- The FBI investigated John Lennon because they believed his music could be dangerous and politically influential.
- The FBI wanted to arrest Lennon on drug charges to make him deportable.
- The FBI investigated numerous other counter-cultural celebrities during that time.
In the modern media world, it tends to be big news when the government investigates a star. Decades ago, however, it was surprisingly common practice for counter-cultural celebrities to be secretly investigated by the FBI.
During John Lennon’s music career as a solo star and a member of The Beatles, he became a pop culture icon. Widely celebrated, fans loved researching the meaning of Lennon and his Beatles bandmates’ lyrics. On the other hand, the FBI was so freaked out by Lennon that they began spying on him.
Why Did The FBI Investigate John Lennon?
Looking back at many of John Lennon’s most famous songs, it seems hard to understand why anyone would think the singer might be dangerous. After all, songs like “Imagine” and “Give Peace A Chance” call for an end to violence.
However, for some people, the idea of a rock star encouraging the youth to reject wars can be dangerous. On top of that, some of Lennon’s songs that called for peace in the world took a much more confrontational position toward those in power.
In 1971, Lennon released a song titled “Gimme Some Truth”. That song remains so connected to Lennon’s legacy today that books about the former Beatles member and collections of his music have been named after it.
In the lyrics for “Gimme Some Truth”, Lennon took a shot at the President of the United States at that time, Richard Nixon. Referred to in the song as “Tricky Dick”, Nixon and other powerbrokers are portrayed as being corrupt in its lyrics.
Decades after Lennon’s passing, a book titled “Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files” by Jon Wiener was released. Based on FBI files that were accumulated about Lennon, the book revealed why the government felt the need to investigate the former member of The Beatles.
In 2010, NPR spoke extensively to Wiener about the book. In their article that stemmed from that conversation, NPR summed up a letter that Senator Strom Thurmond wrote about Lennon and sent to the White House. As the summation revealed, Nixon’s White House became convinced Lennon was dangerous to them the same year he released the song “Gimme Some Truth”.
“It opens with a memo from Senator Strom Thurmond to the Nixon White House, about an upcoming Beatle tour of the United States. The memo warns that John Lennon might combine rock music with politics and organize young people to vote against Nixon in the 1972 election.”
Later in the same interview, Wiener revealed that in addition to the FBI investigating Lennon in 1971 and 1972, they had much bigger plans than that. Ultimately, what the FBI wanted to do according to their documents, was to get Lennon deported.
While talking to NPR, Wiener revealed a plan the FBI came up with to explain deporting Lennon. As a part of that plan, they wanted to arrest Lennon on possession charges.
“The FBI proposed that ‘Lennon should be arrested, if at all possible, on possession of narcotics charges’ – I’m quoting now from one of the documents ‘which would make him more immediately deportable.'”
Wiener went on to describe something the FBI sent out to local police departments related to Lennon. Even though Lennon was one of the most famous people in the world, the FBI produced a wanted poster. Hilariously enough, however, the FBI somehow managed to mess up the wanted poster.
“And these instructions to local police officials include a kind of a wanted poster. A picture of Lennon, you know, height, weight, eye color and so on. You’d think that they wouldn’t really need this. Lennon was certainly one of the most recognizable faces in the world in 1972. They have a picture there anyway. But the strangest thing is the picture isn’t of John Lennon. It’s of another guy.”
As Wiener described, the FBI files also outlined why Lennon was so worrisome to the agency. Similar to the Senator who wrote the aforementioned letter, the FBI was worried that Lennon could cause political problems.
“You know, there’s like a couple of documents. Their concern was that Lennon would participate in some kind of concert, rally, anti-war demonstration outside the Republican National Convention.”
Of course, Lennon never got deported from America before his passing. However, according to Wiener, the FBI files reveal that the agency believed they succeeded since they were able to “neutralize” the rock legend.
“So John, if he had been deported, Yoko would’ve stayed behind. He didnt want to be separated from Yoko, so he cancelled the plans for the concert tour. He dropped out of movement activity and the FBI is reporting that they have accomplished their job.”
The FBI Investigated Numerous Counter Culture Celebrities
Looking back at the FBI’s investigation into John Lennon, many people are shocked. However, it is important to note that many politically active celebrities from that time got similar treatment including activists.
While it is outrageous that the FBI investigated politically active celebrities, it isn’t surprising. On the other hand, there are some stars that the FBI created files on that seem like a strange fit for the agency to investigate.
Other Stars The FBI Investigated:
- John Denver
- Tupac Shakur
- “The Notorious B.I.G.”
- Yoko Ono
- Helen Keller
- Jackie Robinson
- “Ol’ Dirty Bastard”
- Steve Jobs
One perfect example of that is the fact that the FBI created a file on Whitney Houston. According to reports, however, the FBI had good reasons to create a file on Houston. The reason for that is the FBI was involved in investigations into attempts to stalk and extort the beloved singer.
Another celebrity that the FBI created a file on is Princess Diana. In that case, it once again seems like the creation of that FBI file happened for a valid reason. According to reports, the FBI created a file on Princess Diana due to security issues that happened during her visits to America.
In the case of Marilyn Monroe, a file initially was created about her because of someone she married. During her life, Monroe married the playwright and screenwriter Arthur Miller and the FBI suspected him of being a Communist.