Trump Is Attacking One of the Most Conservative U.S. Government Institutions

Watching the former president and his backers portray the F.B.I. as a renegade “woke” Democratic deep state mob is one of the most bizarre and historically discordant events and news stories of the Donald Trump era. This has been occurring for several years, but since the F.B.I. searched Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, the bureau has received particularly scathing criticism for its allegedly leftist persecution of Mr. Trump, and Republicans have even begun to advocate for the “defunding of the corrupt F.B.I.”

Historically, however, the FBI has been likely the most culturally conservative and historically white Christian agency in the whole United States government. It is such a culturally conservative institution, especially by law enforcement standards, that Democratic presidents have never felt confident or politically emboldened enough to appoint a Democrat to lead the bureau.

Since the F.B.I.’s inception, every single director has been a Republican-aligned figure, proving that it has never been a stronghold of progressive thought. Such a history shows that Mr. Trump, and not institutional bias, is the issue at hand.

Christopher Wray, who oversaw the agents conducting last week’s search of Mar-a-Lago, was nominated by Mr. Trump himself and came to the job with sterling Republican credentials: He was the head of the criminal division of George W. Bush’s Justice Department, a member of the conservative Federalist Society, and a clerk for Republican judicial icon Judge J. Michael Luttig.

James Comey, who had been nominated by Barack Obama and was the former deputy attorney general under George W. Bush’s Justice Department, was replaced by Christopher Wray. George W. Bush nominated his predecessor Robert Mueller, who served in the Justice Department under both Bush administrations.

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And before them, from George H.W. Bush judge Louis Freeh through F.B.I. founder J. Edgar Hoover, all F.B.I. directors were Republican-aligned individuals.

This political conservatism in the bureau’s ranks may be traced back to the culture that Hoover fostered for fifty years when the bureau considered its job as enforcing and safeguarding a particularly conservative (and Christian) perspective of the United States.

The irony of Donald Trump and Republicans demonizing the F.B.I is that, over the course of its century-plus existence, the bureau has served as one of America’s cultural bulwarks, protecting the country from “radicals” and “subversives” who sought to diversify the United States beyond its traditional white, male, Christian power structure. Hoover seems to have spent his entire life fighting to preserve the distinctive “mom, baseball, and apple pie” nostalgia that would crystallize around the 1950s “Leave It to Beaver” idyll.

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In 1919, Hoover became the chief of the Justice Department’s “anti-radical” division, and for decades he viewed Black authors and artists as subversives. James Baldwin was the subject of a 1,884-page report issued by the agency. Under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover and F.B.I. director of domestic intelligence William Sullivan, “Cointelpro” targeted and surveilled civil rights leaders such as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The F.B.I. was concerned about John Lennon and the Beatles, and it hoped that Lennon’s arrest on drug charges would result in his expulsion from the United States. And Hoover turned down a meeting with Elvis Presley days after Richard Nixon’s odd White House photograph with the rock legend after a Hoover assistant remarked that Presley “wore his hair down to his shoulders and favored exotic attire.”

Given the F.B.I.’s difficult history with race and ethnicity, it is perhaps not surprising that approximately three-quarters of its agents are white (and overwhelmingly male). As much as Mr. Trump’s supporters attempted to tarnish the bureau by referring to anti-Trump text exchanges between F.B.I. agent Peter Strzok and attorney Lisa Page, the former president appears to have benefited from the bureau’s conservative agent ranks.

Mr. Comey and bureau directors have stated that anti-Clinton employees in the Fresh York field office who leaked material compelled them to announce the discovery of new Hillary Clinton-related emails in October 2016. In the days preceding the election, one agent told The Guardian, “The FBI is Trumpland.”

Given this history, it appears that the president is solely responsible for the fact that he and his followers are currently in such a heated battle with the FBI. In addition to an attack at the F.B.I. office in Cincinnati earlier this month, which was carried out by a Mr. Trump fan who was also present at the Jan. 6 Capitol incident, armed Trump supporters have demonstrated outside of an F.B.I. field office in Phoenix. These were his employees, and he is the one whose actions continue to draw the FBI’s attention.

The bureau’s three most recent directors have failed in their efforts to recruit a more diverse workforce that more accurately reflects the nation it serves. (Mr. Comey was actually at a minority recruiting event in Los Angeles in 2017 when he learned that Mr. Trump had fired him, according to television reports.) Scott McMillion was named as the organization’s first chief diversity officer in 2021, amid outrage over racially biased policing following the murder of George Floyd.

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Mr. McMillion, a bureau veteran of more than two decades who was the only Black agent in his Quantico academy training class in 1997, noted that the percentage of Black agents had never exceeded 6 percent. It has long fought claims alleging racial and sexual discrimination.

At least by one metric, the FBI remains the least “aware” group of government agents: It is now only one of the dozen largest federal law enforcement organizations — including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Border Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service, and the Park Police — that has never been led by a woman or a person of color.