Washington Examiner| by John Miltimore| August 25, 2023
Article Takeaways by DP News Staff:
Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” is the most talked about song in America.
Released just this month, the blue-collar tune is already approaching 40 million views on YouTube and landed on top of Billboard’sHot 100 on Tuesday, making Anthony the first musician ever to hit No. 1 with no previous chart history. It was even the subject of the first question at the Republican presidential primary debate on Wednesday.
Though a clear hit with listeners, the song has come under attack in some quarters for its economic populism. Anthony takes aim at everything from inflation and high taxes to low wages and welfare.
Because of the song’s subject matter, I don’t think it’s unfair to describe Anthony’s song as politically charged, as some have. And though there’s no doubt that the song has resonated with people of all backgrounds, it’s hardly surprising that many journalists have attacked the song for this very reason.
What’s a bit more shocking is the possibility that Anthony’s heartfelt song and outspoken views may have resulted in unwanted attention from a different source: the FBI.
Edward Snowden, the famous whistleblower who blew the lid on the National Security Agency’s unlawful surveillance program, recently hinted that there’s a good chance the FBI has already opened a file on Anthony.
“After hitting topping the iTunes list and tweeting like this, the FBI will be making space for him another kind of list, too,” Snowden tweeted. “Think I’m kidding? The FBI had a file on John Denver for attending *one* anti-war protest.”
Snowden is not mistaken about John Denver. The FBI actually did open a file on the beloved folk singer, apparently after Denver attended a “Dump the War Rally” in Minnesota in 1971.
Indeed, the FBI has a long history of keeping files on famous people, particularly those seen as “agitators” or purveyors of “subversive” ideas.
In reality, most of these celebrities were guilty of little more than opposing U.S. foreign policy and advocating civil rights for all people. Among those targeted by the FBI include icons such as Muhammad Ali, Truman Capote, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon, and Jackie Robinson.
Ali and King apparently came under scrutiny because of their civil rights activities, while Lennon and Capote appear to have been targeted for opposing U.S. military adventurism abroad, though Capote admitted private comments he made about J. Edgar Hoover’s sexuality may have also played a role.
“It got Hoover upset, that much I know,” said the In Cold Blood author, who supported the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and opposed the U.S. invasion of Cuba, or the Bay of Pigs. “And it got me … about 200 pages in an FBI file.”
In fact, Capote is just one of many literary giants to be investigated by the FBI. Other celebrated authors include James Baldwin, whom the FBI monitored for 16 years, and John Steinbeck.
“Do you suppose you could ask Edgar’s boys to stop stepping on my heels?” The Grapes of Wrath author wrote to Attorney General Francis Biddle in 1942. “They think I am an enemy alien. It is getting tiresome.”
Hollywood actors the FBI has opened files on include Lucille Ball, who once registered as a communist, and Rock Hudson, who appears to have come under scrutiny simply because he was gay.
We don’t, of course, know if the FBI has opened a file on Anthony. (The bureau is not in the habit of announcing such news until after subjects are dead.) But one person who might not be surprised if it has is Anthony himself, who has this to say about those men north of Richmond:
Lord knows they all just wanna have total control,
Wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do,
And they don’t think you know, but I know that you do.
Anthony might be right that the people he’s singing to know the powers in Washington want to know what they think and do, but if he’s right, it invites a question: Why do Americans tolerate it?
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that government agencies opening secret files on songwriters seems like something we’d expect more from the Stasi than the law enforcement of a free and liberal society.
Such clandestine and invasive activities invite important questions about the true role of government. Maybe it takes someone such as Anthony to remind us what that role is.