The FBI Gets Its Man (or Woman)
by David Hughes
Posted August 28, 2016
The Federal Bureau of Investigation turned 108 this year, originally having been considered a reform of what the New York Times called a “tangle” of the Secret Service. “The plan is nothing less,” wrote the Times in 1908, “than the merging of the Secret Service and the detective agencies of all departments of the Government into a Bureau of Criminal Investigation, a sort of Federal police, to be incorporated under the Department of Justice.” 1 Lest the notion of such a Federal force strike fear, the Christian Science Monitor cooed:
These employees of the government are not ‘police spies’ and should not be denominated as such even by those who entertain a passing resentment toward the system. In the great majority of cases they are simply confidential agents of the government, and their calling is just as legitimate as that of the confidential agents of corporate and private business concerns. 2
Any skeptics of this particular merger would be vindicated by a subsequent string of other law enforcement overhauls that led to abuses, with two of the most notorious being LAPD Chief Parker’s “police professionalism” that enabled the “Bloody Christmas” incident of 1951 3 and Bill Bratton’s more recent embrace of “broken windows” and stop-and-frisk tactics, the value of which even NYPD’s inspector questioned earlier this summer. 4
People interested in what the FBI has been up to during the last century can browse its Vault, an online treasure trove of thousands of documents released either via Freedom of Information Act requests, or by the Bureau’s own largesse.
A sexually circumscribed stroll through The Vault’s index reveals files on several shady characters: Alfred Kinsey, Amelia Earhart, Alger Hiss, Bishop Fulton Sheen, 5 Black Dahlia aka Elizabeth Short, Bayard Rustin, Bettie Page—that’s just the A’s and B’s. (All subjects are listed—but not precisely sorted—by first names.) The C’s are worth a gander, revealing the Bureau’s political inquiries: Cardinal Francis Spellman, Clark Gable, Carl Sagan, Casey Kasem, Christic Institute, César Chávez, Carl Sandburg, Coretta Scott King, COINTELPRO, and none other than Clyde A. Tolson—J. Edgar Hoover’s first mate in the FBI.
Leaving aside the fact that the Bureau would have a file on one of its own, Tolson was crucial in an investigation of the Mattachine Society. Yet, FBI file number 100-HQ-403320, nominally devoted to the Mattachine, leads off with a different subject line: “The Publication ‘ONE’/ Security Matter.” 6 It seems that on May 19, 1953, in San Diego, a confidential informant “of known reliability who is a sex deviate” gave an FBI Special Agent a copy of ONE magazine, “written for Sex Deviates.” The informant was concerned that the content of one of the magazine’s articles, “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Homosexual?,” was “at least pro-communist.” 7A double-whammy.
The matter was referred to the Bureau’s Los Angeles office, which dutifully identified people associated with the Mattachine and ONE, quoting from their publications (e.g., estimating the number of homosexuals in Los Angeles at 150,000 8), and mentioning their activities (“on August 7, 1953, 26 persons gave blood at Red Cross Blood Bank […], whose contribution was credited to the Mattachine Society” 9).
Just as the San Diego office had done, Los Angeles in its first report, July 6, 1953, made the pinkie–pinko connection: ONE Inc.’s directors and others were linked to the Independent Progressive Party, the Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, the Hollywood Arts, Sciences and Professions Council, the Civil Rights Congress—all Communist fronts. 10 One CP association, regarding a certain (redacted) individual, crops up in reports spanning several years, the first dated September 9, 1953. In that report, two informants, T-5 and T-6, provide somewhat conflicting data on “a person” of unspecified gender who, per T-6, had been “known in the Communist Party between 1947 and 1950 in New York and San Francisco” as well as being a “homosexual expelled from the Party for that reason.” According to T-5 (an office of the U.S. Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps), this person was a card-carrying member from 1945 through 1948, with card numbers to prove it. 11 As will be shown this person proves to be of interest to students of LGBTQ history as well as of the FBI.
Prematurely, on New Year’s Eve 1953, the investigation of the Mattachine and ONE was closed “for the reason that it is believed that, considered as an organization, no Communist infiltration or control is indicated.” 12 It was the magazine’s crossing state lines that caused the investigation to be revived.
“Completely baseless and unfounded…”
On April 27, 1954, an administrative assistant to Senator Alexander Wiley of Wisconsin was in New York when he came across a “new” magazine called ONE, 13 and was dumbfounded and shocked to find it could be sent through the mails as well as appear on newsstands, according to an internal memo sent to Clyde Tolson the next day. 14 That same day, without mentioning that his aide had been browsing particular newsstands, Sen. Wiley sent a letter to the Postmaster General protesting the use of the mails “to transmit a so-called ‘magazine’ devoted to the advancement of sexual perversion.” 15
No action was taken until nearly two years later, when chief postal inspector D. H. Stevens asked ONE to show cause why its magazine should not be declared non-mailable, whereupon ONE filed for a Federal injunction, which was pending, according to an internal memo dated February 17, 1956. 16 The reason for the postal inspector’s action, belated as it was, is contained in a prior memo, January 26, 1956, from Milton Jones to Louis Nichols, Hoover’s No. 2 man.
The Bureau has received anonymously a copy of the November, 1955, issue of this magazine. On page [sic] 4 and 5 in an article by David L. Freeman, Circulation Manager, it is indicated that “The Tories,” one of three main groups of homosexual society, “work for Time Magazine or the New Yorker; they are in the diplomatic service, they occupy key positions with oil companies or the FBI.[”]
The memo concludes, “In view of the nature of this publication, it is believed ‘One’ should not be dignified by a reply to the completely baseless and unfounded writings as noted above.” To this, Clyde Tolson famously jots, “I think we should take this crowd on and make them ‘put up or shut up’,” to which, in turn, the Director himself replies, “I concur.” 17
Given the green light by Tolson and Hoover, the Bureau began its renewed investigation by digging up more dirt on the staff of ONE magazine as well as William Lambert (aka Dorr Legg), who was identified as chair of ONE’s board in a February 2, 1956 teletype to Hoover from John Malone, head of the Los Angeles office. In that same teletype it was admitted that the agents had not been able “to develop any logical leads to true identity or whereabouts of Freeman,” the author of the offending article that had claimed homosexuals key positions in the FBI. Agents that same day confronted Lambert about Freeman in person, without success, and with Lambert referring them to ONE’s attorney. 18
Milton Jones, in a February 10 FBI memo to Louis Nichols, 19 drills down regarding the ONE personnel, using the staff roster in the November 1955 edition of ONE, and Lambert’s nod, as guides.
- ONE’s attorney was suspected of having been a member of American Youth for Democracy, the group that Mattachine cofounder Chuck Rowland had led in the late ’40s in the Twin Cities.
- No information had been found for ONE’s editor, three of its associate editors, and its art director.
- Its contributing editor Donald Webster Cory, author of The Homosexual in America, had told a group in Washington DC in 1952 that the Communist front group “Civil Rights Congress in New York was working with Homos Anonymous” in helping ex-GIs and officers in obtaining honorable discharges.
- ONE’s mysterious circulation manager, David L. Freeman, was known to have had a position in the Mattachine Foundation in 1953.
- Which leaves associate editor for research, Lynn Pederson, whose real name is Jim Kepner, and who would become archivist of the LGBT movement in the U.S., and whose Communist Party involvement matches the following profile in Jones’s memo to Nichols. 20
[Redacted] Research) The following information in the Bufiles may be identical with [redacted]
One [name redacted], with aliases, [redacted] and [redacted] is the subject of a closed Security Matter – C investigation, office of origin Los Angeles. This individual was a member of the Communist Political Association in 1945 and the Communist Party in 1946, 1947 and 1948. In 1948, he was expelled from the Party for being a homosexual.
He was interviewed in February, 1954, by Special Agents at Los Angeles and admitted Communist Party membership, former employment with the “Daily Worker” and the California Labor School in San Francisco. (100-402855)
The person of unknown gender with numbered Communist membership cards, described by T-5 and T-6 above in the original Mattachine investigation of 1953, now has a name.
One More Time, With Feeling
Three weeks later, on March 2, 1956 the Special Agent in Charge for Los Angeles sent Hoover a memo stating that consideration was being given to re-interviewing Jim Kepner. 21 A week later, a follow-up memo states, “Efforts to identify [David L. Freeman] have been unsuccessful to date. It is altogether possible that this may likewise be an alias.” 22
further advised that [Rowland] is an expelled Communist Party member and still exhibits much CP thinking, which is reflected in his writings. Because of this fact, coupled with criticism of him by other members of the staff, particularly concerning his above-mentioned article, and also as a result of disagreements with other members of the staff, he resigned from the publication very recently. 23
The staffer furnished Rowland’s home address and his place of employment. He
stated that prior to the appearance of the article by [Rowland] no discussion took place concerning it in any staff meetings to his recollection, but that this was a common practice concerning most articles appearing in the magazine if they met the minimum standards.
The staffer proceeded to cover for his female colleagues—ONE’s editor and its art director—describing them as strictly “non-political.” Contributing editor Donald Webster Cory had his own, odd, alibi. “Cory, now deceased, was a writer who resided in New York City,” the FBI report states. But Cory would not die for three more decades. 24
The ONE staffer who spent those ninety minutes with two FBI Special Agents was Jim Kepner, ONE’s associate editor for research. Exactly two weeks before, Rowland had been sent ONE’s acceptance of Rowland’s own resignation—which he had not submitted. Rowland’s article, which so offended the FBI, may have figured in his ouster from ONE, but it was never mentioned in the organization’s correspondence regarding his departure. 25 Kepner appears to have been so upset with Rowland’s behavior—discussed in my profile of Rowland—that he not only identified him as the author of the article in question but as an unrepentant Communist. Kepner’s portrait of Rowland to the FBI is of a renegade who was booted out of the CP (he wasn’t) and then forced to resign from ONE (he hadn’t).
To my knowledge Jim Kepner never admitted his betrayal to Chuck Rowland; later the two would become dear friends. The title of Rowland’s article that precipitated a second FBI investigation of ONE and its magazine is particularly apt: “How Much Do We Know About the Homosexual Male?”
The Song Remains the Same
As for the FBI itself, just as it faced the allegation of active homosexuals in its ranks in the 1950s, it grappled in 2014 with active dopers: how to attract hackers who would abide by its policy of being pot-free for three years before being allowed to be hired. “A lot of the nation’s top computer programmers and hacking gurus are also fond of marijuana,” Director James Comey (!) told an oversight hearing that year. “I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.” 26
And some other things never change for the Bureau. According to an August 2016 lawsuit filed in Denver, where I live, an agent here allegedly told a female agent he hoped she would quit and “stay home in the kitchen.” Comments about the unit’s two female agents included men looking at them and saying, “I wonder how many zeros will be at the end of that lawsuit check.” After making a sexual quip, they would add, “Uh, oh, add another zero.” 27
Historian Douglas M. Charles, in his broad study, Hoover’s War on Gays, concludes that it was ONE magazine’s managing editor, Ann Carll Reid, who revealed David L. Freeman’s true identity to the FBI. 28 Such a conclusion is understandable if one consults the Bureau’s copy of the ONE/Mattachine file posted in The Vault: Above, from The Vault, is an excerpt of the March 15, 1956 report that concerns the crucial interview of Jim Kepner. Most of the informant’s identifiers, including gender, are redacted. 29 Below, the informant’s gender and position as associate editor are not redacted in the governmentattic.org version of the same report. 30
As noted above, since the informant went on to tell the Bureau agents that all of the magazine’s associate editors, were fictitious—with the exception of himself—only Jim Kepner (aka Lyn Pederson) could have been the one to inform on his former colleague, Chuck Rowland.
Text by David Hughes. © 2016 David Hughes. All rights reserved.
- “To Shift Control of Secret Service,” New York Times, 22 Dec 1908, 3. ↩
- “Reform of the Secret Service,” Christian Science Monitor, 31 Dec 1908, 10. ↩
- Edward J. Escobar, “Bloody Christmas and the Irony of Police Professionalism: The Los Angeles Police Department, Mexican Americans, and Police Reform in the 1950s,” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 72, No. 2 (May 2003), 171–199. ↩
- Daniel Denvir, “Disputing Bratton’s record: Mass stop-and-frisk is over but ‘broken windows’ endures in NYC,” Salon, 03 Aug 2016, accessed 28 Aug 2016. See also “Some Bullshit” by Jarrod Shanahan, in which he notes that during the NYPD slowdown in December 2014, in reaction to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s expression of sympathy with anti-brutality protestors, “life went on without the police harassing low-income people of color or issuing frivolous tickets and fines to fill the city’s coffers.” And, “at least for a welcome change of pace, human life was cynically instrumentalized by the powerful in a way that kept people out of jail.” From Hard Crackers: Chronicles of Everyday Life, No. 1, Spring 2016, 4–13. ↩
- In March 1954, ONE, Inc.’s Social Service Division received an anonymous letter stating that the writer, having followed ONE’s “attempts […] to induce prominent persons to support your movement and to gain for homosexuals the respect that they deserve, I feel that it is my duty to let you know—if you don’t already—that a very prominent practitioner of your habits has not yet publicly declared his feelings in the matter. He is no less than Bishop Fulton J. Sheen […].” (Box 90, folder 2, ONE Incorporated records, Coll2011.001, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, CA) ↩
- Two versions, redacted differently, are available at The Vault and governmentattic.org. For ease of reference regarding this and the following reports, I provide their page numbers from the governmentattic.org PDF and The Vault PDF of the FBI file on Mattachine/ONE. ↩
- Page 7, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩
- Page 34, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩
- Page 42, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩
- Page 11, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩
- Page 40, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩
- Page 88, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩
- ONE began publishing in January 1953. ↩
- Page 123, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩
- Page 129, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩
- Page 136, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩
- Page 140, governmentattic.org PDF redacts Freeman’s name, whereas page 21, Section 2, The Vault PDF does not. ↩
- Pages 141–142, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩
- The complete memo is on pages 149–159, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩
- The FBI summary of Kepner’s CP involvement essentially matches that portion of his biographical profile by Lewis Gannett and William A. Percy III in Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context, Vern L. Bullough ed., New York: Haworth Press, 2002, 127–128. ↩
- Page 182, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩
- Page 223, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩
- Quotes in this section are from a 15 Mar 1956 memo from Malone to Hoover. Rowland’s name is not redacted in a 19 Mar 1956 memo from Jones to Nichols (pp. 513–514 in the PDF available from governmentattic.org). ↩
- “Background,” Donald Webster Cory Papers, Coll2011-022, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, California. ↩
- One caveat re the correspondence: I am missing that very letter, dated 01 Mar 1956, which accepts Rowland’s “resignation,” but I have other letters in the chain. ↩
- “FBI director just joshing about hiring pot-smoking kids,” In the Loop, Washington Post, accessed 27 Aug 2016. ↩
- “FBI agents accused in lawsuit,” Denver Post, 20 Aug 2016, 3A. ↩
- Douglas M. Charles, Hoover’s War on Gays: Exposing the FBI’s “Sex Deviates” Program, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2015, 189–190. ↩
- Page 86, The Vault PDF, Section 2. ↩
- Page 232, governmentattic.org PDF. ↩