News & Politics

The Time John Lennon Came to DC for the Watergate Hearings

Photograph via iStock.

John Lennon would have turned 75 today, a birthday milestone you can celebrate in the District by attending the Hamilton’s tribute concert on Saturday or staging your own human peace sign on the Mall. But today is also a good opportunity to remember one of Lennon’s lesser-known connections to Washingon: the Senate’s Watergate hearings in 1973, during which Lennon and Yoko Ono actually sat in the gallery.

Lennon and Ono had reason to enjoy the show. The Nixon Administration actually started keeping tabs on Lennon and Ono, whom the White House viewed as destructive iconoclasts for their anti-Vietnam War protests and other countercultural demonstrations. Nixon’s people were exhaustive in their observations of Lennon, hoping they’d find an excuse to deport the ex-Beatle, who by then was living in New York. A 2006 New York Times story recalled FBI informants traveling to Ann Arbor, Michigan for a 1971 rally—organized to help free a man who was given a ten-year prison sentence for possessing two marijuana cigarettes—that he Lennon performing at.

Lennon decided he had enough in 1973 and sued the government for wiretapping his phone. The FBI denied the claim, and despite discovering the attempt to link him with militants supposedly plotting against the 1972 Republican Convention, there were no wiretapping logs found in his surveillance documents. A compromise of sorts ensued—the inquiry spooked Lennon enough to tone down his Nixon-bashing, and by 1976, he received his green card to stay in the United States.