The US vs John Lennon

As President Nixon geared up for re-election, his administration enlisted the FBI, immigration and police to get the ex-Beatle deported. Now a new film by the team behind 'Fahrenheit 9/11' reveals the full extent of the plotting
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The Independent US

John Lennon outraged ordinary Americans with his remark that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. He angered the American authorities almost as much after he set himself up in New York and openly criticised the war in Vietnam.

Only now, however, is it being fully revealed how the authorities in Washington spent years amassing a dossier of evidence against the most outspoken Beatle with the sole aim of ejecting him from the United States for good. The evidence is to be exposed in a new film by the team behind Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's documentary opposing George Bush's "war on terror".

The Lennon movie, which opens in US cinemas in September, will embarrass the agencies which unsuccessfully tried to block his stay. Not only does it portray the full extent of the plotting against him, it also exposes the amateurish incompetence with which it was conducted. At one stage, secret FBI files compiled to demonstrate the threat he represented did not even record his correct address, despite the claim that he had been under "constant surveillance".

The film-makers say the movie, The US vs John Lennon, "will also show that this was not just an isolated episode in American history, but that the issues and struggles of that era remain relevant today".

Lennon had long been outspoken during his days with the Beatles, but never a radical. His views about peace and pacifism developed after he met Yoko Ono in 1968, and he became a focus for dissent as he held his "bed-ins" and recorded anthems such as "Give Peace a Chance".

When he set up home in New York in 1971 after entering the country on a visitor's visa, President Nixon's administration began to eye him nervously as he rubbed shoulders with activists and left-wingers.

The film, backed by Lion's Gate, which proved with Fahrenheit 9/11 that documentaries had blockbuster potential, is based on 281 pages of FBI files compiled from 1972 onwards. The documents show how police, immigration officials and the FBI worked together to gather any evidence which could help to strengthen the case for deportation after his visa expired.

One page stated that Lennon was allowed to enter the country "despite clear ineligibility" for a visa, because of a 1968 drug conviction in London. This was seen as his Achilles heel, and became the focus for the efforts to pin something on him.

Another entry says: "NYCPD [New York City Police Department] Narcotics Division is aware of subject's recent use of narcotics and are attempting to obtain enough info to arrest both subject and wife Yoko based on PD investigation."

The documents claim Lennon came to the FBI's attention in February 1972 after he donated $75,000 to an organisation called the Election Year Strategy Information Centre, whose purpose was to "disrupt the Republican National Convention". At the time he had been privately developing plans for a US tour that year which would culminate near the convention, at which Nixon was to get backing for a second presidential term.

The plans were a worry to the authorities, according to the FBI files: "In view of successful delaying tactics to date, there exists real possibility that subject will not be deported from US in near future and possibly prior to Republican National Convention. Subject's activities being closely followed and any information developed indicating violation of federal laws will be immediately furnished to pertinent agencies in effort to neutralise any disruptive activities of subject." The tour was eventually abandoned.

Surveillance of Lennon finally ended in 1976, when he won his battle with the Immigration and Naturalisation Service for the right to remain in the US. By the time he gained his green card, he had already entered his "house husband" period following the birth of his son, Sean. This phase ended when he began making recordings again in 1980, but a few months after he emerged he was murdered by Mark Chapman outside the Dakota, the apartment building overlooking Central Park where he lived.

The US vs John Lennon is due to be released in Britain around Christmas.