J. Edgar Hoover doesn’t have a lot of admirers. Author Beverly Gage, who just published a book about the late FBI director, doesn't even admire him.
“It's extremely hard to find people who want to champion J. Edgar Hoover, and that is not my goal, either. But I do think there are more interesting and subtle things to say about him than simply that he was a very bad man who did some very bad things,” says Gage, author of G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century, on the latest episode of The New Abnormal podcast.
Those bad things include trying to silence Martin Luther King Jr. and abusing his power, particularly with the surveillance program COINTELPRO, among other things.
That being said, she adds, “this book is less about judging him than about understanding him and thus understanding ourselves and our national political past. And I was struck by that because here’s a guy who for so long was so admired and now he is, if not universally reviled.”
In fact, Gage tells co-host Andy Levy that she found a poll from 1964 in which the public is asked if they agreed with Hoover’s campaign to take down MLK Jr. and 50 percent of Americans said yes. Sixteen percent were indifferent.
She also breaks down Hoover’s relationship with then-President Richard Nixon, sharing details that Andy didn’t know about, including that Nixon was willing to see Hoover do dirty work beyond what Hoover even intended, and tells Andy about the college fraternity that she believes helped cement Hoover’s racism—and why, despite this, he didn’t care for the Ku Klux Klan.
Plus! Author Kal Raustiala also joins the show to tell Andy about his book, The Absolutely Indispensable Man: Ralph Bunche, the United Nations, and the Fight to End Empire, and everything we didn’t know about the famous Black United Nations mediator that hardly anyone remembers.