“You gotta remember, establishment, it’s just a name for evil. The monster doesn’t care whether it kills all the students or whether there’s a revolution. It’s not thinking logically, it’s out of control.”—John Lennon (1969)
John Lennon, born 79 years ago on October 9, 1940, was a musical genius and pop cultural icon.
He was also a vocal peace protester and anti-war activist and a high-profile example of the lengths to which the Deep State will go to persecute those who dare to challenge its authority.
Long before Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning were being castigated for blowing the whistle on the government’s war crimes and the National Security Agency’s abuse of its surveillance powers, it was Lennon who was being singled out for daring to speak truth to power about the government’s warmongering, his phone calls monitored and data files illegally collected on his activities and associations.
For a while, at least, Lennon became enemy number one in the eyes of the U.S. government.
Years after Lennon’s assassination it would be revealed that the FBI had collected 281 pages of files on him, including song lyrics. J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI at the time, directed the agency to spy on the musician. There were also various written orders calling on government agents to frame Lennon for a drug bust.
As the New York Times notes, “Critics of today’s domestic surveillance object largely on privacy grounds. They have focused far less on how easily government surveillance can become an instrument for the people in power to try to hold on to power. [The U.S. government’s campaign against John Lennon] … is the story not only of one man being harassed, but of a democracy being undermined.”
Indeed, all of the many complaints we have about government today—surveillance, militarism, corruption, harassment, SWAT team raids, political persecution, spying, overcriminalization, etc.—were present in Lennon’s day and formed the basis of his call for social justice, peace and a populist revolution.
By March 1971, when his “Power to the People” single was released, Lennon was ready to participate in political activism against the U. S. government, the “monster” that was financing the war in Vietnam.
What Lennon did not know at the time was that the U.S. government, steeped in paranoia, was spying on him.
The release of Lennon’s Sometime in New York City album, which contained a radical anti-government message in virtually every song and depicted President Richard Nixon and Chinese Chairman Mao Tse-tung dancing together nude on the cover, only fanned the flames of the conflict to come.
The official U.S. war against Lennon began in earnest in 1972 after rumors surfaced that Lennon planned to embark on a U.S. concert tour that would combine rock music with antiwar organizing and voter registration. Nixon, fearing Lennon’s influence on about 11 million new voters (1972 was the first year that 18-year-olds could vote), had the ex-Beatle served with deportation orders “in an effort to silence him as a voice of the peace movement.”
Lennon became the subject of a four-year campaign of surveillance and harassment by the U.S. government (spearheaded by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover), an attempt by President Richard Nixon to have him “neutralized” and deported. As Adam Cohen of the New York Times points out, “The F.B.I.’s surveillance of Lennon is a reminder of how easily domestic spying can become unmoored from any legitimate law enforcement purpose. What is more surprising, and ultimately more unsettling, is the degree to which the surveillance turns out to have been intertwined with electoral politics.”
Nixon’s pursuit of Lennon was relentless and largely misplaced.
Despite the fact that Lennon was not part of a “lunatic” plot to overthrow the Nixon Administration, the government persisted in its efforts to have him deported.
Equally determined to resist, Lennon dug in and fought back.
Every time he was ordered out of the country, his lawyers delayed the process by filing an appeal. Finally, in 1976, Lennon won the battle to stay in the country when he was granted a green card. As he said afterwards, “I have a love for this country…. This is where the action is. I think we’ll just go home, open a tea bag, and look at each other.”
Lennon’s time of repose didn’t last long, however. By 1980, he had re-emerged with a new album and plans to become politically active again.
The old radical was back and ready to cause trouble.
The Deep State has a way of dealing with troublemakers, unfortunately. On Dec. 8, 1980, Mark David Chapman was waiting in the shadows when Lennon returned to his New York apartment building. As Lennon stepped outside the car to greet the fans congregating outside, Chapman, in an eerie echo of the FBI’s moniker for Lennon, called out, “Mr. Lennon!”
Lennon turned and was met with a barrage of gunfire as Chapman—dropping into a two-handed combat stance—emptied his .38-caliber pistol and pumped four hollow-point bullets into his back and left arm. Lennon stumbled, staggered forward and, with blood pouring from his mouth and chest, collapsed to the ground.
John Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
He had finally been “neutralized.”
Yet while Lennon’s legacy lives on in his words, his music and his efforts to speak truth to power, not much has changed for the better in the world since Lennon walked among us.
Peace remains out of reach. Activism and whistleblowers continue to be prosecuted for challenging the government’s authority. Militarism is on the rise, with local police dressed like the military, all the while the governmental war machine continues to wreak havoc on innocent lives across the globe. Just recently, for example, U.S. military forces carried out drone strikes in Afghanistan that killed 30 pine nut farmers.
For those of us who joined with John Lennon to imagine a world of peace, it’s getting harder to reconcile that dream with the reality of the American police state.
Meanwhile, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, those who dare to speak up are labeled dissidents, troublemakers, terrorists, lunatics, or mentally ill and tagged for surveillance, censorship, involuntary detention or, worse, even shot and killed in their own homes by militarized police.
As Lennon shared in a 1968 interview: “I think all our society is run by insane people for insane objectives… I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal means.”