The Monkees weren’t exactly the poster children of the anti-Vietnam War movement in the late 1960s, but the pop-rock band was still the subject of an FBI file. In it, an agent reported seeing “subliminal messages” on a screen at one of their concerts, depicting racial-equality protests and “anti-U.S. messages on the war in Vietnam.”
That heavily redacted file from 1967 was declassified about a decade ago. But now, the last surviving member of the American rock group, Micky Dolenz, wants to know more. On Tuesday, Dolenz, 77, sued the Justice Department to release information the FBI gathered on the band and its members from that time period.
“If the documents still exist, I fully expect that we will learn more about what prompted the FBI to target the Monkees or those around them,” attorney Mark Zaid, who is representing Dolenz, told The Washington Post.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post about Dolenz’s lawsuit, which was first reported by Rolling Stone.
The Monkees were put together in 1966 by television producers for a sitcom that ran for two seasons. Their style largely mimicked British-invasion bands likes the Beatles, and the Monkees put out numerous hits, including “I’m a Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville.” The band broke up in 1970.
In the 1960s, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI infamously surveilled and harassed civil rights and counterculture figures, as The Post and other news outlets revealed at the time. That surveillance sometimes centered on pop-culture icons who spoke out against the Vietnam War, like John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix.
The Monkees were also caught up in the government’s surveillance. In a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Dolenz said that his band’s 1966 hit “Last Train to Clarksville” was an antiwar song about a man going to an Army base and not knowing when he’d return to his girlfriend. But exactly what caught the FBI’s attention about the band - aside from what the agent called “left-wing” images during the 1967 concert - is unclear.
Much of the seven-page memo released by the agency is redacted, though Zaid told The Post it’s possible other files exist based on what’s shown on the declassified document.
“It’s pretty obvious that there are other linked files,” he said. “Now, it may not be directly on the Monkees - it could be peripheral - but these files are connected to other files.”
It was Zaid who suggested that Dolenz, whom he met through a mutual friend in April, demand more information about his band’s FBI’s files, he told The Post. The Washington-based attorney has represented government whistleblowers, including the one who filed the complaint that ultimately set off President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial.
But the 55-year-old lawyer has a personal interest in the Monkees case. When he was a kid, his babysitter from across the street gave him all of her Monkees albums, and when the band went on its reunion tour in 1986, Zaid was there. He saw them live about eight more times, he told The Post.
“I mean, literally, this is fun for me,” Zaid, who is working on the case pro bono, said of filing the lawsuit for the FBI files.
With Zaid’s help, Dolenz filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents with the FBI in June. He requested the agency review the redacted document and provide other possible files relating to the band and its members, according to the lawsuit.
The government has 20 business days to respond to FOIA requests, barring “unusual circumstances.” Dolenz has so far only received acknowledgments of his requests, the lawsuit says.
“Any window into what the FBI was up to can lead to the opening of another window,” Zaid said. “That’s the beauty of gaining access to these types of files - because there are little nuggets and pieces within them that can lead to a bigger picture in understanding what was going on within the FBI at the time.”