J. Edgar Hoover on campus unrest, 1970

by J. Edgar Hoover

J. Edgar Hoover, An Open Address to Students, September 21,1970. (The Nixon Libr

In September 1970, J. Edgar Hoover composed an open letter to American students detailing his view on civil unrest at the nation’s colleges and universities and warning against the elements he believed responsible. Hoover opened with the empathetic assertion that “[t]here’s nothing wrong with student dissent or student demands for changes in society or the display of student unhappiness over aspects of our national policy.” Hoover drew a line, however, between “legitimate” student dissent and “extremism.” Extremists “ridicule the flag, poke fun at American institutions, seek to destroy our society,” he wrote, and their actions “led to violence, lawlessness, and disrespect for the rights of others on many college campuses during the past year.”

Hoover’s remarks were a reaction to the increase in violence across the nation’s campuses, most notably the shootings at Kent State just four months prior to this letter. At Kent State, during a protest against American escalation of the Vietnam War, four students were killed and nine others injured when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on protesters. Hoover’s letter placed the blame for the violence squarely on the protesters who “have no rational, intelligent plan of the future either for the university or the Nation.”

Hoover’s tone was contemptuous of extremists and condescending toward the students “lured in” by their message. Accompanying Hoover’s letter is a memo from President Richard Nixon communicating his request that “the message it contains will reach as many students as possible.”

A full copy of the letter is available.

EXCERPT

There’s nothing wrong with student dissent or student demands for changes in society or the display of student unhappiness over aspects of our national policy. Student opinion is a legitimate aspect of public opinion in our society. . . .

But there is real ground for concern about the extremism which led to violence, lawlessness, and disrespect for the rights of others on many college campuses during the past year. The extremists are a small minority of students and faculty members who have lost faith in America. They ridicule the flag, poke fun at American institutions, seek to destroy our society. They are not interested in genuine reform. They take advantage of the tensions, strife, and often legitimate frustrations of students to promote campus chaos. They have no rational, intelligent plan of the future either for the university or the Nation. . . .

Based on our experience in the FBI, here are some of the ways in which extremists will try to lure you into their activities:

  1. They’ll encourage you to lose respect for your parents and the older generation. . . .
  2. They’ll try to convert you to the idea that your college is “irrelevant” and a “tool of the Establishment. . . .”
  3. They’ll ask you to abandon your basic common sense. . . .
  4. They’ll try to envelop you in a mood of negativism, pessimism, and alienation toward yourself, your school, your Nation. . . .
  5. They’ll encourage you to disrespect the law and hate the law enforcement officer. . . .
  6. They’ll tell you that any action is honorable and right if it’s “sincere” or “idealistic” in motivation. . . .
  7. They’ll ask you to believe that you, as a student and citizen, are powerless by democratic means to effect change in our society. . . .
  8. They’ll encourage you to hurl bricks and stones instead of logical argument at those who disagree with your views. . . .

An Open Letter to College Students from J. Edgar Hoover, September 21, 1970, with cover letter from President Richard Nixon. (Nixon Library and Museum, Folder Campus Unrest [3 of 8]; Box 20; Subject File 1; WHCF: SMOF: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, online at http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/virtuallibrary/documents/jul10/58.pdf)

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