In light of the news that the FBI will not prosecute Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server, the agency is getting heat from both sides of the political aisle. Conservatives feel that Clinton was given preferential treatment due to her connections to the Obama administration, noting that “less important” people have been thrown in jail for far less.
Given the agency’s history, that’s not an unreasonable assumption to make. Over the years, the FBI has engaged in some truly stupid activities that make you wonder how it manages to protect us at all. Here are five of the dumbest things the FBI has done in the name of national security.
1. Investigating a cult that didn’t exist
For two years, the FBI spent resources looking into The Church of the Hammer, an allegedly extremist organization that promoted violence against members of the Goth community and other sinners. However, the FBI was unable to find any substantiating evidence for the activities the “church” claimed credit for and couldn’t even verify the existence of its founder, a Reverend Green who was allegedly a disciple of Fred Phelps.
It turns out there was a good reason for this. The Church of the Hammer didn’t actually exist. It was a parody website making fun of religious extremism. Of course, some satire can be subtle. Can you really blame the FBI for falling for it? Yes, yes you can. The website in question contained a disclaimer clearly specifying that the whole thing was a joke, a disclaimer it took the FBI two years to bother to read.
2. Rock and roll is the devil
The FBI has had a long and acrimonious relationship with popular music. From Elvis, whose “actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth” to The Monkees, who were accused of including subliminal left-wing messages in a live broadcast to Jimi Hendrix for allegedly performing under the influence of LSD and to John Lennon for his opposition to the Vietnam War, the FBI spent years investigating the lives of harmless musicians.
3. 'Louie Louie' and the corruption of youth
Having already touched on rock and roll in general, it’s worth singling out the most infamous case of the FBI getting its knickers in a twist over a song. “Louie Louie,” the 1963 hit by The Kingsmen, generated unprecedented amount of outrage. The lyrics were utterly unintelligible, so — by the FBI’s logic — they must have been obscene and subversive. “How you can subvert when you can’t be understood?” is a question no one appears to have considered since federal agents described the song being as a “menace.”
The FBI spent almost two years researching the lyrics to the song, before it finally occurred to them to ask the U.S. Copyright Office, where the lyrics had been sitting comfortably on file ever since the song was first published in 1957. As it turned out, the lyrics were perfectly benign, capping one of the biggest wastes of time in agency history.
4. The FBI loses track of its own employees
In a recent case from just this year, the FBI arrested a man named Erick Hendricks for allegedly aiding in recruitment to ISIS. The problem? Hendricks claims he has been a paid FBI informant for years, and was actively helping them in their investigations. He described himself as “baffled” at the charges brought against him by his own employers.
Over the years, the FBI has engaged in some truly stupid activities that make you wonder how it manages to protect us at all.
This confusing situation is still ongoing (and we don’t have all the facts) but at first glance, it appears that the FBI forgot about one of its own people, leading to a mistaken arrest, which, if true, doesn’t say much about the agency’s organization and competency.
5. 'I have a dream' ... of a competent FBI
There are few today who would have anything bad to say about Martin Luther King, Jr. the civil rights leader who led the way toward freedom and equality for black Americans. At the time, however, in what is arguably the most misguided use of law enforcement resources in history, the FBI described him as “the most dangerous Negro in America.”
The FBI’s investigation into King lasted years, and at one point the agency sent him a letter calling him an “evil, abnormal beast” and actively encouraged him to take his own life in not-too-subtle terms. In a way, they got their wish, as King was assassinated shortly afterwards.
Those who are frustrated with the FBI today, either for its unwillingness to prosecute Clinton or for its investigation of her in the first pace, shouldn’t be surprised. The agency’s history is riddled with ineptitude, paranoia, and downright stupidity.
- Top takeaways from FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton
- ICYMI: Here are 5 things you need to know about the FBI’s reopened Clinton investigation
- Shapiro: What FBI Director Comey did wrong
Logan Albright is a researcher for Conservative Review and Director of Research for Free the People. You can follow him on Twitter @loganalbright73.