Ernest Withers: 5 Other FBI Informants Of Note
Pretty shocking news via the Memphis Commercial Appeal this morning that Ernest Withers , the well-known photographer of the Civil Rights movement who was seen as a trusted friend by its leaders, was an FBI informant.
Because, you know, Martin Luther King was such a communist and all and wanted to overthrow the country.
Hard to imagine living with that secret -- until his death in 2007, he must have been in constant fear it would somehow leak out and he'd be exposed as a disgraceful traitor.
But then again, the list of FBI informants is many and varied. Among them:
1. Ronald Reagan
Edmund Morris' weird but vastly underrated biography of Reagan, Dutch, showed how the future president regularly fed the FBI information on all those nasty Reds plotting to poison American minds through motion pictures. Reagan supporters say he wasn't actually an informant because he wasn't paid, which is kind of like Reagan saying he didn't believe arms were traded for hostages as he admitted arms were traded for hostages.
2. Henry Hill
The Goodfellas guy. From a swank table at the Copacabana to "Can't even get decent food -- right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce, and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I'm an average nobody... get to live the rest of my life like a schnook."
3. Brandon Darby
An Austin activist, he often received publicity about his activities. He turned informant for the FBI in connection with protests planned for the 2008 GOP convention in St. Paul. After his role was exposed, he wrote an open letter that was as opaque as a Ronald Reagan Iran-Contra explanation:
There are currently allegations in the media that I have worked undercover for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This allegation no doubt confuses many activists who know me and probably leaves many wondering why I would seemingly choose to engage in such an endeavor. The simple truth is that I have chosen to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
4. Gerald Ford
Shortly after being appointed to the Warren Commission investigating the JFK assassination, Gerald Ford started feeding information on the commission's activities to J. Edgar Hoover . Which must have been especially helpful, since the FBI was concerned mostly about covering its incompetence in dealing with Lee Harvey Oswald. (For what it's worth, we remain convinced the FBI, CIA, etc. were covering up incompetence, not active participation in any conspiracy.)
5. Black Panthers and White Supremacists
It didn't matter if the targets were black or white -- one thing they were was highly overrated as threats. Infiltrating both the Black Panthers and various white-supremacy groups (including the Klan) proved so easy that in both cases the FBI essentially ended up running them. Which didn't exactly please city officials in Kalamazoo, Michigan, when FBI informant Hal Turner organized a white-supremacist rally in 2007 that cost the city $80,000 to police.
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