The government of Richard Nixon spent thousands of taxpayer dollars, installed loads of surveillance equipment, and employed countless FBI agents in its four-year effort to deport America-loving peacenik John Lennon, whom they considered a major threat due to his left-wing political activism and relationships with anti-war “subversives.” It all started when the former Beatle and his wife Yoko moved to New York City in 1971. Interestingly, they had no trouble entering the country, despite a 1968 arrest in England for possession of 219 grains of cannabis resin. But a drug bust was one thing; preaching peace was quite another.
John first entered the FBI’s files in 1971 when he took part in a rally to free White Panther leader John Sinclair, who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling two marijuana joints to undercover policemen. John even wrote a song for the occasion. But what really landed him on Nixon’s famous enemies list was his potential to cause trouble during the 1972 presidential election. John had hinted that he planned to launch a concert tour that would combine music with politics and include the participation of the leading far-left activists of the day. The goal was to encourage 18 to 20 year-olds to vote, and – with luck – ensure that Nixon lost the election. Then there were those damn peace anthems that must have annoyed the crap out of Nixon: “Imagine,” “Power to the People” “Gimme Some Truth,” and “Give Peace a Chance.”
The next thing you know, that old racist Strom Thurmond is sending a memo to Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, stating: “If Lennon were to be deported, it would be a strategic counter-measure.” The FBI dug right in: they created a John Lennon information sheet using an image of John’s friend David Peel, a political activist and singer who had previously released an album on Apple Records titled “The Pope Smokes Dope.” (I guess all long-haired hippies in granny glasses look alike to G-men.) Soon, John started to notice that cars were following him. He grew paranoid about the number of people who kept coming to fix the phones in his loft at 105 Bank Street. It got to the point where he would go next door and use his friend John Cage’s phone. He discussed his plight on TV talk shows hosted by Tom Snyder and Dick Cavett. He made sure Nixon’s henchmen knew he was aware of their tactics.
Meanwhile, the whole world was becoming aware of Nixon’s “Dirty Tricks” re-election schemes – thanks to the tenacity of two reporters named Woodward and Bernstein, who unraveled the scandal called Watergate. In 1974 Tricky Dicky left the White House in disgrace and all the king’s men bit the dust, thus ending the four-year Lennon witch hunt. As John left the courthouse after receiving his permanent residency Green Card, a reporter asked him if he carried any grudges against those who hounded him.
Without missing a beat, John said, “No, I believe time wounds all heels.” I guess you could say that Instant Karma got ’em all in the end.
In January 1977, those White House enemies – John and Yoko – would attend the Inaugural Ball of non-paranoid President Jimmy Carter.
Let’s all take a moment to celebrate the music, wit, and peace-loving soul of John today – on what would have been his 73rd birthday.
For the whole story of John’s harassment, check out the film “The U.S. Versus John Lennon,” directed by John Scheinfeld. It features interviews with such notables as Carl Bernstein, Noam Chomsky, Walter Cronkite, Mario Cuomo, Angela Davis, Bobby Seale, Tom Smothers, G. Gordon Liddy, and Gore Vidal. Here’s the trailer:
By Dana Spiardi, Oct 9, 2013