nixon tries to deport john lennon -- 5/24/19

Today's selection -- from The Walrus & the Elephants: John Lennon's Years of Revolution by James A. Mitchell. When Richard Nixon learned of John Lennon's brief association with the radical political activist Jerry Rubin, he feared Lennon would use his influence and resources to sway young voters away from Nixon, so he enlisted FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in an attempt to deport Lennon and thus remove the threat:

"As one of the final obsessions of J. Edgar Hoover, the quest to oust John Lennon made a suitable bookend to the FBI director's career; the case was eerily similar to that of another artist who was both popular and political. In the early 1920s Assistant Direc­tor Hoover had made note of Charlie Chaplin's alliances with allegedly dissident minds, and considered the actor a 'parlor Bol­sheviki.' By the McCarthy era, Hoover had listed the Britain-born Chaplin as a likely Communist, and when Chaplin flew to London for the 1952 premiere of Limelight, Hoover had the INS revoke the actor's reentry visa. Chaplin remained exiled from America until 1972, when he was given an honorary Oscar award.

"The similarities with John Lennon's immigration status did not go unnoticed by the media. 'Shades of the Charlie Chaplin fiasco,' the New York Times noted, 'for which the country has just got through apologizing.' Elsewhere, an ever-broader circle of supporters rallied to Lennon's defense. Metropolitan Museum director Thomas Hoving told the New York Times in May that if Lennon 'were a painting he would be hanging in the Metropol­itan Museum, benevolently on the wall.' The Episcopal bishop of New York, the Right Reverend Paul Moore Jr., said he'd gotten to know the Lennons and that he would 'welcome and delight in their presence in New York.'

"INS hearings in May featured in-person testimony on Len­non's behalf, including an appearance by Dick Cavett. In his book Talk Show, Cavett describes not only his courtroom time but, viewed in proper perspective, the odds against Lennon remaining in America. Cavett recalls an unsettling segment of the infamous Oval Office recordings: 'On one of the Nixon tapes, the president's henchman and lickspittle H. R. Haldeman can be heard educating his boss --who was minimally knowledgeable of popular culture -- about Lennon's vast popularity, with the words "This guy could sway an election."'

Former Beatle John Lennon, left, fought to stay in the U.S. in the 1970s with the help of his attorney Leon Wildes, right.

"Having found himself under suspicion from Washington after the Vietnam debate, Cavett was aware of the potential risk in supporting a federal target. Not long after Lennon's appearances on his show, the IRS audited Cavett's entire staff. Other similar reports would be heard of Nixon 'illegally wielding the IRS as a weapon -- sometimes ruining lives,' Cavett said.

"Being under constant watch, subject to telephone wiretaps, and often followed by federal agents became just another fact of life for Lennon and his associates, including the members of [his accompanying band at that time] Elephant's Memory.

" 'I used to see [federal agents]  in my building all the time,' [Lennon's friend Gary] Van Scyoc says. 'It was something going on in the underbelly, but nobody was letting it get in the way of learning the next song or doing our jobs as a backup band and making John happy.'



James A. Mitchell


The Walrus & the Elephants: John Lenon's Years of Revolution


A Seven Stories Press First Edition


Copyright 2013 by James A. Mitchell


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