I am experiencing a bit of dissonance these days as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are constantly in the news. In terms of the agential members of these organizations pursuing the issue of other countries’ meddling in the 2016 elections—especially Russia—I am very supportive. It’s my hope that they will get to the bottom of what happened and apparently is still happening, and that they will share the facts with the general population. I find myself largely trusting their research as well as the work of the Department of Justice and the special counselor. However, that confidence is tempered by a grain of salt, metaphorically speaking.
You see, I came of age socioeconomically, politically, culturally, and ethically during the turbulent 1960s. Before the end of that decade, I had experienced three major assassinations and the escalation by the United States of an unwinnable war in Vietnam. I was aware of racial discrimination personally, and I had realized how the so-called American experiment was still reaching for that city upon a hill, so to speak.
I had begun to read the works of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois and Richard Wright as well as the poetry of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. I was learning about aspects of the history of this country that was not covered in many of my social studies classes. By 1970, I was already well-versed in the classic Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) because of my fanatical admiration of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Through my voracious readings, I could not help but to start questioning the roles of governmental agencies in the murders of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. King, and Senator Robert Kennedy. I was acutely aware of the weak civil rights programs of the New Frontier, and I was furious over the federal surveillance of King initiated by Bobby Kennedy and F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover.
As the 1970s progressed, I discovered more and more of the seedy side of the intelligence community. What was confusing to me as an 8-year-old third grader on November 24, 1963, was why the ability to understand the truth of the event of the century allegedly perpetrated by a lone gunman would be vitiated by his murder on national television! Whatever wound I felt that Sunday began truly to fester while I attended Catholic high school, graduated with a diploma from public school, and matriculated at a liberal arts college in southern New England.
By the time I entered seminary and was licensed to preach in Atlanta in 1979 and 1980, respectively—having endured the ending of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and the resignation of Richard Nixon and the ascendancy of a B-actor to the presidency—I was confirmed in my conviction that the JFK assassination was a conspiracy, COINTELPRO was still going on to squelch liberation movements, and neither of the two major political parties were ever going to be antiracist in a genuinely aggressive manner.
During the latter part of my undergraduate years, I had participated in the divestment movement on campuses regarding U.S. corporations doing business in South Africa. That involvement continued throughout the 1980s as I attended graduate school in Boston. Imagine others’ and my exhilaration over the release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years of imprisonment!
That hopefulness was tempered by my continued research on the turbulent 1960s and the successive decades that revealed the socioeconomic and political advancement of people of color was not appreciable—considering the sacrifices made by thousands of movement participants. Even today, after twenty-five years of continual teaching, pastoring, directing educational departments and nonprofits, and community activism, I am deeply disappointed that racism is still structurally systemic and the gap between the rich and the poor has considerably widened.
Although the classic Cold War era ended with Mikhail Gorbachev and the dismantling of the Soviet Union, it was not without suspicion about the role of the United States in Central and South America, the Middle East, and the obfuscating connectivity between drugs and armaments. My distaste over the FBI and the CIA had not waned, but the vicissitudes and preoccupations of life managed to mollify its fervency.
Perhaps, it is understandable that there will always be a hermeneutic of suspicion when I contemplate the work and role of the intelligence community. My hope that truth will out concerning Russian interference, U.S. cooperation, and obstruction of justice remains, but it is not unbridled by any means. As of yet, the verdict is not in. We shall see. Meanwhile, let’s continue to demand and advocate that justice will be done!