The FBI attempted to honour the 95th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s birth on Monday, but it didn’t go quite to plan.
“This #MLKDay, the #FBI honors one of the most prominent leaders of the Civil Rights movement and reaffirms its commitment to Dr. King’s legacy of fairness and equal justice for all,” the FBI said in a post on X/Twitter on Monday.
Following the post, many users pointed out that it did not convey the FBI’s true relationship with Dr King.
As a result, a community note was posted under the tweet which pointed out that when the civil rights campaigner was alive, FBI agents “engaged in surveillance of King, attempted to discredit him, and used manipulation tactics to influence him to stop organizing.”
“King’s family believe the FBI was responsible for his death,” the community note continued.
X users were quick to praise the community note, with one account writing: “Community note never disappoints.”
Another wrote: “Community notes been waiting for this opportunity, nailed it.”
“Honestly unless the FBI decides to atone for how it treated MLK, it should sit this day out… permanently,” another person said.
The FBI has repeatedly been accused of taking actions against Dr King during his lifetime before he was assassinated in 1968, including surveillance and sending him anonymous letters.
The Bureau’s interest in Dr King was fuelled by fears of communism and a suspicion that his activism could be a front for subversive activities.
This suspicion led to the initiation of a covert surveillance programme aimed at monitoring and discrediting the revered civil rights leader.
The agency has previously admitted it began surveilling MLK in December 1955 during his involvement with the Montgomery bus boycott, and continued until the end of his life, despite his status as an advocate of nonviolence.
The Bureau released a statement to The Independent in response to the criticism. “The FBI has long acknowledged the abuses of power that took place under Director J. Edgar Hoover and the deplorable actions taken against Dr. King and others involved in the civil rights movement. Today, the FBI honors Dr. King’s life and legacy and uses those lessons from our past to reaffirm our commitment to equal justice, fairness, and diversity.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Garrow previously told The Independent that he believes the FBI files show the intelligence operation targeting Mr King was almost unparalleled, rivalled only by the surveillance of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, and the US Communist Party.
One of the most notorious episodes in this contentious relationship was the FBI’s covert operation known as COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program). Launched in the 1960s, COINTELPRO targeted various civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr, with the aim of disrupting their activities and tarnishing their public image. The programme involved tactics such as wiretapping, spreading false rumors, and attempting to create divisions within the civil rights movement.
The FBI’s attempts to undermine King reached a peak when an anonymous letter was sent to him, threatening to expose alleged extramarital affairs unless he abandoned his efforts for civil rights.
FBI Director J Edgar Hoover is also known to have disliked King, and is believed to have ordered an agent to send King the notorious “suicide letter” which threatened to expose his “filthy, abnormal” behaviour and urged him to kill himself before Christmas.
In a 1999 civil case, a jury found that “government agencies” had been party to a conspiracy to assassinate Dr King. However, it is not clear if the FBI had a hand in such a conspiracy.