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Pete Seeger Labelled 'Subversive' After Speaking Out Against Plan to Deport Japanese

Newly released 1,700-page FBI file shows the US government 'went to lengths' to track beloved folk icon

One FBI agent said Almanac Singers, which included Seeger and Woody Guthrie, "were active singing Communist songs and spreading propaganda."(Photo: D. Steinberg/AP)

Beloved singer and activist Pete Seeger inspired countless worldwide with his songs about peace and equality, and—according to his newly released FBI file—he also inspired the ire of the U.S. government, which spied on the folk icon for decades and labelled him a "subversive" for his Communist sympathies.

The 1,700-page tome, handed over by the National Archives under the Freedom of Information Act, was revealed in an Associated Press report on Saturday.

Among the revelations was that the U.S. military launched an investigation into the young singer in 1942 after Seeger sent a letter to the California American Legion condemning the group's resolution "advocating deportation of all Japanese, citizens or not, and barring all Japanese descendants from citizenship."

"We're fighting precisely to free the world of such Hitlerism, such narrow jingoism," Seeger wrote in the letter, which was penned as the U.S. government was actively forcing Japanese-American citizens to live in government internment camps.

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After scouring his letters and school records, and interviewing family members, ex-landlords, as well as friend Woody Guthrie, the U.S. military eventually concluded that Seeger's association with known communists and his Japense-American fiancee, the late Toshi Seeger, "pointed to a risk of divided loyalty," AP reports.

In one excerpt, the investigator who interviewed Guthrie reportedly noted the singer's guitar, famously emblazoned with "This Machine Kills Fascists." Of the inscription, the investigator wrote: "It is this agent's opinion that this bears out the belief that the Almanac Players"—of which Guthrie and Singer belonged—"were active singing Communist songs and spreading propaganda."

AP notes that the FBI went to " keep tabs on the singer's travels, performances and rally appearances at least into the 1970s." Seeger, who died in January 2014, was an active singer and activist until he passed at age 94.

According to the reporting, the National Archives plan to release additional Seeger files in the future. 

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