Falwell Jr: There is a “Criminal Conspiracy” to Oust Me From Power at Liberty University

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

It looks like there is an evangelical Christian version of the “deep state” staging a secret revolution to overthrow Jerry Falwell Jr. at Liberty University.  Here is The Hill:

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. told Hill.TV on Tuesday that he has begun sharing information with the FBI in what he alleged was a criminal conspiracy against him by former board members at the school.

Falwell said in an exclusive interview that in the coming days the FBI will review university documents at the Lynchburg, Va., campus. He accused former colleagues of stealing school property in the form of emails and then sharing them with reporters in an effort to damage his reputation.

The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Our attorneys have determined that this small group of former board members and employees, they’re involved in a criminal conspiracy, are working together to steal Liberty property in the form of emails and provided them to reporters,” Falwell Jr. said.

The accusation follows a Politico story published Monday that detailed a “culture of fear and self-dealing at the largest Christian college in the world.” The story cited internal Liberty University emails, which Falwell Jr. and his attorney’s allege were stolen in a coordinated effort.

Read the rest here.

We have covered the Falwell Jr. story here and here.  I think we should start calling Falwell Jr. the “evangelical Donald Trump.”  I think he would enjoy such a name.  🙂

Another MLK Scholar Weighs-In on the Garrow Article

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Jason Miller, an English professor at North Carolina State University and a King scholar, defends David Garrow’s controversial article on MLK’s moral indiscretions.  (See our coverage of Garrow’s article here).

Here is a taste of Miller’s article at The Conversation:

It’s natural to want to defend King – to say, “let’s wait and see.”

Others might try to argue that abuse precedes abuse, and that the long legacy of slavery still informed the actions of these revered black clergy who subconsciously became like their oppressors. This legacy, of course, often included white men raping black women and sometimes disowning their children.

But I don’t think any filter of rationalization can soften this portrait of King. I’m not prepared to wait eight years, and I’ve halted my two scholarly projects about King.

I’ve also started thinking about what happens next.

What will the next Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations look like? Will other details emerge? Will more women come forward? Will community centers, schools and streets need to be renamed? Will statues come down, or will they remain – and give fodder to those who justify keeping Confederate monuments?

King espoused nonviolence. If these memos are true, such a stance feels hypocritical.

The narrative has just changed. And if scholarship and true biographical research matters at all, one thing is clear: These FBI memos may have forever damaged King’s legacy.

Read the entire piece here.

More Context on David Garrow’s MLK Article

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Historian Trevor Griffey of UCLA puts the Garrow article on Martin Luther King Jr. in the larger context of the FBI investigation of the civil rights icon.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Conversation: “J. Edgar Hoover’s Revenge“:

An article just published by the U.K.-based Standpoint Magazine alleges that civil rights icon Martin Luther King witnessed and even celebrated a woman’s rape.

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Garrow, one of King’s biographers, the claim relies upon recently declassified Federal Bureau of Investigation documents that summarize tape recordings of King’s extramarital affairs.

The allegation that King witnessed a rape and did not stop it is a serious one. Its impact on how we understand and tell U.S. history, and King’s role in it, is likely to be debated for years.

It’s important to reevaluate King’s legacy in light of this new information.

But as an historian who has done substantial research in FBI files on the black freedom movement, I believe that it’s also important to understand how this information came to be public.

Read the rest here.

How is David Garrow’s MLK Article Faring Today?

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We are starting to hear from historians and others on today’s David Garrow’s Standpoint piece on Martin Luther’s King’s moral indiscretions.  I linked to the article here and blogged about it last night.

Here is some news/commentary on Garrow’s piece that we found today.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution covers Garrow’s piece, has an article about Garrow, and explains to readers why it is covering this story.  In the latter piece, the AJC mentions that Garrow approached the paper with his findings and wanted to work together on an investigative report. AJC declined because it did not have access to the King tapes.  (The tapes will be released in 2027).

Meanwhile, the Washington Post quotes several historians.  Gillian Brockell’s piece notes that Garrow has been skeptical in the past about using FBI memos on historical research.  Garrow makes the case that the MLK memos are different. Yale’s Glenda Gilmore questions the veracity of the hand-written notes in the memos.  (This is relevant because the reference to King watching a rape is hand-written). Gilmore adds that FBI files often contain “a great deal of speculation, interpolation from snippets of facts, and outright errors.”  Nathan Connolly of Johns Hopkins is also “deeply suspicious” about Garrow’s sources.  He said that Garrow’s decision to publish these documents is “archivally irresponsible.”

From this article at Insider we learn that the Guardian originally accepted the piece and then retracted it at the last minute.  It was also rejected by The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and The Intercept.

I am sure there are historians working on op-eds and blog posts as I type this.  I will monitor this as best I can.

Of course I have no idea if any of the allegations in Garrow’s piece are true.  Historians will offer interpretations.  The way they respond to this story could have career-defining implications.  I think you will see a lot of caution and hedging over the next few days and weeks.  And, I might add, this is a good thing.  Historians should be the last people to rush to judgement (one way or another) on a story like this.

Journalists will now try to track down people who know something about what is written in these FBI memos.  They will shape the so-called “first draft” of this story.

Indeed, as Connolly and Gilmore note, we need to think about bias in these FBI sources.  This is important, especially in light of what we know about J. Edgar Hoover.  I read some of the documents embedded in Garrow’s piece and I also had suspicions about the hand-written marginal comments.  The memos Garrow found were documents that were obviously part of an ongoing editing process.  I am guessing that the final, more polished, reports are with the tapes.  Once historians see them they will be able to make more definitive statements about how the FBI interpreted the tapes.

We also know that context teaches us that King was not a saint when it came to these encounters with women who were not his wife.  Any historian will take this into consideration. King historians can comment on just how far of an intellectual leap is needed to get from what we already knew about King to the allegations in the FBI memos.

And what if we learn that Garrow is right about King?  This will be a reminder that all historical figures are complex and deeply flawed people.  Stay tuned.

This is also a great opportunity for teaching students and others about how to read the Internet responsibly.  (See Sam Wineburg’s new book and our interview with him here).  Different news outlets and opinion sites are already reporting this story in different ways.

Dinesh D’Souza Thinks He Knows Something About How African-American History is Taught

David Garrow, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Martin Luther King Jr., will drop a bombshell tomorrow (Thursday) when Standpoint magazine will publish an article, based on memos that discuss FBI tapes, that paints the Civil Rights icon in a very unflattering light.  Here is what Garrow claims:

  • FBI documents from the 1960s allege Martin Luther King Jr. had affairs with 40 women and stood by as a friend raped a woman, a new report said.
  • An article by the King biographer David Garrow set to be released on Thursday in Standpoint magazine will detail the FBI memos, London’s The Times reported.
  • Garrow said the memos say King engaged in orgies, solicited prostitutes, and “looked on and laughed” as a pastor he knew raped a woman.
  • The memos were part of a huge US National Archives data dump in early 2019.
  • The FBI secretly recorded King in a years long effort to discredit him. The tapes themselves remain under seal in the US National Archives. And Garrow’s article was rejected by more prominent news outlets. So the story carries many unanswered questions about the accuracy of the FBI material.
  • The King Center, which chronicles King’s life, has not yet commented on the allegations.

Learn more here.  Let’s see how this unfolds tomorrow as Civil Rights historians respond to Garrow’s article.

In the meantime, Laura Ingraham and the Fox News crowd are all over this story.  I am guessing they could not find a legitimate historian of King or the Civil Rights movement to comment on Garrow’s article so, as Fox News is prone to do, they turned to conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza. Watch:

D’Souza seems to be basking in all of this.  By the way, who are all of these progressive historians who “hate” and “do not want to teach” Frederick Douglass, Ida Wells, and Harriett Tubman?  I don’t consider myself a “progressive historian,” but I certainly consider myself a critic of D’Souza. I have been teaching Douglass every semester for two decades.  David Blight of Yale just won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Douglass.  Douglass’s Narrative remains a fixture on history syllabi across the country.  I am sure scholars of Wells and Tubman can weigh-in as well.

And D’Souza continues to think the Republican Party has not changed on issues related to the plight of African Americans and race since the Civil War. I wrote about this here, but I will defer to Princeton’s Kevin Kruse.

Martin Luther King and the Televangelist

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Elder Michaux (on the far right) at the White House with boxer Jersey Joe Walcott (second from left)

This is a fascinating piece.  Over at Religion & Politics, Washington University professor Lerone Martin shows how the FBI used Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux, a popular black radio preacher and televangelist, to discredit Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.

Here is a taste:

In an FBI memo following the historic March on Washington, the FBI labeled King “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country” and the nation’s top domestic security risk. The bureau had no evidence that King was a communist; in fact, the FBI concluded King and the civil rights movement he led were too religious to be influenced by communism. Contrary to the evidence, though, Hoover persisted in believing King had fallen under the influence of godless communism. King was leading the nation “in a form of racial revolution,” so he had to be stopped. On the same day the memo was drafted, the FBI sought Michaux’s help. The evangelist immediately launched a coordinated public critique against King and the gospel the civil rights minister preached. Michaux preached a radio sermon from the nation’s capital on CBS Standard and FM radio affiliates. The homily opposed the March on Washington and King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. Michaux used the Lord’s Prayer from the Gospel of Luke as his sermon text, proclaiming that King’s dream of racial equality would only materialize when God’s rule was established in the hearts of men. “Yes, righteousness will flow like a mighty stream,” Michaux said, quoting King. However, he qualified, it would only happen “when the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—but not until then according to God’s Word.” Advocating for legislative change was futile, according to Michaux; changing hearts was the only way to bring about racial equality. He closed the sermon by telling his listeners to cease marching and simply “seek to do the will of God and be blessed.” It was one thing to hear this from white evangelists like Billy Graham, but it was a weightier matter to hear it from a pioneering black cleric.

Read the entire piece here.

Here is an example of Michaux in action:

Historical Thinking and the Nunes Memo

Image: House memo

How might a historian interpret the now-famous Nunes memo?

Mark Byrnes, chair of the Department of History at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, breaks it down for us.  Here is a taste of his History News Network piece: “The Nunes Memo: ‘Bias,’ and the Skills of the Historian“:

The entire “argument” (such as it is) depends on the idea that a FISA warrant based—to any extent—on the so-called Steele dossier is inherently tainted, because the research done by the author, former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, was paid for at some point by Democrats. Since the warrant targeted Carter Page, who had been part of the Trump campaign, the motive of the funders (not the researcher, it bears noting) to get “dirt” on Trump somehow discredits everything Steele found.

The memo contains not a single argument that the evidence used to obtain the warrant against Carter Page was actually false—only that it is somehow untrustworthy due to the alleged motive behind the research that produced the evidence.

In history, we deal with this problem all the time. We uncover evidence in primary sources, and must judge its credibility. Do we have reason to believe that the person who produced the evidence might have an agenda that should cause us to doubt the veracity of the evidence? What do we do if the answer to that question is “yes,” or even “maybe”?

I do a primary source exercise in my methods class that does just this: presents the students with conflicting primary source accounts of an event. I then explain why the people who produced the evidence might have self-serving reasons for portraying the event in a particular light.

Most students, when first faced with this dilemma, immediately say “bias!” and dismiss the evidence as worthless. That is the reaction the Nunes memo seems intended to produce among the general public.

But that is not how the historian reacts. Yes, the source of the evidence may have some bias. That does not, however, by itself mean that the information is false. It does mean that when weighing its validity, the historian must look for other, independent, corroborating evidence before trusting it.

It seems likely that is what the officials who used the Steele dossier to obtain the FISA warrant did: they compared what Steele wrote to other information they had about Carter Page to see if it lined up.

Read the rest here.  Thanks to TWOILH reader John Shaw for bringing this piece to my attention.

Worse Than Watergate?

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Conservative politicians and pundits believe that the FBI is secretly working to undermine the Donald Trump’s presidency.  This, of course, is why Trump released the Nunes memo yesterday.  Here is Iowa Congressman Steve King:

“This is earth-shaking and it does go deeper than Watergate.”

We have heard this before.  In fact, Politico has managed to dig up forty-six scandals that were also “worse than Watergate.”  They include Chappaquiddick, Iran-Contra, a lot of stuff from the George W. Bush administration, and the Obama birther controversy.

Taylor Gee and Zack Stanton of Politico write:

Political Comparison 101 includes a few basics everybody knows. Want to accuse the current administration of budding authoritarianism? Allude to Nazi Germany. Imply your opponent is leading a witch hunt? Invoke Senator Joe McCarthy.

Recently, one cliché comparison has risen above the rest: “worse than Watergate.”

For decades, the legacy of the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., has formed a sort of yardstick against which to measure the scandals of the day—hence the lazy tendency to abbreviate every controversy with a moniker ending in “-gate” (see: Bridgegate, Gamergate, Deflategate, Celebgate, and so on).

But over the past year in particular, politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle have grown particularly fond of describing their opponents’ actions as “worse than Watergate”—especially in the context of the Russia investigation. In January alone, conservatives like Sean Hannity, GOP Rep. Steve King and radio show host Howie Carr have accused Democrats or the FBI of corruption that is “bigger” or “worse” or “more serious” than Watergate. Meanwhile, critics of President Donald Trump—ranging from former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean (who literally wrote a book titled “Worse Than Watergate”) to former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum to Obama White House ethics czar Norm Eisen—allege wrongdoing on the part of the president and his aides that rivals only Tricky Dick in its flagrant disregard of the rule of law.

We compiled a list of almost every “worse than Watergate” comparison we could find, from Barry Goldwater’s description of Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick scandal to the Trump-Russia musings of journalist Carl Bernstein, who helped break the original Watergate story. Taken as a whole, it’s hard to see that the overused phrase does anyone any good—other than the Watergate Hotel’s publicity team, of course. As a matter of style, perhaps the only thing worse than Watergate is the phrase “worse than Watergate.”

Read the rest here.

 

 

Historians Weigh-In on Trump’s War with the FBI

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Vox has collected nine historians to reflect on the Donald Trump’s belief that the FBI is plotting against himSean Illing has gathered responses from Douglas Charles (Penn State), Rhodri-Jeffryss Jones (Edinburgh), Meg Jacobs (Princeton), Carol Anderson (Emory), Ivan Greenberg, Morton Keller (Brandeis), Timothy Naftali (NYU), H.W. Brands (Texas-Austin), and David Stebenne (Ohio State).

Here is Jones:

The contest of wills between Trump and the FBI is not so much a part of a long-term battle between the president and the director of intelligence as much as it is the latest episode in the GOP effort to sideline and discredit the Russia investigation.

When Christopher Wray testified during his confirmation hearings, he assured the Senate committee he was “not faint of heart.” If and when necessary, he would be willing to stand up to the president. And so far, it looks like he’s living up to his promise. However, the fight over the House Republican memo is less about historical precedence or weakening of the checks on the presidency than it is a reflection of the polarized politics we are living through and, more generally, the attack on the credibility of all government institutions.

The memo scandal is a move on behalf of the White House … to tarnish the reputation of the FBI and of the Justice Department, and by extension call into doubt the motives of the Mueller investigation. In that way, it takes us further down the path of turning every development in the investigation into a partisan ploy.

That, of course, is nothing new — think of the attacks on Kenneth Star by the Clinton White House. But here, the charges are not simply that Mueller is an overzealous prosecutor, but rather that the FBI tried to help throw an entire election. The House memo seems like it will suggest that the FBI was implicated in an attempted coup. The long-term significance of the memo release is that it may confirm for some how few in government can be trusted to act in an independent and honest way, even the FBI —which has historically been seen as beyond the partisan fray.

Read the entire piece here.

Some Historical Context on the Comey Firing

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Historians Brian Balogh and Nathan Connolly talk about the context on WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station.

Listen here.

A summary:

President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey has drawn historical comparisons to the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre” in 1973, in which President Richard Nixon fired the special prosecutor who had been investigating the Watergate scandal.

But historians Brian Balogh (@historyfellow) and Nathan Connolly (@ndbconnolly) tell Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that to fully understand the relationship between a president and FBI director, one must look further back to J. Edgar Hoover, who oversaw the bureau under six presidents from 1924 to 1972.

Balogh and Connolly are co-hosts of the podcast BackStory, which is produced at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

More on James Comey and Reinhold Niebuhr

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FBI Director James Comey wrote his senior thesis at the College of William and Mary on Reinhold Niebuhr.  It is also likely that he is tweeting under Niebuhr’s name.  It is also interesting, as we learn from Martin Doblmeier in Episode 19 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, that the FBI had a very large file on Niebuhr.

Over at The New Yorker, Georgetown University scholar Paul Elie offers a few reasons for why Comey’s twitter name is “Reinhold Niebuhr.”

Here is a taste:

To see Niebuhr’s story with Comey in mind is to gain a deeper appreciation of the hard choices Comey has faced—and the perils of going it alone, as he has seemed to do at several points. In the final months of the 2016 Presidential campaign, Comey faced two moral dilemmas of profound import. In the first, as Newsweek has reported, by last July the agency held evidence that Russia sought to interfere in the election—and presumably to swing the result in favor of Donald Trump rather than Hillary Clinton. Comey, seeing clear wrongdoing, was eager to take action. During a meeting in the White House Situation Room with top Administration officials, Comey proposed to set out the intelligence in an opinion piece for, say, the Times. “He had a draft of it or an outline. He held up a piece of paper . . .” a source told Newsweek, “and said, ‘I want to go forward. What do people think of this?’ ” The Administration rejected the idea, on the grounds that there should be a “coordinated message,” not a piece of journalism by a single official, and also possibly out of a disinclination to be seen as interfering in the campaign.

The second time, Comey took matters into his own hands. In late October, the disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner’s computer—containing a large number of e-mail exchanges between Hillary Clinton and his wife, the Clinton aide Huma Abedin—was seized in an investigation into Weiner’s sexting involvement with a teen-age girl. Comey announced in a letter to Congress that an F.B.I. investigation into Clinton’s e-mails (one he had declared closed in July) was open again. For this, Comey himself was seen as interfering in the campaign. The two incidents together form an object lesson in the unanticipated consequences of human action. One set of intelligence was held back out of high-minded principle; the other set was put forward by questionable means—and Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton, was elected President.

It may be of no great significance that a Twitter account likely associated with James Comey has Reinhold Niebuhr’s name affixed to it. And yet the Niebuhr connection serves as a reminder of the roots of public service—the compote of ideas, personality, influence, and moral virtue that prompts Comey and people like him to go into government work in the first place. Washington is a swamp: so say its critics, including the one in the White House. And yet thousands of talented people decide to pursue careers in government service, year after year, generation after generation. Sure, they do so for power and influence, the access and the spoils, and yet they do so, too, following the inspiration of people like Niebuhr, who made the hard truths of public life and the hard choices faced by people entrusted with positions of responsibility seem like life itself.

Read the entire piece here.