every single one was a liar.
  • [Whoever did this] must be exterminated, and they must be exterminated by us.
    • On the perpetrators of the Kansas City Massacre of 1933, as quoted in Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough (2004: Penguin), p. 51.
  • Banks are an almost irresistible attraction for that element of our society which seeks unearned money.
    • News summaries (7 April 1955).
  • Just the minute the FBI begins making recommendations on what should be done with its information, it becomes a Gestapo.
    • Look magazine (14 June 1956).
  • We are a fact-gathering organization only. We don’t clear anybody. We don’t condemn anybody.
    • Look magazine (14 June 1956).
  • The menace of communism in this country will remain a menace until the American people make themselves aware of the techniques of communism. No one who truly understands what it really is can be taken in by it. Yet the individual is handicapped by coming face to face with a conspiracy so monstrous he cannot believe it exists. The American mind simply has not come to a realization of the evil which has been introduced into our midst. It rejects even the assumption that human creatures could espouse a philosophy which must ultimately destroy all that is good and decent.
    • The Elks Magazine (August 1956).
  • Above all, I would teach him to tell the truth. Truth-telling, I have found, is the key to responsible citizenship. The thousands of criminals I have seen in 40 years of law enforcement have had one thing in common: Every single one was a liar.
  • You state that the Bureau under the [counter-intelligence program] should not attack programs of community interest such as the [Black Panther Party] "Breakfast for Children." … You have obviously missed the point ... This program was formed by the BPP for obvious reasons, including their efforts to create an image of civility, assume community control of Negroes, and to fill adolescent children with their insidious poison.
    • "Racial Intelligence: Black Panther Party (BPP)" (27 May 1969).
  • Purpose of counter-intelligence action is to disrupt [Black Panther Party] and it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge. If facts are present it aids in the success of the proposal but the Bureau feels … that disruption can be accomplished without facts to back it up.
    • Memo (16 Sept. 1970).

Quotes about Hoover

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In alphabetical order by author or source.
  • [T]he whole political structure in Washington is partly designed to protect the Southern oligarchy. And Bobby Kennedy's much more interested in politics than he is in any of these things, and so for that matter, is his brother. And furthermore, even if Bobby Kennedy were a different person, or his brother, they are also ignorant, as most white Americans are, of what the problem really is, of how Negroes really live. The speech Kennedy made to Mississippi the night James Meredith was carried there was one of the most shameful performances in our history. Because he talked to Mississippi as if there were no Negroes there. And this had a terrible, demoralizing, disaffecting effect on all Negroes everywhere. One is weary of being told that desegregation is legal. One would like to hear for a change that it is right! Now, how one begins to use this power we were talking about earlier is a very grave question, because first of all you have to get Eastland out of Congress and get rid of the power that he wields there. You've got to get rid of J. Edgar Hoover and the power that he wields. If one could get rid of just those two men, or modify their power, there would be a great deal more hope. How in the world are you going to get Mississippi Negroes to go to the polls if you remember that most of them are extremely poor, most of them almost illiterate, and that they live under the most intolerable conditions? They are used to it, which is worse, and they have no sense that they can do anything for themselves. If six Negroes go to the polls and get beaten half to death, and one or two die, and nothing happens from Washington, how are you going to manage even to get the ballot?
    • 1969 interview in Conversations with James Baldwin edited by Louis H. Pratt and Fred L. Standley (1989)
Granddad: Now, just calm down, boy. You’re overreacting.
Huey: Overreacting?! These people named an elementary school after J. Edgar Hoover and I’m overreacting? Am I the only person who’s heard of “COINTELPRO”? I mean, why Hoover? Why not, oh, Strom Thurmond? Or George Wallace. Huh?!
Granddad: I think they named the middle school after George Wallace…
Huey: WHAT?!
Granddad: That was a joke, boy. Loosen up already.
Huey: I hate this place.
  • individual memories are not nearly as long as the memories of institutions, and especially repressive institutions. The FBI is still haunted by the ghost of J. Edgar Hoover.
    • Angela Davis Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (2015)
  • Seventy years ago​, Gallup asked Americans for their opinion of J. Edgar Hoover. Only 2 per cent expressed strong disapproval. It was a result, the pollsters claimed, "virtually without parallel in surveys that have dealt with men in public life".
  • I am talking about 1919, 1920, that Mr. J. Edgar Hoover first put in his appearance. He was put in charge of these raids and all reports of all over the country were to be made to him, and they were called "G" men. The FBI came into existence a little later - in 1924. So he has had this kingdom for 38 years now, regardless of administrations and it is not actually under Civil Service or under the control of the Department of Justice.
It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in. ~ Lyndon Johnson
  • It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.
  • I never saw any indication of homosexual tendencies in Hoover.… He did have a close association with [Clyde] Tolson. They conferred frequently during the day and they invariably ate lunch together…. On Wednesday they had dinner at Tolson's apartment, on Friday at Hoover's house.… I know from my talks with Hoover that he was genuinely fond of Tolson, as an older brother might be.
  • The FBI was most disturbed by the Panthers' survival programs providing community service. The popular free breakfast program, in which the party provided free hot breakfasts to children in Black communities throughout the United States, was, as already noted, a particular thorn in the side of J. Edgar Hoover. Finding little to criticize about the program objectively, the Bureau decided to destroy it.
    • Huey P. Newton, War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America (June 1980)
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