Nixon keeps Lennon away

When antiwar activists had begun planning convention-week demonstrations, there had been talk of anchoring it with a massive outdoor concert. “Lennon, formerly with the group known as the Beatles,” as the FBI reports called him, was to be the emcee, the culmination of a national anti-Nixon rock tour. Nixon had been horrified at the prospect. “The source felt that if Lennon’s visa is terminated it would be a strategic counter-measure,” an FBI memo summarized; the source was Strom Thurmond. “The source also noted the caution which must be taken with regard to the possible alienation of the so-called 18-year-old-vote if Lennon is expelled from the country.” J. Edgar Hoover had personally classified the problem as a “Security Matter,” the designation reserved for those considered potentially violently dangerous to the U.S. government. (“ALL EXTREMISTS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED DANGEROUS” read a special agent’s memo on John Lennon, Jerry Rubin, and Yoko Ono’s appearance on Eyewitness News in New York to encourage young people to register to vote.) CIA agents got to work proving Lennon’s strings were being pulled by Moscow paymasters. (“There are only limited indications thus far of foreign efforts,” ran a report filed on February 23, the morning after Lennon, Ono, and Rubin appeared on the Mike Douglas show.) Presidential assistant Bill Timmons wrote in a “Dear Strom” letter that the singer had been served notice to leave the country by March 15. He was still around on March 16, however, when this FBI communication came forth: “Lennon appears to be radically oriented however he does not give the impression he is a true revolutionist since he is constantly under the influence of narcotics.” By summer Lennon was too busy trying to stay in the country to either tour against Nixon or make it to the Republican convention. The threat to national security had been neutralized.