FBI, which spied on MLK, blasted after Twitter tribute to civil rights icon

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is facing severe blowback on social media after posting a Twitter tribute honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday's national holiday.

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The widespread criticism comes in light of the FBI’s history of surveillance and intimidation of King under director J. Edgar Hoover during the civil rights movement, which has long been well-documented.

The agency's tweet features a solemn photograph of a memorial dedicated to King at its academy headquarters in Quantico, Va.

"Today, the FBI honors the life and work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.," the tweet states. "A quote from Dr. King is etched in stone at the FBI Academy's reflection garden in Quantico as a reminder to all students and FBI employees: 'The time is always right to do what is right.'"

The post was made with the hashtag #MLKDay.

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Some of the more heated responses to the FBI tweet pointed to a now infamous "suicide letter" that the agency sent to King urging the leader to kill himself.

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Credit: National Archives, College Park, Maryland

Credit: National Archives, College Park, Maryland

The unsigned letter, first revealed in a 2014 New York Times op-ed by Yale professor Beverly Gage, is "the most notorious and embarrassing example of Hoover's F.B.I. run amok," she wrote at the time.


The American Civil Liberties Union was among the first to call out the FBI tweet.

"Reminder: The FBI spied on Martin Luther King, Jr. — and today classifies Black civil rights activists as 'extremists,'" the ACLU stated. "If we let the government whitewash history, we risk letting abuses repeat themselves."

Historians say the agency carried out a vicious campaign to discredit King at his every turn, especially after his rise to world prominence around the time of the March on Washington in August 1963. Later that year King was named TIME Magazine's "Man of the Year" and then he also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, prompting the agency to redouble its efforts to silence his activism.

It later became known that the FBI regularly used phone surveillance and listening devices against King and his inner circle.

"J. Edgar Hoover and many of those in the top levels of the FBI saw Martin Luther King as the enemy within and they used what I think most people would consider illegal tactics to try to undermine him and to invade his privacy," said Stanford University history professor Clayborne Carson in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday.

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Another professor at Temple University suggested the FBI should begin to distance itself from Hoover's legacy by erasing his name from the agency's headquarters in Washington.

"If you want to 'do what is right,' you should denounce Hoover's attacks on The Black Freedom Movement and rename the building," Marc Lamont Hill tweeted.

Most of the comments on the Twitter post are just as unforgiving.

Some Twitter users stood up for the agency.