FBI Sent 'Agitator' Saul Alinsky’s File to the Secret Service After He Warned of Threat to LBJ

Christopher Neefus | May 10, 2011 | 5:00am EDT
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Lyndon B. Johnson, who served as U.S. president from Nov. 22, 1963 to Jan. 20, 1969.

(CNSNews.com) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation sent records on left-wing community organizer Saul Alinsky to the Secret Service after Alinsky suggested that President Lyndon Johnson would be in danger when visiting Chicago for the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

CNSNews.com learned this information after obtaining the FBI’s complete file on Alinsky -- one of President Barack Obama’s intellectual forebears -- through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

A Jan. 24, 1968 FBI memorandum containing Alinsky’s background and past activities was forwarded to the U.S. Attorney in Chicago, the Secret Service, and the 113th Military Intelligence Group in Evanston, Ill., including the comments about Lyndon Johnson.

The memorandum reads, “With reference to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s anticipated visit to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention, Alinsky commented that despite strict security, even if tanks were lining the streets and helicopters landing on rooftops, ‘The president would be safer to take a sub through the sewer system.’”

According to the file, a source whose name is redacted told the FBI that Alinsky made the comments during a talk he gave to medical students at the University of Illinois Medical College in Chicago on March 7, 1968. He was allegedly responding to a question from a student about the potential for race riots to break out in the city during the following summer.

Saul Alinsky, author of popular liberal book Rules for Radicals, was a community organizer who traveled the country facilitating the creation of local groups focused on seizing power from those with more resources in order to tilt public policy in the favor of  the poor and minority groups and neighborhoods.

The FBI files repeatedly mentions Alinsky as a self-styled “professional radical” and “agitator who loves to rub raw the sores of discontent.”

But in the summer of 1968, people in Chicago were poised to go further, and there was widespread fear of race-based rioting and violence that was also tied to liberal opposition to the Vietnam war.

In a memo to the FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI Communications Office summarized an article from the Jan. 23 edition of the Chicago Daily News. “Saul D. Alinsky back in Chicago with plans to ‘blow this town apart,’” the memo reads. “He plans to stay here through Spring and Summer, trying to rally forces of protest, primarily against Mayor Richard J. Daley.”

“His (Mayor Daley’s) blunderings have put Chicago on top of the powder keg that will blow so high Detroit will look like a sideshow,” the memo quotes Alinsky as telling the newspaper.

President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

According to the file, Alinsky walked back his comments a week later, telling the radio station WBBM that his intentions had been “misrepresented” and that “he did not ‘plan to blow this town apart’ but rather to organize the Negroes so that their voice could be heard through elected representatives, as is the democratic way.”

But after another month, Alinsky had made the comment about President Johnson included in his description to the Secret Service.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on Apr. 4, fomenting more tension before the Democratic National Convention, which kicked off on Aug. 26 and which Chicago’s Mayor Daley intended to use to showcase the city.

While rioting did take place and the police were compelled to use force to control the crowds, Johnson had by then announced he would not seek his party’s nomination for president.

The FBI also pointed out to the Secret Service that, according to the information they had, Alinsky did not maintain a residence in Chicago at the time, instead staying with various acquaintances on his trips there.

The listed subjects of the memo are “Saul David Alinsky” and “Racial Matters,” and it was declassified in May 1982.

The Domestic Intelligence Division of the FBI filed another document, called an Informative Note, on Alinsky on Jan. 24, 1968 after his initial comments to the Chicago Daily News. In that report, the division said it would make the information accessible to the rest of the bureau and share it with the Johnson White House.

“He is quoted as having made statements advocating racial violence,” the FBI note reads. “The attached information has been furnished to the Interdivision Information Unit of the Department and a copy was sent to the Attorney General.”

“Data being included in today’s summary to the White House and interested agencies,” reads the report.

That document was not declassified until 1997.

Alinsky died in 1972, one year after releasing  Rules for Radicals, the work for which he is best known.

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