Who knows what Strom Thurmond had against the Beatles, but the senator from South Carolina certainly knew how to make John Lennon’s life miserable. On Feb. 4, 1972, the 69-year-old, anti–Civil Rights agitator wrote a few lines to Attorney General John Mitchell and President Richard Nixon’s aide, William Timmons, which would end up threatening Lennon with deportation and entangling him in legal limbo for almost four years.
“This appears to me to be an important matter, and I think it would be well for it to be considered at the highest level,” Thurmond wrote. “As I can see, many headaches might be avoided if appropriate action can be taken in time.”
Thurmond attached a one-page Senate Internal Security Subcommittee report explaining that Lennon appeared to be a threat to Republican interests, particularly their desire to re-nominate Nixon at the San Diego convention that coming summer. Citing a New York Times article and an unidentified informant, the report explained that Lennon was friendly with various left-leaning political activists, including Yippie leader Jerry Rubin. The leftists had gathered in New York and discussed the possibility of Lennon appearing at concerts on college campuses to promote voter registration, marijuana legalization and bus trips to the Republican convention for throngs of willing protesters.
In reality, while Lennon, then 31, spoke his mind about many political issues, he always felt that, as a British citizen, he shouldn’t endorse or attack individual U.S. candidates, says his friend, photographer Bob Gruen. Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono strove never to be negative. “They weren’t anti-war. They were pro-peace,” Gruen says. “They weren’t against a politician, they were for voting.”