J. Edgar Hoover was a "bully" whose name does not belong on the FBI's headquarters, Rep. Steve Cohen argues. But the Tennessee Democrat's alternative is pretty bland.
Armed with evidence of Hoover's prejudice against gays and lesbians, Cohen wants to rename 935 Pennsylvania Ave. NW the "Federal Bureau of Investigation Building."
"One of the mottos I go by is, sometimes you can't defeat evil, but you can always go on record in being against evil," Cohen told HOH on Monday, on his effort to expunge Hoover's name. Congress last looked at the issue a decade ago, when then-Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., proposed renaming the building for former Sen. Frank Church. The Idaho Democrat headed up the Church Committee's investigation of abuses within federal intelligence agencies. Her 2005 bill went nowhere.
Cohen said his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus told him the measure is not going to pass, but he felt the time was ripe. New revelations about Hoover's 37-year tenure with the FBI, and the government's quest to find a new location for the facility, inspired him — as did a few trips to the movies.
Cohen caught the D.C. premier of "Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government's War on Gays," a 30-minute Yahoo News documentary that delves into Hoover's underground effort to identify and target gay government workers.
"It moved me," he told HOH. During an Oct. 22 House Judiciary Committee hearing, the congressman encouraged FBI Director James Comey to check out the flick, while railing about what he said was Hoover's "deplorable" legacy.
In 1951, Hoover issued a memo to top FBI officials saying that, "Each supervisor will be held personally responsible to underline in green pencil the names of individuals ... who are alleged to be sex deviates," per Cohen. The FBI eventually collected more than 360,000 files.
Next, Cohen caught "Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution," another documentary about a target of Hoover's FBI. The Black Panthers "probably aren't the most huggable, lovable group in the world either — but probably weren't as bad as they were made out to be," Cohen said.
Cohen also pointed to recent revelations of Hoover's attempts to silence Martin Luther King Jr. to build his case. Hoover reportedly had a letter sent to King threatening to expose details about his private life. The Memphis-based congressman said he feels tied to the civil rights leader who "was killed in my city."
At his desk in the Hoover building, Comey keeps a copy of the agency's request to wiretap King as a reminder of the FBI's capacity to do wrong.
Cohen said he's a "big fan" of Comey's. But Cohen has trouble judging Hoover's wrongs in the context of the times, as others have suggested. "He should have known better," he said.
Asked what name should adorn the FBI building in downtown D.C., Cohen offered Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y., and recently deceased former Rep. William Donlon Edwards, D-Calif. He had a reason for being less specific.
"Sometimes if you pick out somebody ... people pick on the person you pick."
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