U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., an Illinois Black Panther Party co-founder, on Tuesday stepped up his drive to force the release of FBI domestic spying files, searching for new documents dealing with the FBI-related murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in 1969 on the West Side.
“It is high time that the American people know about the odious and inhumane legacy of [Former FBI Director] J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO operation and its assault on our nation’s civil liberties,” he wrote in a statement. “COINTELPRO was spying on American citizens. Anyone who took a political position against the status quo, anyone who wanted to make America better was subject to being penalized, investigated — and in the case of my friend Fred Hampton, assassinated — by the official legal arm of the federal government.”
In the 1960s, the counterintelligence program COINTELPRO illegally targeted members of the Black Panther Party and other political activists, including Rev. King, Hampton, Mark Clark and more. The stories of Hampton and Clark’s assassinations were recently told in the Oscar-winning film, Judas and the Black Messiah.
Prior to filing his bill, Rep. Rush sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and asked him to “release unclassified and unredacted versions of any files or papers in the possession of the U.S. Department of Justice or the FBI pertaining to this assassination.”
“We believe that it is past time that our country fully knows and understands its dark past, and the release and study of this information is an important step on this journey,” he added in the letter.
If it’s voted into law, the bill would “require the public disclosure of COINTELPRO records, establish a COINTELPRO Records Collection… and establish the COINTELPRO Records Review Board.”
The legislation also seeks to rid the name of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who launched COINTELPRO, from the Washington D.C. FBI headquarters building.
“As a victim of COINTELPRO, I want to know — with honesty, with clarity and with no redactions — the full extent of the FBI’s nefarious operations. I want to know the breadth and depth of the conspiracy to assassinate Fred Hampton and how taxpayer dollars were spent on his assassination,” Rush wrote in his statement. “I want to know why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a focus of the FBI; why Billie Holiday was a focus of the FBI. I want to know why so many young activists were harassed by the FBI. What was the justification for the impact that it had on their lives?”
Rush added that “it is beyond time for J. Edgar Hoover, who has a clear legacy as the number one assailant on America’s constitutional guarantees for its citizens,” to have his name removed from the FBI headquarters.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has not yet replied to the Rush letter. U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., whose district takes in the West Side, was among the co-signers.