"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
-Oscar Wilde
Brilliant at Breakfast title banner "The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
"...you have a choice: be a fighting liberal or sit quietly. I know what I am, what are you?" -- Steve Gilliard, 1964 - 2007

"For straight up monster-stomping goodness, nothing makes smoke shoot out my ears like Brilliant@Breakfast" -- Tata

"...the best bleacher bum since Pete Axthelm" -- Randy K.

"I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum." -- "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (1954-2015), They Live
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Conspiracy theories, Paul Wellstone, and the thuggishness of the right
Posted by Jill | 5:29 AM
As I head off to Florida next week to visit family, I'm reminded of another visit there, mere weeks before the 2002 midterm elections. Wellstone was running in a tight race against an empty suit named Norm Coleman for a seat that the Bushista Republicans wanted very, very badly, when the plane in which he, his wife, and daughter were traveling crashed less than two weeks before the election. I remember coming into the house and my father telling me that Paul Wellstone was dead, and without even a second thought, I blurted out, "They killed him. They wanted that seat and they killed him."

As it turns out, the FBI had been tracking Paul Wellstone's every move from the time he was a 25-year-old college professor:
The FBI's files on Paul and Sheila Wellstone, many of which are being made public for the first time, shed new light on the extent of the relationship between the FBI and the political activist who would go on to become a U.S. senator from Minnesota.

Some of the information uncovered in the 219 pages was new to one of his closest confidantes, former Wellstone campaign manager and state director Jeff Blodgett.

The files show that although the FBI initially took interest in Wellstone as part of the broader surveillance of the American left, the agency later served as his protector, investigating death threats the freshman senator received for his views on the first Gulf War, and, in the end, helping sift through the wreckage of the fatal plane crash that killed Wellstone and seven others eight years ago.

Wellstone's surviving sons declined to comment on the documents, which were obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by MPR News.

The U.S. Department of Justice released 88 of the 125 pages in Sen. Wellstone's FBI file, and 131 of the 227 pages in his wife's file. All of the documents included in Sheila Wellstone's file are related to the plane crash that killed the couple and their daughter Marcia.

The FBI did not include 76 pages related to the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency that investigated the crash. A request for those records is pending.


Within the first two weeks of his term, Wellstone began receiving death threats for his views on the war. The FBI files provide a detailed description of the angry and sometimes violent calls the Democratic senator received. One man called Wellstone's office and threatened to "throttle" him. A caller from Faribault said, "If I had a gun, I'd come after you, you SOB." Another caller said that if his son dies during his military service in the Persian Gulf, "then Wellstone will die."

"We were shocked and surprised by these kinds of calls," Blodgett said in an interview last week. "We certainly didn't expect that death threats would be part of the job of being a U.S. senator or taking death threats would be part of the job of Senate staff."

"There were threats on my life," Wellstone wrote. "I wished I had never been elected."

The FBI files indicate that the agency took the threats seriously. Investigators tried to track down the threatening callers and kept detailed information about their efforts.

The documents show that an FBI agent traveled to "Marine," (sic) Minn. on January 29 to meet with the man who threatened to "throttle" Wellstone. The man, whose name has been redacted from the documents, admitted that he called the office and said that he wanted to wring Wellstone's neck and throttle him.

The man told the FBI agent that the receptionist was "snotty" and hung up on him. He said he called back and spoke to a "polite receptionist." He told her, "Tell Senator Wellstone that Saddam Hussein appreciates what he's doing."

Federal prosecutors declined to file charges against the caller, and the FBI was unable to locate the other callers. Wellstone continued to receive threats, including a call from a man in February 1995 who said, "I'm watching you senator and I'm going to kill you within the week." Wellstone was assigned a protective detail for the week of the threat.


The FBI took note of the bushy-haired college professor when he was arrested on May 7, 1970 at a protest against the Vietnam War at the Federal Office Building in downtown Minneapolis. Wellstone and 87 others were arrested for disturbing and obstructing access to a federal building.

Most of the names in the 1970 documents have been redacted, making it impossible to separate Wellstone out from the other defendants. One defendant pled guilty, another had the charges dismissed, and another was acquitted. The documents state that the rest of the defendants were found guilty during a jury trial in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis and received fines of either $35 or five days in jail.

Neither the FBI files nor available court records indicate how Wellstone's case was resolved.

In a document sent to FBI headquarters, the head of the FBI's Minneapolis office said the case warranted "considerable investigation." The document notes that U.S. Attorney Robert Renner "could foresee the potential blockage of federal buildings throughout the country" if the anti-war protesters were acquitted.

The FBI obtained a copy of Wellstone's fingerprint card from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and sent it to FBI headquarters to keep on file. A related FBI document notes that Paul David Wellstone, age 25, weighed 150 pounds, stood 5'6," and had brown hair and brown eyes.

O'Hara, the former head of the FBI's Minneapolis office, said that the FBI used to routinely investigate protests that occurred on federal property.

"There were sit-ins. There were break-ins. There was blood spilled over Selective Service files," he said. "There were a number of minor federal crimes committed. And back then, there maybe wasn't the patience that there might be now."

O'Hara joined the FBI as a special agent in 1963, but did not work in Minnesota until he was transferred to the Minneapolis office in 1991. He said he was not familiar with the arrests.

This report refers to an FBI criminal investigation following Wellstone's plane crash, in light of the many death threats Wellstone received during his career, including one received the day before the crash, and paints the FBI as a "protector" of Wellstone against these death threats in the years after J. Edgar Hoover's Cointelpro operation ended.

I am, and will always be skeptical. Remember, this is the FBI under George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and this was a Senator who voted against the resolution to allow Bush to invade Iraq on his trumped-up premise. There is a fair amount of evidence to contradict the FBI's conclusion of equipment issues as the cause of the crash, and there will always be questions in my mind as to what happened, despite this attempt to paint the FBI as Wellstone's "protector" from the threats against him.

Wellstone's death is old history now, and Al Franken has been an admirable, if belated, replacement. But as we head into an election which will likely see at least some adherents to the inflammatory, murderous rhetoric of the right, elevated to national office, it's important to remember how the right operates, how it seeks to not just defeat its opposition, but silence and murder it if necessary. When talk of "second amendment remedies" "Don't retreat, reload", and "violent overthrow" become acceptable; when Democratic congresspeople who voted for health care reform are threatened with death; when a GOP Congressional candidate tells his supporters to make his opponent "afraid to come out of his house"; when this sort of talk becomes an acceptable campaign tactic, it sends a message that violence is an acceptable way of dealing with election disappointment, that violence is an acceptable way of defeating your opponents, and that violence is in general acceptable if it's committed by people wearing flag pins and worshipping Jesus.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share
Anonymous Anonymous said...
the FBI was on the way to the crash site before anyone had contacted them about it

Blogger jurassicpork said...
I've always had my doubts, too, Jill, just as I do about 9/11 and everything having to do with that.

Blogger Pangolin said...
Shades of the Redwood Summer bombing of Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney.

What most people don't know is that the FBI used that bombing as an excuse to raid the homes of political activists from San Diego to Seattle.

Don't think the right isn't ready to go back to shooting opponents like they did with M.L.K. and Kennedy. They prefer that to elections.