Jan. 20 (Monday)

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 John Edgar Hoover
Full Name: John Edgar Hoover
Born: Jan. 1, 1895 in Washington, D.C.
Died: May. 2, 1972 in Washington, D.C.

J. Edgar Hoover was a man whose name is virtually synonymous with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), of which he served as the director for nearly half a century (1924-72). In 1919, Hoover became special assistant to Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, overseeing the mass roundups and deportations of suspected Bolsheviks (communists) after World War I. This was symbolic of Hoover’s later unethical and even illegal activities, which have led many to describe the FBI as the Fascist Bureau of Investigation.

Hoover, reorganized and rebuilt the FBI, establishing what would become the world’s largest fingerprint file, a scientific crime-detection laboratory and the FBI National Academy, where carefully selected agents were given rigorous training. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave Hoover the task of investigating both foreign espionage in the United States and the activities of citizens deemed communists or fascists. The FBI was thus fueled by the “Red Scare” that gripped the U.S. during the Cold War, which began in the late 1940s. The Mafia operated with impunity nationwide as the FBI pursued the Ku Klux Klan, left-wing activists and Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Hoover habitually used the FBI’s enormous surveillance and information-gathering powers to collect damaging information on politicians throughout the country, and he kept the most scurrilous data under his own personal control. He used his possession of these secret files to maintain himself as the FBI’s director and was apparently able to intimidate even sitting presidents by threatening to leak damaging disclosures about them.” President Harry S. Truman stated, “We want no Gestapo or secret police. FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.”

Though Hoover became a target of public criticism for his authoritarian administration and for his persecution of those he regarded as radicals or subversives, he retained his post until his death at age 77.