All Episodes

May 21, 2024 40 mins

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that J. Edgar Hoover was perhaps the most powerful American of the 20th century. By the time he established the FBI as America’s police force, presidents were afraid of him. Just exactly how did he get to be so puissant?

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Mark as Played
Transcript

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Stuff You Should Know, a production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (00:11):
Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh, and there's
Chuck and Jerry's here too, and this is Stuff you
should Know g Man edition.

Speaker 1 (00:20):
Oh yeah, gee Man.

Speaker 2 (00:24):
That's right. That's exactly what I meant. Gee Man, What
a rummy person Jay Garoover was. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (00:31):
I got a couple of things to say at the beginning,
if I may, yes about j Edgar Hoover.

Speaker 2 (00:37):
Yeah, let's hear it.

Speaker 1 (00:39):
Firstly, if you want to feel old, just realize that
you were alive when j Edgar Hoover was still running
the FBI, like I am. Okay, I was like, oh
my god, nineteen seventy two, is that real?

Speaker 2 (00:54):
Yeah? That's yeah.

Speaker 1 (00:57):
So it makes me feel old, but also a testament
to his staying power.

Speaker 2 (01:01):
No, I think it's more just you being able.

Speaker 1 (01:03):
Okay. Number two, just quickly want to point out that
Jay Edgar is not related to Herbert Hoover.

Speaker 2 (01:11):
Okay, hadn't even crossed my mind. What about the Hoover
vacuum claim.

Speaker 1 (01:15):
I don't know about that, but it crossed a lot
of people's minds about Herbert because he was Each of
them were constantly having to sort of deflect that answer
or whatever, say that answer is not a two wins. Yeah.
And Third, just like it's fascinating to study this guy
that I knew I feel like a little bit about

(01:36):
just from all the various things over the years, but
like what a enigma this guy was. Yeah, I think
because he operated in such secrecy, it's kind of impossible
to know a lot of stuff about him privately because
he held such power and sway over people as far

(01:58):
as like fear of Blackmai and stuff like that. Yeah,
that it's really interesting to like, you know, you read
five different historians and they may have five different takes
on aspects of his of who he was in his
private life and stuff like that. Right, it's really interesting.

Speaker 2 (02:14):
Right. And for those of us who were born into
a world where Jayogar Hoover wasn't running.

Speaker 1 (02:20):
The FBI, lucky you.

Speaker 2 (02:24):
We came along at a really different period in how
people looked at him, Like essentially from his death onward, Yeah,
he's been looked at as like an American villain before that,
basically all the way up to his death, from essentially
the day he started at the FBI, America looked at

(02:44):
him as basically as a hero, essentially as a competent,
nonpartisan above the boards, not in any way, shape or
form corrupt head of the FBI, a technocrat who believed
in applying science and detection over things like hitting a
guy with a rubber hose to get answers out of him. Yeah,
he was a sea change and helped America fight off

(03:07):
the Red menace more than once. And like you said,
he was like it was really difficult to kind of
discern like who he was even at the time when
he was in the news all the time. He served
eight presidents, four Democrats, four Republicans, three Green Party, and

(03:29):
he was the head of the FBI for like forty
eight straight years. I also saw him described as the
most powerful civil servant America has ever.

Speaker 1 (03:38):
Seen, oh easily, I think by a long shot. And
the reason he was able to serve those eight presidents
without getting fired, We'll talk a little bit about the
fact that part of that has to do with people
were legit sort of afraid of what this guy had
on them, as in everybody, including presidents, But a lot

(03:59):
of it was because of that popularity. I mean, I've
seen most people say, oh, it's because he had dirt
on all the presidents, and that's part of it for sure.
But I also saw that a lot of it was
because he was so popular that firing j. Edgar Hoover
would have been very bad for you politically, because people
loved him so much.

Speaker 2 (04:17):
That was part of it. He also seemed to prove
to be too great a temptation for presidents to not
use and ultimately get into cahoots with him.

Speaker 1 (04:27):
Yeah, even left leaning progressives. Yeah, even FDR, that's the
guy I was talking about.

Speaker 2 (04:35):
Even LBJ, Yeah, even JFK. Yeah. So yeah, there's a
lot to talk about with this guy, and a lot
of it, like you said, is unsubstantiated because he did
the smart thing and had all of his personal records
destroyed upon his death. He had a very dedicated secretary,

(04:56):
and so we'll just never know a lot of it.
But there is stuff that's so close to being confirmed
that it's like you can essentially say this is true.
Then there's other stuff it's like, what where are you
coming up with that? Yeah, it seems totally false. And
then in the middle there's the stuff where it's like,
really is it. It's entirely possible, it's true, but we

(05:17):
just don't know, and it's great for speculation either way.
The stuff we do know about turned him into a
reviled figure for sure.

Speaker 1 (05:26):
Yeah. Absolutely, And as you'll see during a lot of this,
the guy was also sort of a walking conundrum in
a lot of ways by doing things on one hand
that would seemingly find the face of things he's doing
on the other hand. And that'll all kind of come
out as we go. But big shout out to Olivia,
who did a bang up job on this one. Yeah, agreed,

(05:48):
and also to a writer in this Olivia got some
information from this great book. A historian named Beverly Gage
from Yale University wrote a book in twenty twenty two
called g Man Colon Jay Edgar Hoover and the Making
of an American Century.

Speaker 2 (06:07):
Yeah, pretty great stuff.

Speaker 1 (06:08):
Yeah.

Speaker 2 (06:09):
So yeah, Beverly Gage is essentially like the definitive source
of Jaigar Hoover information right now.

Speaker 1 (06:15):
Yeah, I mean, there's a lot of Hoover bios and
they all some of them fly in the face of
each other with what they claim. It's pretty interesting, for sure.

Speaker 2 (06:24):
So let's start at the beginning. Let's start when he
was born back in eighteen ninety five. That's right, it's
a long time ago. And one thing to know about
Jaegar Hoover is he was a DC boy, born and
bred his entire life. He was born in that city
and he died in that city.

Speaker 1 (06:39):
Yeah, he was born Capitol Hill and Seward Square and
comes came from a long line of family that worked
for the government. His dad, in particular, one Dickerson Naylor
Hoover great name, worked for something called the United States
Coast and Geodetic Survey, which was a scientific organization. And

(07:01):
you know, he had siblings. He had a sister that
died when he was three. It seems like his father
suffered from some mental illness and depression, which would ultimately
be the cause of his death in nineteen twenty one.
And you know, we can get into some sort of
armchair speculation on Hoover's mental condition maybe at the end.

Speaker 2 (07:21):
Sure, I can't wait.

Speaker 1 (07:23):
But when he was a kid, he was pretty shy.
He was known as a mama's boy, had a very
sort of overbearing, doting mother. He had a stutter. Apparently
the stutter was so bad that he went about correcting
it by just talking really fast. And that kind of
ran through his life. I think there were court stenographer

(07:44):
or just stenographers period that couldn't keep up with him
on the job. He was so fast.

Speaker 2 (07:49):
Yeah, No, he had that very quick delivery. If you've
ever seen like a newsreel or any news footage of
him speaking or reading speech or something. But yeah, he
kind of took that on. He joined the debate team,
forced himself to do public speaking engagements, and he did
not like that kind of stuff, but he did it anyway,
because we'll see, he was a master of pr which
served him quite well.

Speaker 1 (08:09):
Yeah.

Speaker 2 (08:10):
One of the other things about him is that his
mother impressed upon him a moral uprightness that actually kind
of converted into a moral righteousness where there was a
there was a specific way to be an American in
Jaugar Hoover's mind, and anybody who ran a foul of

(08:31):
that thought otherwise was an enemy of America and should
be treated accordingly. And unfortunately there's plenty of people walking
around there. That's the that's the definition of a fascist.
So he was a total fascist, if you hadn't figured
that out by now, But he he had the power
to actually make enemies out of the people he considered

(08:53):
an American who were still Americans. They just didn't see
America exactly the same way Jaegar Hoover did.

Speaker 1 (09:00):
Yeah, exactly. His mom's name was Annie, and Judy Dinsch
played her in the Clint Eastwood movie that starred Leo DiCaprio.

Speaker 2 (09:09):
Did you see it?

Speaker 1 (09:11):
I never saw it. It got pretty bad reviews, so
it just didn't draw me in. But yeah, Leo played Hoover,
Dinch played his mom, and as we'll see, Armie Hammer
played his Well, let's just save that one, I guess, okay,
even though it's no big secret, we'll just save it, okay,
his coworker, let's just say that, yeah.

Speaker 2 (09:32):
His close associate.

Speaker 1 (09:33):
Yeah.

Speaker 2 (09:34):
So yeah, So he had this view of America that
he carried with him his whole way in what it
meant to be an upright American. He also was really
really good at organizing. So like the way you think
of like a government bureaucracy today, where there's tons of
files and all sorts of like people whose job it

(09:55):
is to access those files, and they do it to
varying degrees as success. Jigger Hoover actually kind of built
that what's called the administrative state. You can actually thank
him for that. He not only built the FBI, he
made the federal government this kind of administrative power like
it is.

Speaker 1 (10:11):
Oh yeah, absolutely. He learned a lot of that at
one of his first jobs after high school, got a
job at the Library of Congress, and that's where he
really got into just sort of categorizing stuff, collecting information.
He got a Master of Law degree from GW from
George Washington University in nineteen seventeen. And the only reason

(10:35):
we mentioned this is because it sort of plays into
his massive amount of cronyism. He was a KA, joined
the KA fraternity there, which is a very southern you know,
it was like a they celebrate the Confederacy. It was
like a Roberty Leasing. I remember even at Georgia, the
Ka's were, and I imagine still are, just very confederate.

Speaker 2 (11:01):
Yeah, that's a great word for they.

Speaker 1 (11:03):
Just like Confederate pride, that whole thing. Those are the Ka's.
And as we'll see, a lot of those Kas and
people that he knew ended up getting jobs from him directly.
So lots of cronyism happening.

Speaker 2 (11:18):
Yes, for sure. So also he became a clerk at
World War One, which at the DOJ, and that kept
him out of the draft, but also was his true
first step into his government service. Library of Congress. Yeah,
that was essentially the beginning. But this was the true beginning,

(11:38):
because very quickly he was assigned pretty substantial duties, including
overseeing what was called the General Intelligence Division. This was
a part of the Department of Justice. If those three words,
the General Intelligence Division, don't run a chill down your spine.
You're not listening closely.

Speaker 1 (11:58):
That's something out of Brazil, exactly right.

Speaker 2 (12:01):
So he was the head of this and this guy
at the time, he was, let's see, twenty four years old,
and he's running the General Intelligence Division for the DOJ.
And the whole point of the GID was to investigate radicals, leftists, anarchists, communists.
There was a big red scare from nineteen nineteen to
nineteen twenty. And his whole jam was to apply his

(12:25):
everything he'd learned and developed at the Library of Congress
to everything he wanted to do in law enforcement. And
he created massive files on immigrants to America, and basically
it was like, this is an immigrant, they are loyal
or disloyal, They like communism or like capitalism, and just
amassed all of these files and they eventually turned them

(12:46):
into what were known as the Palmer Raids, where they
just went into these people's homes and said, Jaegar Hoover
and the GID thinks you're disloyal, come with us. We're
deporting you. Forget your civil liberties, Forget the fact that
you're a naturalized American citizen. Now doesn't matter.

Speaker 1 (13:02):
Yeah, this was a big deal. Maybe we can do
something on the Palmer Raids in full at some point,
but just kind of in a nutshell, the Attorney General,
A Mitchell Palmer, had his house was bombed. There was
a guy named an anarchist named Carlo Valdanocci who the
bomb went off early, so it kind of blew up

(13:23):
the front of his house along with the bomber himself.
There were other bombs mail to mayors and senators and
business leaders. So there was a real sort of anarchist
you know, mail bombing, cookbook thing happening. Yeah, cookbook going on.
But the response was the Palmer Raids, which was just

(13:44):
a nightmare of an operation. It was really kind of
an unconstitutional disaster where like you said, a lot of
these high profile deportations like straight to Russia when many
of these people are just like, didn't even know what
they were talking about, Right, I.

Speaker 2 (14:00):
Make bagels, leave me alone kind of thing, right.

Speaker 1 (14:03):
Yeah, I mean I think his list was four hundred
and fifty thousand long, and like, how many real leftist
radicals were there?

Speaker 2 (14:11):
Yeah, exactly right, And there were also tons of cases
of mistaken identity. Like it was a catastrophe. They the
Palmer Raids so ran a foul of civil liberties. They
actually created things like the ACLU and other civil liberties
groups to defend against stuff like that ever happening again.
But what's miraculous is that the head of all this,
the guy who was in charge of actually executing the

(14:33):
Palmer Raids, was Jagger Hoover, and he survived politically and
went on to actually step upward from that point on.
Some people are like, you need to keep that guy
away from the levers of power, yeah, because of what
he just did. And other people are like, I don't
like the cut of that guy's jib. Yeah, I think,
And the people who liked the cut of his jib

(14:54):
they won out.

Speaker 1 (14:55):
I did say, that's a good cliffhanger, But you made
it an even better cliffhanger with that last line. So
let's come back a and we'll talk about where the
FBI comes into play. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (15:07):
I can add some more lines if you want me
to make it even better.

Speaker 1 (15:10):
No, I think you made it just perfect. Okay, all right,

(15:47):
So we promised talk of the FBI. Initially, and we've
said this on other episodes, it was called the Bureau
Investigations at first. It was formed in nineteen eight basically
to say, hey, US Attorney General, you need some teeth,
here's your own law enforcement organization. Became the FBI in
nineteen thirty five, and early on was kind of interested

(16:09):
in corporate criminals, radicalism and a real kind of from
the beginning, a real crackdown and obsession with sex work.
Yeah the man act, right, Yeah, big deal. And it
was also very corrupt and didn't have the best reputation
until Coolidge came along in nineteen twenty four and hired

(16:32):
a guy named Harlan fisk Stone to reform the DOJ
and kind of just clean house and get the FBI
in good standing.

Speaker 2 (16:41):
Yeah, which is amazing that they're like, Hoover, why don't
you take over? But that's exactly what they did. They
made him acting director of the Bureau of Investigation starting
in I think the same year Harlan Stone came in
nineteen twenty four.

Speaker 1 (16:56):
Right, yeah, and they got rid of that GID by the.

Speaker 2 (16:59):
Way they did, but it just went away essentially in name,
not spirit by any measure. And again, just like at
the GID, Jaeger Hoover said about applying the principles of bureaucracy,
of organization and of science too. He was a true
believer in science to this nascent Bureau of Investigation. And

(17:25):
one of the stunning statistics I ran across that really
gets across his just how much of an impact he
had on the FBI when he took it over. Over
the course of ten years, I think up to nineteen
thirty six, they amassed a huge collection of fingerprints, like
one hundred thousand fingerprints, and they had people whose entire

(17:48):
job it was to go look up the fingerprints and
bring them for analysis. Right ten years later, in nineteen
forty six, they had one hundred million sets of fingerprints
and there was only one hundred and forty million people
who lived in America at the time.

Speaker 1 (18:04):
That's crazy, man.

Speaker 2 (18:05):
Yeah.

Speaker 1 (18:06):
Wow. He also created like a forensic lab. He created
the FBI Academy, Like he really not only kind of
brought their reputation back, but like you said, he organized
them in a way that where they operated like a
like a like a humming machine.

Speaker 2 (18:23):
Right, and people respected that, they admired it like it
was you know, it really fit in with FDR's New
Deal thing of like, hey, your government is big and
for a reason, like we can do all sorts of
amazing competent, capable stuff to make the life of the
average person greater.

Speaker 1 (18:42):
Look at all these fingerprints exactly.

Speaker 2 (18:46):
I don't know if it necessarily fit in with the
New Deal. But one of the other things that Jaeger
Hoover did was he instituted this these policies that when
you put them all together, basically made it required every
FBI agent to be ned Flanders essentially. And he did
that because he wanted he wanted his people to seem

(19:08):
above reproach. Because at the time, the idea of like
law enforcement was that if they weren't incompetent, then they
were crooked, or maybe they were both. Like there was
not like a lot of public regard for law enforcement.
So he wanted to make sure that his particular agency
separated itself from that, like put itself head and shoulders,

(19:29):
you know, like the way that in any movie the
FBI agents come in and just completely take control of
like the investigation or the crime scene or whatever. Oh yeah,
that was essentially that came from Hoover, like he created
this image of the FBI agents is so uber competent
that no one would would challenge them if they did
walk into a crime scene and take over.

Speaker 1 (19:50):
Yeah. And if you remember seeing a lot of movies
that had FBI agents portrayed as like a tall, handsome
white guys, is because FBI agents were largely almost roundly
tall handsome white guys. He hired a lot of his
again with the cronyism, a lot of his alums from GW,
a lot of Ka's. He kept the FBI from bringing

(20:14):
a class of civil service, so he didn't have you know,
he could basically flo out any rules that would have
forced him to have like a to look at any
kind of diverse applicant. So he wanted white men that
were good looking. Again as a pr move, it was,
it was a popular thing at the time. Ironically, in

(20:36):
the forties, Ebony magazine did a feature on like black
employees of the FBI, and Hoover even helped them with
this because it was a pr thing. But they were
all valets. None of them were agents because there were
no black agents, right.

Speaker 2 (20:50):
Yeah, And like you said, the way he got around
that was to accept the FBI from civil service. And
I was like, how did he do that? And how
did he get away with that? And there's something called
accepted service, and it's where you don't you're not that
agency is not subject to the same laws and requirements
as a civil service agency is. But the reason he
was doing is he was saying, like, some of these

(21:11):
laws are letting people in government who are just really
slack keep their jobs, and I can't have that in
the FBI. I have to have top notch, crack people
who I'm able to fire if they don't meet our standards.
I think that's how he was able to get the
FBI out of civil service classification.

Speaker 1 (21:28):
Yeah, and you mentioned ned Flanders. He wanted them to be,
like you said, sort of beyond reproach and morally upright.
So he insisted that they not drink alcohol at least
sort of on the job, like you know, have the
Martinis at lunch kind of thing. Apparently he was a
big Martini guy, but as the story goes, only after work,

(21:51):
only two martinis. And then later in life when he
was in you know, sort of older and not in
the best of health, his doctor said he can't drink
Martini's more. And he was like, well, that's not going
to happen, and he said, all right, cut down to
one martini then, and he said sure, And as as
legend has it, he had his staff by larger Martini
glasses and then dropped it down to one.

Speaker 2 (22:14):
Yeah, that was something I saw. There was a Frontline
episode from years and years ago called the File on
Jay Edgar Hoover, and a lot of it seems totally
off the rails and unbelievable for good reason. But some
of the stuff that he had the FBI staff do

(22:35):
for him was so above and beyond what any agency
staff should be doing for the director. Like they replaced
his grass once because he didn't like the color green,
sod all, just stuff like that. So I totally believe
that he had his FBI staff buy bigger Martini glasses

(22:57):
for his home. That was totally in line with what
how he treated the Bureau. It was his own kingdom,
and little by little he made it. So it's not
like he came into it and somebody handed him the
keys and said, good luck, go make this agency that's
so powerful it is essentially a fourth branch of government.
He built it little by little, bit by bit, dirt

(23:19):
by dirt, favor by favor, and it became the It
got to the point fairly quickly where he could do
stuff like that and no one would say anything about it.

Speaker 1 (23:29):
Yeah, absolutely, all right. So let's go to the nineteen thirties.
This was, as Livia called that we love our golden ages,
and this may have been the golden age of the FBI.
This is when, through pr and as we'll see through
movies and television and through sort of him helping to

(23:50):
control the news machine, the FBI were heroes. They had
fans like people love these g men. And we'll get
to that. Well, you might as well say, I think
g men was supposedly coined by machine gun Kelly, the
good One, who in nineteen is either one of them
good all right? In nineteen thirty three, yell, don't shoot

(24:12):
g men like government men. But he sort of formed
in the nineteen thirties, this image that actually, like you know,
there were little little boys and maybe some girls, but
definitely little boys running around the schoolyard like playing g men.
They wanted to be g men. They were sort of
superstars because they would bust high profile bank robbers. And

(24:36):
he just you know, he jumped in on the Lindberg
baby kidnapping, which you know, horrified a nation. He apparently
didn't have any legal jurisdiction. But like you said, Jay
Edgar Hoover walks onto the scene, is like, we're taking
over now, and no one's going to stand in his way.

Speaker 2 (24:52):
No, not at all. But and in doing those kind
of things, he just built the reputation for the FBI
by leaps and bounds. One of the things that he
did that was so masterful in taking on the gangsters
was to not try to dissuade the public from glorifying them. Yeah,
so the gangsters were just amazing folk heroes, but the

(25:15):
FBI was even greater because they're the ones taking down
these amazing folk cares. Like that the gangsters are here,
but man that your average FBI agent is head and
shoulders above them, because he's gonna get them sooner. Or
later and probably kill him in a shootout in front
of a house or a theater or something like that.
And so he was able to play off of the
public's fascination with gangsters and use that kind of parlay

(25:39):
the FBI's reputation above it.

Speaker 1 (25:42):
Yeah, this is kind of called the public enemy era
as well, because he would use that term for people
like John Dillinger. I mean, this guy Dillinger was robbing banks.
He was a bank robber, but to call someone a
public enemy like it almost elevated them in his own way,

(26:03):
to folk hero status, but also like folk villain status,
I guess is a better way to say it.

Speaker 2 (26:10):
Sure, yeah, for sure, Like is.

Speaker 1 (26:12):
A bank robber really a public enemy? I mean, it's
not a great thing to do well.

Speaker 2 (26:16):
Supposedly in nineteen thirty three thirty four, there was a
massive crime wave and there were a lot of murders
going on. People were like gangsters were shooting each other
in the streets over turf like it was yeh shots. Yeah,
so yeah there, I mean, yeah, just a straight up
bank robber, probably not. But these guys were doing any
and all crime. They were like criminals of all trades.

(26:37):
From what I could tell.

Speaker 1 (26:38):
Okay, public enemies in other.

Speaker 2 (26:40):
Words, so yeah, but at the same time, yes, it
was a huge publicity thing too, this public enemy number one.

Speaker 1 (26:45):
You know, Yeah, number one was Dillinger, right.

Speaker 2 (26:49):
But there were other public enemies number one, but he
was the first public enemy number one, I think.

Speaker 1 (26:54):
Oh, so there was number A two. He just kept
moving the number one mantle around.

Speaker 2 (26:58):
Well, he'd just kill off the numbers. Whoever was below
them would come up and become number one.

Speaker 1 (27:04):
I guess, I guess that makes sense.

Speaker 2 (27:06):
So one of the ways that he shaped public opinion
too was directly by working with journalists, by working with
film and TV producers and writers, and he actually created
a branch in the FBI called the Crime Records Division,
which sounds very innocuous, but it turns out that they
were the ones who were in charge of generating pro
FBI propaganda and making sure it got out there in

(27:28):
the media.

Speaker 1 (27:29):
Yeah. I mean this, this is where it gets truly
sort of nuts. He had, at one point sort of
de facto final cut on movies that were being produced.
He had approval or denial of casting choices, like literally
he approved Jimmy Stewart, you know, as I can't remember
what movie it was, even in a movie as like

(27:53):
the lead in the movie. After like interviewing him, he
interviewed Jimmy Stewart gave him the job or you know
him the stamp of approval. It apparently didn't like that
Jimmy Cagney was portraying gangsters, so he said, you can
do it as long as you quote get killed in
the end and make sure that you're dead, because no

(28:13):
gangsters were supposed to live in any of the movies
or TV shows. And he even has three writer credits
and one one acting credit. I think the writing credits
were generally stuff based on cases that he was involved in,
so they gave him. He may have insisted on a credit.
I don't know, but he does have one actor credit.
He was a narrator on a film called The Next

(28:36):
of Kin.

Speaker 2 (28:37):
Wow. So was he was deep in yeah, Oh, he
was deep into everything in anything that was going on
in American life above or below the boards.

Speaker 1 (28:46):
From what I can tell, yeah, or the line.

Speaker 2 (28:49):
So the gangster Eric kind of went away in the
mid to late thirties. I mean, there are plenty of
gangsters still, but there was a there was a changeover.
It went from like bank robbing, cow murdering bandits like
John Dillinger, and started to become organized crime, the mafia,

(29:09):
the mob. And at that point, as it started to
kind of branch out and become well as lem as
legitimized as the mafia can be and organized, Jagger Hoover
stopped paying attention to the gangsters and instead turned his
attention to political surveillance again instead.

Speaker 1 (29:29):
Yeah, I think his whole deal. I did a little
more research into the mafia thing. The mafia was a problem,
but he didn't see the mafia as a threat to
the American way of life as he defined it. Communism
for sure, rabble rousing civil rights leaders for sure, as

(29:50):
we'll see the gay and lesbian community for sure. All
of that threatened this sort of idyllic, old fashioned way
of American life as he saw it. The mafia didn't, necessarily,
so he was never as concerned with him as he
probably should have been. He was like, let the cops handle.

Speaker 2 (30:07):
That, so okay, And that totally makes sense, and because
it's the simplest explanation, it's probably correct. But there is
such a thread of thought that Jaegar Hoover was either
compromised and the mafia had him in a compromising position,

(30:27):
and or he was friends with, if not actual mobsters,
friends of mobsters, he was in their world him personally.
Publicly he was the head of the FBI, and he
carried out all of the crime fighting and leftist rousting
and all that stuff. But privately, if these even half

(30:50):
of these stories are to be believed, he was a crook,
a total crook with a gambling problem, and who was
in the pocket of the because they had dirt on him.
I saw another explanation that said, yes, he actually purposely
ignored the mafia, not because they had like compromising pictures

(31:11):
of him, but because they were in cahoots with a
lot of elected officials, and he didn't want to lose
his position going after the mafia and having them get
all of their elected official friends turning on him, because
he didn't know if he could survive that kind of thing.
That was another explanation I saw. But whatever, whatever the

(31:32):
interpretation is, historically speaking, he ignored the mafia and actually
denied for a decade after it was clear there was
such a thing as a national syndicate of mafioso mafio ci. Yeah, mafios.
He kept denying it, like actively denying it, and apparently

(31:55):
moved to kind of thwart some of the federal and
congressional investigations into the distance of the mafia, like he
personally was trying to not at least not help, if
not actively disrupt that. So there's something weird going on.
Exactly what was behind it, though, well we'll probably never know.

Speaker 1 (32:11):
Yeah, what's interesting is that when I was reading through
interviews with different biographers, and you would see too that
were just so diametrically opposed in what they thought, like, oh,
and they're all very convinced that they're right. But it
almost seems like some of these biographies are either written
by literal fans of his still or then, or people

(32:32):
that hated him.

Speaker 2 (32:33):
Yeah, Like if you start looking into like some of
the more salacious charges about him and like why the
mafia was allowed to just operate, you mostly have to
take the word of old mafia guys right, who were
like there for sure, Like this guy really was the
right hand man to Mayor Lansky, But can you believe

(32:55):
him when he sits for an interview talking about how
Mayor Lansky had pictures that he used to show as
friends for fun of Jaeger Hoover, you know, having sex
with his partner, you know, like it's you really kind
of have to stop and say, where's this, where's this
source coming from? And what all what acts they have
to grind?

Speaker 1 (33:14):
So here's what I say, this is, this is going
so good and it's going long. So why don't we
take another break, come back and do a little more.
But let's let's make this a two partner what you
should should we?

Speaker 2 (33:26):
You just totally sprung this on me out of the blue.
Let me think about it.

Speaker 1 (33:31):
Okay, we'll think about it over the break and we'll
be right back.

Speaker 2 (34:07):
Okay, Chuck, I've decided that is a fine idea.

Speaker 1 (34:11):
So should we chat a little bit. I think you
sort of teased and then I got us off topic
about the mafia. You tease a little bit about going
into sort of the beginnings of the surveillance and working
tightly with presidents, right.

Speaker 2 (34:24):
Yeah, I think I said something like that, but like
there was at the end of the gangster era. He
kind of swapped over to from like continuing on with gangsters,
which would make total sense for the FBI to do
this to instead turning his attention back to political stuff. Yeah,
to disrupting any kind of political thought that goes against

(34:50):
the American way as envisioned by jaygar Hoover.

Speaker 1 (34:54):
Yeah, And one of the ways he did this was
by allying himself closely with the presidents. You know, you
said at the beginning, work for eight different presidents, and
I think, as it's generally thought that he was super
tight and kind of close to two of them. Two
of them didn't like him, and four just sort of

(35:16):
played ball because they felt like they had to.

Speaker 2 (35:18):
So I can guess Kennedy definitely didn't like him, and
that was reciprocal. Who was the other one who didn't
like him?

Speaker 1 (35:25):
I think it was Kennedy and Johnson.

Speaker 2 (35:29):
I thought Johnson loved the guy.

Speaker 1 (35:32):
Well, I know Nixon did.

Speaker 2 (35:34):
Yeah, he was personally friends with Nixon.

Speaker 1 (35:36):
And I know FDR. I don't know how much he
liked him. But the fact that they ended up, you know,
working closely with one another is maybe one of the
bigger surprises of the episode, because they were pretty diametrically
opposed as humans go.

Speaker 2 (35:54):
Yeah, but this is kind of like touching on what
I was saying before that there were presidents who saw
him and what he could do as too useful to
resist exactly. And FDR was like, he had this vision
for America too, and it was much more inclusive, and
it cared much more about the average person who didn't

(36:14):
necessarily think exactly the same way as everybody else. But
he also didn't want it disrupted by communists or at
the time Nazis either. Yeah, so he saw it as
a useful thing to do, like to kind of keep
tabs on it. And I guess from this idea of
Jaegar Hoover and presidents working in coots, it seems like

(36:37):
FDR is the first one that this really begins with.

Speaker 1 (36:40):
Yeah. I think in nineteen thirty six, in August that year,
they met together at the White House and they ginned
up a plan for surveillance, kind of the first big
surveillance launch of like you said, people who they thought
might be communists, people who they thought might be fascist.

(37:00):
A few years later, Roosevelt was like, Hey, it turns
out you're pretty good at this surveillance thing and keeping
secret files, So why don't you why don't we resurrect
that General Intelligence Intelligence division that was scuttled, And Hoover
probably laughed and was like, you know, we've still been
doing it this whole time. We just didn't have a

(37:21):
formal name.

Speaker 2 (37:22):
Oh, I don't know if I'll be able to get
the gang back to.

Speaker 1 (37:25):
But they secretly reformalized at least the gid and Hoover said,
all right, I appreciate that, and you know what I'm
gonna do for you. I'll just not even at your direction.
I'll just keep an eye on your political enemies and
just if I need to let you know anything, I'll
let you know.

Speaker 2 (37:45):
Yeah. So supposedly that is one of the ways that
he kept power. He never blackmailed anybody, but if one
of his agents came across some juicy tidbit, he would
he would send them to, you know, say the Senator's
office and be like, Senator, we were investigate this other thing,
and this tidbit about you came up, and we really
thought it was the kind of thing you'd want to know.
We're keeping a lid on it. Don't worry about it

(38:06):
what we thought you'd want to know. And now the
Senator's like, oh my god, this guy knows these The
FBI knows that I have this. I'm on this committee
that funds them. I should probably give them whatever they
want whenever they ask for it. That's apparently how we operate.

Speaker 1 (38:20):
It's very passive, aggressive, strong arming. Yeah, he did have
a we should mention though since fronam my FDR. He
had a very famously had a file on Eleanor Roosevelt,
which a thick one supposedly had nude pictures of Eleanor
Roosevelt that were given to j Edgar Hoover by W. C. Fields.

(38:42):
What that's He had a tremendous collection of pornography, right,
was well known for it, and to j Edgar Hoover
he would say, well, I've got I got to know
what's out there in order to fight this stuff everyone
else Okay, sure, whatever. Yeah, but he supposedly had a

(39:03):
very large collection of nudes of famous people, Marilyn Monroe's
among them. But apparently Eleanor Roosevelt was one and old W. C.
Fields gave it to him. Wow, I don't know how
he got it.

Speaker 2 (39:17):
I don't either, So okay, Chuck, do you want to
do you want to put part two here and come
back and pick up at the beginning of the Cold War,
because now Jagar Hoover's fighting, you know, communists, but more
often Nazis. America is entering World War two, and America's
really cool with the idea of the FBI rooting out Nazis.

(39:39):
But World War Two came to an end, believe it
or not, the Nazis went away. Now they needed a
new enemy to investigate.

Speaker 1 (39:45):
That's right, the Commi's and that seems like a great
place to stop.

Speaker 2 (39:49):
Yes, so yeah, we'll see you guys in part two.
And if you want to send us an email in
the meantime, send it off to Stuff podcast at iHeartRadio
dot com.

Speaker 1 (40:02):
Stuff you Should Know is a production of iHeartRadio. For
more podcasts myheart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

Stuff You Should Know News

Advertise With Us

Follow Us On

Hosts And Creators

Josh Clark

Josh Clark

Chuck Bryant

Chuck Bryant

Show Links

Order Our BookStoreSYSK ArmyAboutRSS

Popular Podcasts

Stuff You Should Know

Stuff You Should Know

If you've ever wanted to know about champagne, satanism, the Stonewall Uprising, chaos theory, LSD, El Nino, true crime and Rosa Parks, then look no further. Josh and Chuck have you covered.

The Nikki Glaser Podcast

The Nikki Glaser Podcast

Every week comedian and infamous roaster Nikki Glaser provides a fun, fast-paced, and brutally honest look into current pop-culture and her own personal life.

Music, radio and podcasts, all free. Listen online or download the iHeart App.

Connect

© 2024 iHeartMedia, Inc.