Democrats’ push to refurbish FBI part of attack on political rights

By Terry Evans
August 7, 2023

For over seven years, beginning during the 2016 elections, the Democrats have attempted to use the FBI as a key weapon in their ongoing assault against Republican political opponent Donald Trump. In doing so, they’ve targeted the working people attracted to his campaign, who Hillary Clinton called “deplorables,” and have gone after crucial constitutional rights workers need to defend and advance our class interests.

Democrats have campaigned to remake the image of the FBI, to turn it into a progressive, woke agency.

This requires trying to smother all memory of decades of FBI spying, harassment and disruption against unionists, Black rights fighters, small farmers battling foreclosure, the Socialist Workers Party, opponents of Washington’s wars and anyone else who challenges the capitalist for-profit system. Since 1939 the FBI has been the capitalist rulers’ central political police attack force.

The results to date are not helpful for the capitalist rulers. The FBI has won a higher approval rating among liberal Democrats and the left, who are terrified of so-called MAGA Republicans. But among Republicans, fully 63% told an NBC News poll in June that they had a negative view of the FBI.

Only 37% of voters overall told NBC they had a favorable opinion of the FBI, down from 52% under Trump in 2018. Not surprisingly, the FBI is “more popular among Americans making more than $200,000 a year,” the New York Times reported.

Millions of working people today see the FBI as a partisan weapon in the drive by Democrats to criminalize political opposition. Many recall Attorney General Merrick Garland ordering the FBI to snoop on parents protesting at school board meetings in 2021. Last year the FBI’s Richmond office planned a secret operation to spy on Catholics who prefer a Latin Mass, tossing aside the constitutional protection of the right to worship.

Two rulings by District Judge Terry Doughty highlight the FBI’s and CIA’s brazen political manipulation with the 2020 elections. He is presiding over a case brought by the attorney generals of Missouri and Louisiana against the Biden administration. On July 4 Doughty ordered the FBI, State Department and other officials to refrain from “threatening, pressuring, or coercing social media companies in any manner to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce posted content of postings containing protected free speech.”

In a July 10 ruling, Doughty described how FBI officials regularly met with social media bosses to discuss censoring so-called fake news leading up to the 2020 election. In October that year Facebook asked if a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop was “Russian disinformation.” Laura Dehmlow, head of the FBI Foreign Influence Task Force, refused to comment, despite the fact the agency had the laptop. Facebook suppressed the story.

Then Antony Blinken, a senior adviser to Biden’s campaign who is now secretary of state, had a chat with Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell. Following the meeting, Morell recruited 51 ex-CIA officers to issue a letter saying the Post’s story had “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” In testimony this April, Morell admitted he wrote the letter to help Biden win the election.

Despite Democrats’ and Republicans’ sharp differences over how the FBI should be used today, both parties — and the capitalist ruling families they represent — have a vital stake in refurbishing its reputation. They must be able to wield a political police agency with little restraint on it, especially when the class struggle heats up.

Moves to refurbish FBI attacks

The current hearings of the Republican-led House Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government are aimed at tapping the deep distrust of the FBI under Biden, to demand the FBI act more apolitical, like in the “good old days.”

The liberal press is keen to cover up the FBI’s history. In the New York Times, Beverly Gage writes that her liberal friends were secretly “cheering for the FBI” when it was used against Trump, “after a lifetime of viewing it as a bastion of political repression.” Don’t feel guilty, she tells them, claiming the FBI’s true history was as “an objective, nonpartisan investigative force.”

In contrast, conservative commentator Jonathan Turley says the FBI has become Biden’s “Praetorian Guard.” He proposes a “new Church Committee” to investigate the FBI, like the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence set up in 1975, headed by Sen. Frank Church.

Church was given the job of cleaning up the rulers’ spy agency. His committee held public hearings in late 1975. Knowing they had to “expose” some excesses to have any credibility, they trotted out a handful of carefully selected FBI abuses.

The hearings took place two years after the Socialist Workers Party launched a federal lawsuit and political campaign to expose decades of government spying, eavesdropping, infiltration and Cointelpro disruption programs against the party. This 13-year-long effort produced a powerful exposé of secret police interference with political freedom.

When Church submitted his committee’s findings in April 1976, the New York Times editors wrote, “The Socialist Workers Party lawsuit is prying out of the FBI files information that was in existence but was withheld from both of the committees expressly charged with investigating intelligence abuses.” In truth, the Church Committee didn’t want to dig too deep.

Church’s findings led to some new restrictions and calls for transparency on the FBI. But they largely left the FBI free to continue its role as the rulers’ political police. One example of the limits imposed on the snoops was Congress establishing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court system in 1978. This created a secret court where the FBI could seek warrants for illegal wiretapping and spying.

This hasn’t proved to be much of a deterrent. A FISA court granted the FBI a warrant to spy on Trump campaigner Carter Page based on “evidence” of Russian collusion the FBI knew to be a pack of lies cooked up by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

The SWP won its lawsuit in 1986, and, for the first time ever, a federal court ruled that the FBI could not infiltrate a political organization and spy on its members because of their constitutionally guaranteed political activity; that its burglaries and wiretapping violated Fourth Amendment protections; and that its Cointelpro attempts to disrupt SWP activity were illegal. This was a victory for all working people.

We have a substantial stake in standing up to the assault on constitutional freedoms led today by Democrats and the middle-class left. Both the Democratic and Republican parties will try to refurbish the rulers’ political police for greater use in future class battles.