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J. Edgar Hoover, Sex, and Crime: An Historical Antidote

Overview

Was J. Edgar Hoover a homosexual? And did organized-crime leaders, knowing this, blackmail the FBI director into leaving them alone? These charges won almost instant popular acceptance when they were aired in a sensational biography of Hoover in 1993. But Athan Theoharis, the foremost authority on Hoover and the FBI, here shows that the accusations are spurious—and not nearly as intriguing as Hoover's real attitudes toward sex and organized crime. Theoharis takes apart the argument for Hoover's homosexuality, ...
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Overview

Was J. Edgar Hoover a homosexual? And did organized-crime leaders, knowing this, blackmail the FBI director into leaving them alone? These charges won almost instant popular acceptance when they were aired in a sensational biography of Hoover in 1993. But Athan Theoharis, the foremost authority on Hoover and the FBI, here shows that the accusations are spurious—and not nearly as intriguing as Hoover's real attitudes toward sex and organized crime. Theoharis takes apart the argument for Hoover's homosexuality, then goes on to paint a chilling portrait of a moralistic bureaucrat who would not hesitate to use sex-related information against his political enemies—when it could not be traced to FBI investigations. Theoharis explains why the FBI's ineffectiveness in pursuing organized-crime leaders stemmed from the same political priorities that gave Hoover broad authority during the cold war years to use illegal investigative techniques and to focus on political activities. Punctuating his narrative with case materials from the FBI's secret files—on presidential candidates, senators, congressmen, artists and writers, college presidents, and others—Theoharis unravels the brilliantly devious means that Hoover used to accomplish his political ends. And he shows how they contributed to a culture of lawlessness within the FBI itself.
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Editorial Reviews

Journal Of American History
Clever...the preeminent expert on FBI files deserves the gratitude of historians.
— Richard Gid Powers
Journal of American History
Clever...the preeminent expert on FBI files deserves the gratitude of historians.
— Richard Gid Powers
Journal of American History - Richard Gid Powers
Clever...the preeminent expert on FBI files deserves the gratitude of historians.
Times Literary Supplement (UK)
Reliable...the definitive correction.
Times Literary Supplement
Reliable...the definitive correction.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The author of this freshly informative study addresses the late FBI director's alleged homosexuality and the rumor that the Mafia, having acquired evidence of it, blackmailed him into leaving them alone. Acknowledging the FBI's unimpressive record against organized crime and Hoover's denial that a nationwide criminal conspiracy ever existed, Theoharis establishes convincingly that the investigation of organized crime was of secondary importance to Hoover and that his priority list was dominated by the hunt for ``subversives'' and collecting information on the illicit sexual activities of public figures to use against them. The author examines the testimony that led to the popularization of Hoover's ``homosexuality,'' including Susan Rosenstiel's questionable report of seeing Hoover in drag at a homosexual orgy hosted by former McCarthy aid Roy Cohn. He concludes that if Hoover was homosexual, which he doubts, he ``would never have put himself in a position that publicly compromised his homosexuality.'' Theoharis is the author of a highly critical biography of Hoover, The Boss. Mar.
Library Journal
Theoharis, a leading authority on Hoover and the FBI, refutes charges in Anthony Summers's Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover Putnam, 1993 that Hoover was homosexual. The author of the incisive biography The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover & the Great American Inquisition LJ 6/1/88, Theoharis challenges much of the unsubstantiated evidence put forth by Summers. Like Summers, the author bases much of his case upon disputable facts, commentary, and conjecture. Theoharis questions the reliability of many eyewitness accounts in Summers's book. Contrary to Summers, he believes that Hoover's failure to pursue organized crime was not due to gay blackmail but a manifestation of his obsessive interest in political power and the lack of laws to prosecute organized crime. While the jury is still out on Hoover's homosexuality, libraries should have copies of both books for an impartial presentation of the issue.-Michael A. Lutes, Univ. of Notre Dame Lib., Ind.
Gilbert Taylor
If the late FBI boss was homosexual, he took the secret to his grave, according to researcher Theoharis. But that doesn't prevent the credulous public and authors unscrupulous about evidentiary weight, such as Anthony Summers "Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover", 1993, from believing allegations that the flagrantly antigay Hoover was himself gay. Theoharis, not a Hoover supporter, exculpates him from the specific charges in Summers' book. The interesting parallel, though, was Hoover's tenacious pursuit and suppression of rumors about his sexual proclivities, which Theoharis details from such files as weren't destroyed after Hoover died. His efforts to protect his reputation cast revealing light on the FBI's ability and propensity to vacuum up information about fleshy foibles of prominent people, namely, that such misdirection of resources enervated the FBI's reason for being--crime fighting. Theoharis contends as well that the internal security investigations of the cold war, rather than a compromising photo of Hoover supposedly possessed by mobsters, accounts for the lack of attention paid to the Mafia during J. Edgar's tenure. As a well-written argument on one aspect of Hoover's life, this work can piggyback on the main biographies in libraries where they still circulate.
Booknews
Theoharis, an historian and critic of the FBI, disproves claims that Hoover was a homosexual and was blackmailed by organized crime leaders, and presents a story of Hoover's approach to sex and organized crime that is even more chilling. He draws on Hoover's secret files on politicians, artists, writers, and others to demonstrate Hoover's lack of accountability, his use of illegal investigative techniques, and his focus on political activities, showing how he contributed to a culture of lawlessness within the FBI. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566630719
  • Publisher: Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
  • Publication date: 1/28/1995
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.94 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Athan Theoharis is professor of history at Marquette University. His many books include The Boss, From the Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover, Spying on Americans, Beyond the Hiss Case, Seeds of Repression, and The Yalta Myths. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 7
Introduction 11
1 A Compromised Homosexual? A Case in Search of Evidence 21
2 The Politics of Sex 57
3 The Politics of Crime 117
Conclusion: Hoover, the Law, and Politics 155
A Note on Sources 165
Index 170
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