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A Handy Archive of Political Groups the FBI Has Spied On

The Internet Archive is hosting over 30 years of FOIA requests on FBI informants and government employees engaged in domestic intelligence work.
April 24, 2015, 9:00pm

​When it came out that the IRS was scrutinizing potentially ​right- and left-wing tax exempt groups in 2013​, eyes were probably rolling at the FBI. Spying on American political groups has been their thing since forever—and if you need proof, there's a growing collection of documents available at the In​ternet Archive for you to peruse.

The growing 1,200-file record is comprised of 8,900 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the files of various FBI informants and government employees engaged in "domestic intelligence work" since the 1950s.

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The man behind the archive is "an independent scholar of US right wing movements and anti-communism," named Ernie Lazar. For more than 30 years he has been submitting FOIA requests for the FBI's files and documents—at first, on leading right-wing organizations, before expanding his scope to include left-wing, socialist and Communist groups that were also under the FBI's watch.

The list of groups that the FBI was monitoringincludes the Communist Party USA, the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, the Ku Klux Klan, the American Security Council, Citizens Council Movement and States Rights Organizations. It's easy to see why they didn't form a grand coalition to tell the FBI to fuck-off; because "any enemy of my enemy is a friend of mine" only goes so far.

From an FBI FOIA hosted on the Internet Archive. Image: ​Internet Archive

Unsurprisingly, nearly 9,000 FOIA requests resulted in a immense amount of data—o​ver 600,000 pages so far, enough to span five CDs. Lazar has been donating his collection to university research libraries such as Marquette, Berkeley, Kansas and NYU, but if you're not near any of these places, the Internet​ archive is here for you too.

While the documents themselves vary in legibility (thanks to the prolific censoring of names, amateur scanning work and messy typewriters and handwriting of the 1960s) the Internet Archive is really easy to find topics through. At the same time, it's fairly difficult to know what you'll find. Sometimes it's a number of clippings from ​the newsletter of an anti-communist group that turned their ire on the National Council of Churches. There are myriad letters to J. Edgar Hoover with lo​ts of misspellings, and lots of generic responses from Hoover's desk stating that a letter was received—but for those who asked if their church belonged to a communist organization, "for official use only" was the reply.

There are also speeches by Hoover, notes ​from the Communist Party telling their members to stay away from the 1965 Watts riots, and cop​ies of a sermon titled "God The Original Segregationist" delivered in 1955.

It's funny that the letters sent among bigots back then are a lot like bigoted internet comments of today—misspelled, angry, sanctimonious. Imagine what kind of letters the FBI gets today—or don't! Just FOIA some. It may take a few decades, but you're bound to get something back.