The Real Crimes of J. Edgar Hoover

Review by Joseph B. Rosenberg

Puppetmaster: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover
by Richard Hack
New Millenium Entertainment, 2004

New book puts to rest rumors about Hoover's sexuality, and focuses instead on Hoover's disgraceful record as a government official.
Since we are living in a society that is now one big E Channel, gossip-driven, sensationalistic exercise in unnecessary exposures, let me tell you that the author of Puppetmaster, Richard Hack, a resident of Provincetown and Maui, has thoroughly investigated John Edgar Hoover's sexuality and found no evidence of bisexuality.

According to this author, Hoover's sex drive was virtually non-existent. As he rose in popularity and became aware of the rumors surrounding him, he made sure he was seen with attractive women like Dorothy Lamour. In this well balanced book, there are no exposures of the top G-mans trysts with his aide and friend Clyde Tolson, ally Roy Cohn and his buddy G. David Shine, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal or even Howdy Doody.

No, Hack does not spend 411 pages telling bedroom tales on the biggest self-promoter in the US Government. He just gives a fair evaluation of Hoover's life-the fairest I've read by far.

Hack traces Hoover's infatuation with anti-communism with his days as A. Mitchell Palmer's aide in the Wilsonian Department of Justice. Hoover was the point man in the infamous Palmer raids of left-wing unions, anarchists and pro-soviet organizations. It was a formula John Edgar followed for the rest of his career. Under Harding at the Department of Justice, Hoover was in a fast company of grafters, moochers and occasional perverts, yet he kept his hands clean-clean enough that, when the Teapot Dome and other scandals were exposed, none of the manure stuck to Hoover's immaculate clothing.

A genuine Momma's boy, Hoover for the rest of his life never did anything that would embarrass his mother. The fact that he and Tolson took annual "inspection" trips to the Miami area and Southern California and had his agents do work on his home and auto were the most serious of his ethical lapses. The fact his estate was fairly modest showed that although he could be influenced by friendship with wealthy and Mob affiliated men, he was not for sale, at least not for hard cash.

However, the main thrust of Hoover's fame was based on four things: 1) Virulent and unceasing anti-communism , 2) Destruction of independent criminals in the Depression era, and 3) The ability to create and expand the FBI's influence within the government intelligence community by any means necessary, and 4) The acquisition of salacious material about anyone he thought was subversive and/or useful to blackmail.

In particular Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon relied on Hoover for the latest gossip, and in return they gave him wide latitude. While Truman disdained Hoover's gossip, he was taught by his association with the Pendergast machine to look the other way on Hoover's violations of civil liberties.

Eisenhower used Hoover to sink Joe McCarthy, but in general left Hoover alone.

Hoover's disservice to this country is two-fold. First, his compulsive congenital racial bigotry was-until JFK became President-the reason groups like the Klan and White Citizen Council could lynch, murder and harass African-Americans without retribution. Second, his decision to ignore organized crime activity was the main reason the Mob (and its many permutations) was able to flourish during and after prohibition. Hoover never looked into the mass corruption of police and politicians during prohibition, and, after repeal, only went after the glamour guys like Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger, who were essentially freelancers.

Even Hoover's arrest of Louis "Lepke" Buchalter of "Murder Inc." was a stunt engineered by Walter Winchell as a public relations ploy. According to Hack, Hoover frequented hotels, nightclubs and racetracks side by side with monsters and their go-betweens like Winchell. To him they represented the glamour and sophistication he lacked. He liked hanging with "tough guys." Thus the rise of organized crime into virtually every institution of the US from Repeal to the marginalization and replacement of the Mob by other criminal elites in the cocaine era was ignored by Hoover, who saw no payoff in opposing the Outfit. Only in the last years of his regime was he forced by the Kennedy brothers and LBJ to confront organized crime and the protection of minorities.

By the time Nixon was elected, Hoover's energy level was almost extinct and his beloved Bureau was running on autopilot. Nevertheless his clever underlings did their best to discredit Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and infiltrate militant anti-war and civil rights organizations-sort of kinder, gentler, Palmer raids.

To his credit, Hoover did scuttle Nixon's infamous "Houston" plan, which would have instituted Ashcroft-like surveillance against Nixon's enemies. Hoover was more concerned about bureaucratic intransigence than civil liberties. Heaven knows how the old hypocrite would have reacted to covering up Watergate if he had lived a few years more.

Hoover had blood on his hands, as Richard Hack amply demonstrates-the blood of the men and women he defamed as "Communists," using HUAC and Joe McCarthy as his puppets, and the blood of people who were corrupted and forced into illegal activities by organized crime's shylocks, and the blood of tyranny against innocent African Americans.

The issue of whether or not Hoover and Clyde Tolson ever were intimate is not only superficial but a smokescreen to hide John Edgar Hoover's gross dereliction of duty and hostility to the ideals he was sworn to protect. This book, by focusing on what really mattered during Hoover's career, clearly sets the record straight.

Joseph B. Rosenberg, a retired government official and wine connoisseur, writes from Baltimore.

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This story was published on July 13, 2004.