I think the new movie on John Lennon is an important one to see right now. Here is a comment from the NY Times.
While Nixon Campaigned, the F.B.I. Watched John Lennon
In December 1971, John Lennon sang at an Ann Arbor, Mich., concert calling for the release of a man who had been given 10 years in prison for possessing two marijuana cigarettes. The song he wrote for the occasion, “John Sinclair,” was remarkably effective. Within days, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered Mr. Sinclair released.
What Lennon did not know at the time was that there were F.B.I. informants in the audience taking notes on everything from the attendance (15,000) to the artistic merits of his new song. (“Lacking Lennon’s usual standards,” his F.B.I. file reports, and “Yoko can’t even remain on key.”) The government spied on Lennon for the next 12 months, and tried to have him deported to England.
This improbable surveillance campaign is the subject of a new documentary, “The U.S. vs. John Lennon.” The film makes two important points about domestic surveillance, one well-known, the other quite surprising. With the nation in the midst of a new domestic spying debate, the story is a cautionary tale.
It focuses on the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when the former Beatle used his considerable fame and charisma to oppose the Vietnam War. Lennon attracted worldwide attention in 1969 when he and Yoko Ono married and held their much-publicized “bed-ins” in Amsterdam and Montreal, giving interviews about peace from under their honeymoon sheets. Lennon put to music a simple catch phrase — “All we are saying is give peace a chance” — and the antiwar movement had its anthem. Two years later, he released “Imagine.”
The government responded with an extensive surveillance program. Lennon’s F.B.I. files — which are collected in the book “Gimme Some Truth” by Jon Wiener — reveal that the bureau was monitoring everything from his appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show” to far more personal matters, like the whereabouts of Ono’s daughter from a previous marriage.
The F.B.I.’s surveillance of Lennon is a reminder of how easily domestic spying can become unmoored from any legitimate law enforcement purpose. What is more surprising, and ultimately more unsettling, is the degree to which the surveillance turns out to have been intertwined with electoral politics. At the time of the John Sinclair rally, there was talk that Lennon would join a national concert tour aimed at encouraging young people to get involved in the politics — and at defeating President Nixon, who was running for re-election. There were plans to end the tour with a huge rally at the Republican National Convention.
The F.B.I.’s timing is noteworthy. Lennon had been involved in high-profile antiwar activities going back to 1969, but the bureau did not formally open its investigation until January 1972 — the year of Nixon’s re-election campaign. In March, just as the presidential campaign was heating up, the Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to renew Lennon’s visa, and began deportation proceedings. Nixon was re-elected in November, and a month later, the F.B.I. closed its investigation.
If Lennon was considering actively opposing Nixon’s re-election, the spying and the threat of deportation had their intended effect. In May, he announced that he would not be part of any protest activities at the Republican National Convention, and he did not actively participate in the presidential campaign.
After revelations about the many domestic spying abuses of the 1960’s and 1970’s — including the wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr. — new restrictions were put in place. But these protections are being eroded today, with the president’s claim of sweeping new authority to pursue the war on terror.
Critics of today’s domestic surveillance object largely on privacy grounds. They have focused far less on how easily government surveillance can become an instrument for the people in power to try to hold on to power. “The U.S. vs. John Lennon” would be a sobering film at any time, but it is particularly so right now. It is the story not only of one man being harassed, but of a democracy being undermined.