COINTELPRO (Charlotte MacKinnon)



The FBI created COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program) in 1956 as a way to stop and prevent Communist activities in the United States.  It later expanded and included many domestic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Black Panther Party.  However, the government took it a step too far.  Instead of merely spying on these activists, they used intimidation to scare away any new members, discredited the groups, and permanently disrupted the groups as they made the activists seem like agents.

COINTELPRO planted false media stories about these domestic groups and even made fake pamphlets with the groups names on it.  They maliciously spread false information about meetings and events and forced others, such as employers and landlords, to give them a hard time.  COINTELPRO used the legal system to exploit these groups and make them appear as criminals.  It is even noted that officers gave perjured testimonies to secure guilty verdicts and justify the false arrests.

The most extreme way COINTELPRO acted to disband these groups was physical force and violence.  Police and FBI agents conducted break-ins, beatings, and vandalism to frighten these activists.   These attacks have even been called a form of terrorism as they were so calculated, extensive, and vicious.

COINTELPRO was criticized for abridging the rights Americans have under the Fist Amendment (freedom of expression) and was disbanded in 1971.  The government responded to the outraged citizens with a series of reforms; however, domestic covert action remains a strong feature in the government today.

I actually took a Freedom of Expression class last semester that analyzed what the First Amendment actually covers and we even discussed COINTELPRO.  The FBI completely deserved the criticisms it received for COINTELPRO.  While these social groups may stand for terrible morals and ideals, such as the KKK, they still have to the write to express themselves in a legal way.  They have the right not to be filtered, disrupted or discredited.


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