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The FBI, COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE, and the Decline of Ku Klux Klan Organizations in Alabama, 1964–1971 ON SEPTEMBER 2, 1964, THE FBI LAUNCHED a highly secretive and extralegal domestic covert action program called COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE, which sought to “expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize” Ku Klux Klan groups in the United States.1 During 1965, as the FBI facilitated a crucial criminal prosecution of Alabama Klansmen and an effective House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) exposé, the bureau’s COINTELPRO operations exposed and discredited leaders of the Alabama-based United Klans of America (UKA). Beginning in 1966, an accelerated campaign of disruption involving “notional” (fake) communications, “snitch-jacketing” operations that framed effective Klan organizers as spies, and the use of informants further aggravated internal factionalism in Klan organizations. The result of these operations was increased frustration, resignation, and J O H N D R A B B L E John Drabble is an Assistant Professor in the American Culture and Literature Program at Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Republic of Turkey. In summers, he teaches in the International Area Studies Teaching Program at the University of California Berkeley. He would like to thank the editorial staff of the Alabama Review, as well as his father Dr. John E. Drabble, who read early drafts of this manuscript. 1 Director to Atlanta et al., Sept. 2, 1964 (section 1), in COINTELPRO: The Counterintelligence Program of the FBI, 30 reels (Wilmington, Del., 1978). Unless otherwise indicated, all FBI documents cited in this article are from this microfilm collection, the most complete record of COINTELPRO operations available. The White Hate records comprise reels eighteen through twenty. Unless otherwise indicated, communications between FBI executives are contained in section one, and communications between FBI headquarters and field offices are contained (in rough chronological order), in the respective field office files. Given a lack of historiography on Klan activity in Alabama after 1965, and redactions in COINTELPRO documents, the author used newspaper articles and Michael Newton and Judy Ann Newton, eds., The Ku Klux Klan: An Encyclopedia (New York, 1991), to provide narrative context and to identify COINTELPRO targets. The term COINTELPRO is an amalgam of “counterintelligence program.” T H E A L A B A M A R E V I E W 4 fear among rank and file members, leading to extensive membership losses during the next five years. Other COINTELPRO operations disrupted relations between the UKA national leadership and officers in other states, facilitating an overall reduction in Klan activity and membership, both in Alabama and throughout the South. This story is not well known, because scholarship on COINTELPRO has been restricted to policy studies of institutional workings and of operations against civil rights, black nationalist, and New Left groups. Non-academic accounts are largely anecdotal.2 Much of the scholarship on the civil rights movement focuses on the first half of the 1960s; consequently, the bureau’s reluctance to suppress Klan violence before 1965 has received more attention than its efforts to undermine the Klan with COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE during the late 1960s.3 In particular, FBI performance regarding the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham and the 1965 murder of Viola Liuzzo frames accounts of relationships between the FBI, southern law enforcement authorities, and the Alabama Klan.4 The problematic activities of FBI informant and Klan member Gary Thomas Rowe—who coordinated vigilante attacks on the Freedom Riders in 1961, was implicated by Alabama authorities in the Sixteenth Street church bombing, and who witnessed Liuzzo’s murder—obscures the role COINTELPRO and the FBI played in weakening Klan influence and membership.5 Polemical accounts that use Rowe to frame 2 John Drabble, “The FBI, COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE, and the Decline of Ku Klux Klan Organizations in Mississippi, 1964–1971,” Journal of Mississippi History 66 (Winter 2004): 353–56. 3 Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,” Journal of American History 91 (March 2005): 1233–63. 4 Wyn Craig Wade, The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America (New York, 1987), 324–25; Kenneth O’Reilly, Racial Matters: The FBI’s Secret File on Black America...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-9961
Print ISSN
0002-4341
Pages
pp. 3-47
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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