How a break-in on the night of the Ali-Frazier fight exposed the FBI’s campaign to target Dr. Martin Luther King & Muhammed Ali

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NY Daily News June 5th By Chuck ModianoFirst things first: #RIPMuhammadAli to the greatest boxer, sports personality, and sports activist who has ever lived. To accomplish one of those three feats is extraordinary. To accomplish all three? He must be The Greatest.

Consider me both Ali’s #1 and 1 billionth fan because there seems to be a worldwide tie right now. As such, I will leave the sincere tributes to others as there is nothing I can add that isn’t woefully unoriginal and abusively cliché-ridden. For the insincere ones, let’s take it back to a critical date in sports and political history. March 8, 1971.

“The Fight of The Century” between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier aided and abetted what could be called “The Burglary of the Century” in Media, Pennsylvania.

Before whistle-blower Edward Snowden exposed the mass surveillance powers of the National Security Agency (NSA), a group of eight Vietnam war activists stole FBI files and exposed over 1000 FBI documents ofcriminal activities under the tyrannical leadership of J. Edgar Hoover.

The heist included documents on the now infamous COINTELPRO (COunter INTELligence PROgram) which illegally and ruthlessly infiltrated anti-war activist and protest groups with an extreme focus on African American organizations and leaders, as Hoover directed all of the Bureau’s Offices to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and otherwise neutralize.”

And that included Muhammad Ali.

In 2014, five of the eight burglars from the “Citizens Committee to Investigate the FBI” finally broke their 42-year silence and told the country that they deliberately picked March 8, 1971 for their caper. Ironically, Ali, who spent three years in exile for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, provided the necessary cover.

The heist is now well-chronicled by former Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger’s book “The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI” and the 2015 must-watch documentary “1971.”

These activists mailed the stolen files to the press, and only The Washington Post released the findings as The New York Times and The LA Times returned the files back to the FBI.

MARCH 29, 1967, FILE PHOTO

“Returned the files”. Let that sink in.

And thank you to the late Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post.

Chapter 6 of “The Burglary” is titled: “With Thanks to Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier”. Medsger writes:

“One of the burglars… made the case for scheduling the burglary on the night of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight… The possibility that noise generated by the fight could serve as a distraction struck the burglars as a great stroke of luck. Even the local police, they thought, might be so glued to their televisions and radios that evening that they would make few, if any, street patrols. That did it. They chose the night of the Ali-Frazier fight- Monday, March 8, 1971”

Medsger states “the timing of the burglary now aligned almost precisely with that of the Ali-Frazier fight,” with particular attention to 10:40 p.m., the fights scheduled start.

In unwittingly helping to expose COINTELPRO, it was discovered the FBI was keeping tabs on Ali himself. Medsger writes:

“[Ali] might have thought the cover was a sort of poetic justice. The bureau built a file on Ali, beginning with its investigation of his Selective Service case. Some of his phone conversations were tapped, and FBI informers gained access to, of all things, his elementary school records in his hometown, Louisville, Kentucky. They discovered that little Cassius Clay liked art. They recorded every grade he made from elementary through high school.”

“Elementary school records.” Let that sink in.

The FBI monitoring of Ali also included a minor driving citation, family disagreements over his becoming a Muslim, and his talk show appearances with Johnny Carson.

Besides Ali, COINTELPRO’s most famous targets of destruction were Martin Luther King, Jr. and The Black Panthers — who Hoover famously declared “the greatest threat to the internal security of this country.” In 2013, the nation celebrated King and the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, but it was this very event that triggered Hoover’s attention.

The level of espionage under J. Edgar Hoover is well-documented.

King’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” is almost universally praised today, but was not nearly as radical as his classic but often-ignored book”Where Do We Go From Here?” or his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech that aligned King’s sentiments on the war with Ali’s (at the time King also stated, “Like Muhammad Ali puts it, we are all — black and brown and poor — victims of the same system of oppression.”).

Even still, it was King’s beloved 1963 ‘Dream’ Speech that cemented his place in the FBI as “the most dangerous Negro”. COINTELPRO head William Sullivan wrote:

“In the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech … We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.”

Soon after, the FBI was systematically bugging King’s home, hotel rooms, and even threatened the life of the man they called “an evil abnormal beast.” But the files uncovered that it wasn’t just King, Ali, or anti-war protesters under surveillance. Medsger elaborated:

“The files revealed that African American citizens were watched by FBI informers everywhere they went — the corner store, classrooms, churches, bookstores, libraries, bars, restaurants. Every FBI agent was required to hire at least one informer to report to him regularly on the activities of black people … On one campus in the Philadelphia area, Swarthmore College, every black student was under surveillance.”

“Every Black Student.” Let that sink in.

COINTELPRO made virtually no distinction between Nation of Islam members like Ali, “integrationists” like King, or simply black students — a dynamic that echoes surveillance of today’s Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement. Of BLM and COINTELPRO, The Huffington Post’s Julia Craven writes “It’s the same ideology under a different name.”

In New York City it is also an FBI ideology that monitored the Occupy Wall Street movement even before it started, and legalized a frightening level of FBI surveillance of Muslim-Americans that could become national policy under a President Trump.

The surveillance of King was so extensive it became one of the main COINTELPRO reports published from the now-forgotten 1976 US Senate Church Committee Investigation which led to new regulations that have since been fully gutted (most notably by The Patriot Act).

The surveillance of Ali remains quite relevant today, and newly declassified files in 2013 reveal that Ali was also being spied on by the NSA’s “Operation Minaret” which targeted those who spoke out against the Vietnam War including athletes, activists, journalists, and United States Congressmen of both parties.

Muhammad Ali lent his booming voice to social justice issues.

“Operation Minaret” even monitored and phone-tapped Senators — including Frank Church himself.

Yes, Senator Frank Church — who was the head and namesake of the Church Committee to investigate the FBI — was simultaneously being spied on by the NSA.

That was 40 years ago when the U.S. had only a sliver of the technological powers of today. When Senator Bernie Sanders asked the NSA Director in January 2014 if it were spying on Members of Congress today, he could not get a denial.

Senator Church died in 1984, and went to his grave without this knowledge. However, without mentioning the NSA by name, Church prophetically warned the nation of the surveillance powers of the government to NBC’s “Meet the Press” on August 17, 1975:

“The United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air. Now, that is necessary and important to the United States as we look abroad at enemies or potential enemies. We must know, at the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people.”

Then Church warned against his greatest fears:

“If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny … I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that … we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

Church’s crystal ball seemed to channel both the current NSA and a Donald Trump presidency. Muhammad Ali’s final political act last December was even less subliminal. In a statement titled, “Presidential Candidates Proposing to Ban Muslim Immigration to the United States,” Ali stated:

“I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is.”

Just how many people honoring Ali keep dishonoring his religious beliefs?

IMAGE TAKEN FROM ULLSTEIN ARCHIVE

Fifty years ago, Muhammad Ali had his passport revoked and was not allowed to leave the country because of his religion. Today, Trump, supported by millions, vows to stop all Muslims from entering it.

Fifty years ago, Ali just narrowly escaped being sent to jail, but in his place U.S. prisons exploded with a meteoric rise built off of America’s proven premise that Black Lives Don’t Matter.

After Snowden’s revelations, the NSA has been called “COINTELPRO on Steroids,” but calls for a new Church Committee investigation, an idea even supported by original 1976 committee members, has been bypassed for legal tinkering.

Today the most beloved man around the world, and even in white America, is a Muslim. One last time: Let that sink in.

But too many insincere odes to Muhammad Ali ring devastatingly hollow as too many in White America are more in love with his Parkinson’s-induced silence than his actual beliefs.

Despite this outpouring of love, America — through actions and policy — hates millions who look and pray like him. So don’t let all the tributes fool you. In America, Muhammad Ali is still in exile.

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