The government of Richard Nixon spent many years, blew bushels of money, installed tons of surveillance equipment, and employed dozens of CIA and FBI men in its efforts to deport America-loving peacenik John Lennon, who they considered a major threat to the U.S. due to his left-wing political activism and relationships with anti-war “subversives.” It all started when he and 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 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 activists of the day. The goal was to encourage 18-20 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 coot, 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 “wanted” poster 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 the same to G-Men. Soon, John started to notice that cars were following him. He used to complain about the number of people who were always coming to fix the phones in his loft on 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 the government knew he was aware of their tactics.
Meanwhile, the whole world was becoming aware of Nixon’s “Dirty Tricks” re-election tactics – thanks to the efforts of two tenacious reporters named Woodward and Bernstein, who unraveled the scandal called Watergate. Tricky Dicky left the White House in disgrace and all the king’s men bit the dust, thus ending the 5-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 the people 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 the 32nd anniversary of his death.
Here's John, jubilant after beating "city hall:"
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 and Gore Vidal.
By Dana Spiardi, Dec 8, 2012
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