By John W. Whitehead
Not much has changed in the 37 years since John Lennon was gunned down by an assassin’s bullet.
All of the many complaints we have about government today—surveillance, corruption, harassment, political persecution, spying, overcriminalization, etc.—were used against Lennon, who never refrained from speaking truth to power and calling for social justice, peace and a populist revolution.
Little wonder, then, that the U.S. government saw Lennon as enemy number one.
A prime example of the lengths to which the U.S. government will go to persecute those who dare to challenge its authority, Lennon was the subject of a four-year campaign of surveillance and harassment by the U.S. government (spearheaded by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover), in an attempt by President Richard Nixon to have him “neutralized” and deported. As Adam Cohen of the New York Times points out, “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.”
Years after Lennon’s assassination, it would be revealed that the FBI had collected 281 pages of surveillance files on him. As the New York Times notes, “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’ … is the story not only of one man being harassed, but of a democracy being undermined.”
Such government-directed harassment was nothing new.
The FBI has had a long history of persecuting, prosecuting and generally harassing activists, politicians, and cultural figures, including Martin Luther King Jr.
In Lennon’s case, the ex-Beatle saw that his music could mobilize the public and help to bring about change. Yet while Lennon believed in the power of the people, he also understood the danger of a power-hungry government. “The trouble with government as it is, is that it doesn’t represent the people,” observed Lennon. “It controls them.”
By March 1971, when his “Power to the People” single was released, it was clear that Lennon was ready to participate in political activism against the U. S. government, the “monster” that was financing the war in Vietnam.
The release of Lennon’s Sometime in New York City album, which contained a radical anti-government message in virtually every song, only fanned the flames of the government’s war on Lennon.
In 1972, Nixon had the ex-Beatle served with deportation orders “in an effort to silence him as a voice of the peace movement.” Despite the fact that Lennon was not plotting to bring down the Nixon Administration, as the government feared, the government persisted in its efforts to have him deported. Equally determined to resist, Lennon dug in and fought back. Finally, in 1976, Lennon won the battle to stay in the country. By 1980, the old radical was back and ready to cause trouble.
Unfortunately, Lennon’s time as a troublemaker was short-lived.
Mark David Chapman was waiting in the shadows on Dec. 8, 1980, just as Lennon was returning to his New York apartment building. As Lennon stepped outside the car to greet the fans congregating outside, Chapman dropped into a two-handed combat stance, emptied his .38-caliber pistol and pumped four hollow-point bullets into Lennon’s back and left arm.
John Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
Much like Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy and others who have died attempting to challenge the powers-that-be, Lennon had finally been “neutralized.”
Yet Lennon’s legacy lives on in his words, his music and his efforts to speak truth to power.
Even so, his work to change the world for the better is far from done.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, peace remains out of reach. Activists and whistleblowers continue to be prosecuted for challenging the government’s authority. Militarism is on the rise, all the while the governmental war machine continues to wreak havoc on innocent lives. And those who do dare to speak up are labeled dissidents, troublemakers, terrorists, lunatics, or mentally ill and tagged for surveillance, censorship or, worse, involuntary detention.
As Lennon shared in a 1968 interview:
I think all our society is run by insane people for insane objectives… I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal means. If anybody can put on paper what our government and the American government and the Russian… Chinese… what they are actually trying to do, and what they think they’re doing, I’d be very pleased to know what they think they’re doing. I think they’re all insane. But I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”
So what’s the answer?
Lennon had a multitude of suggestions.
“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”
“Produce your own dream. If you want to save Peru, go save Peru. It’s quite possible to do anything, but not to put it on the leaders….You have to do it yourself.”
“Peace is not something you wish for; It’s something you make, Something you do, Something you are, And something you give away.”
“War is over, if you want it.”
In other words, fighting the evil of the American police state can only come about by way of conscious thoughts that are put into action.
Do you want an end to war? Then stop supporting the government’s military campaigns. Do you want government violence against the citizenry to end? Then demand that your local police de-militarize. Do you want a restoration of your freedoms? You’ll have to get the government to recognize that “we the people” are the masters in this relationship and government employees are our public servants.
The choice is ours.
The power (if we want it), as Lennon recognized, is in our hands.
“The people have the power, all we have to do is awaken that power in the people,” concluded Lennon. “The people are unaware. They’re not educated to realize that they have power. The system is so geared that everyone believes the government will fix everything. We are the government.”
For the moment, the choice is still ours: slavery or freedom, war or peace, death or life.
The point at which we have no choice is the point at which the monsters—the maniacs, the powers-that-be, the Deep State—win.
As Lennon warned, “You either get tired fighting for peace, or you die.”